How to Protect Your Digital Documents

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If I’d lose all my stories, notes, and ideas from my Documents folder without being able to recover them, I’d be tempted to throw my hat out the window and jump after it…

How can documents be lost?

  • Accidental deletion – More likely to occur when you keep your documents disorganized.
  • Document closes before it is savedWord processors have auto-save features. I use OpenOffice which auto-saves my documents every 3 minutes. You can also do manual saves by pressing save document, usually Ctrl + S as often as you remember.
  • Hard disk failure – Not much you can do about it. A safety measure would be to install a secondary hard disk (possibly external) and perform daily backups on it.
  • Computer theft/loss – Everyone who carries their laptop around is at risk. I rarely go out, and when I do, I don’t take my laptop with me.
  • Power outage resulting in document corruption – Desktop users without an UPS are especially at risk. Some word processors, including OpenOffice, can corrupt documents if the electricity supply is cut while the document is open. Laptop users are safe because their battery picks up the power when the electricity goes out. Still, if you have a laptop it’s unwise to shut down your computer by pressing and holding the power button before closing the word processor.

What to do to protect your files

  • Use a backup application that performs daily backups automatically. I use DejaVu backup for Ubuntu. Here are the best backup tools. Ideally you want the backups done on a separate HDD. When you don’t have a secondary HDD, choose a different backup location than your Documents folder.
  • Keep your documents organized to prevent accidental deletion. Create a Documents folder and then within that main folder create sub folders such as Novel, Poetry, Blog, etc. Do not mix story files with work or blog files. Keep all media files in another location to keep the size of the Documents folder small.
  • Perform daily or weekly manual backups on a USB stick that you use only for backups. A USB stick is more practical and durable than a CD/DVD or Micro SD stick. Store your USB in a safe place. I keep mine under my pillow, together with G.G. Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude (and with an invisible lock of hair from the inky woman).
  • Use a realtime online backup/syncing service that works across devices. I use Ubuntu One. I believe Dropbox is another free service offering similar features, which works on all major operating systems, including Windows. Your folders and files will be stored online, from where you can access them from any device. Real-time syncing means that the moment you modify a document, the new version gets uploaded online right away. A document file is uploaded almost instantly. Make sure though that files stored online by your backup service are not available publicly.

For us writers, protecting our documents is fairly easy, because a whole novel can come in a file that’s less than 1MB in size. By contrast, photographers or video artists have GBs of artworks that they need to back-up regularly. Poor folks…

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28 thoughts on “How to Protect Your Digital Documents

  1. Lost a script recently. Hard drive crashed and burned. Saved everything. Got new HD and in less than two weeks after reloading. Not doing a repeat backup the HD crashed and burned. Thought I was safe and saved but partner what I saved on her flash drives. Didn’t think i’d neec them. Had ordered a special backup rooter for HD but it didn’t get rhere before I had to send back uined HD. So we are more prepared now. I really thought alk docs were backed up. I freaked when I found all the work I did was gone. Fortunately, I do taje notes in ink and now have many gadgets that I save info on. Good post. Everyone should heed it well. J.K. thanks:-)

  2. These are all good things that everyone should know and the backing up on gadgets like the USB is one of my favorites. However, don’t forget that printing what you have written is a good thing too.

    1. That’s a good point Mary.

      Paper documents are nowadays a lot safer than digital ones.

      I don’t actually have a printer right now, but I will buy one soon. Maybe for Christmas. 🙂

  3. I actually have three backups – 2 usbs and an online file. Everything got deleted once and from then on, I’m extra careful

  4. useful info! google drive is great too, now you can write files in microsoft word or other on your computer and save them in the google drive file (have to download a sync program, very quick) and they are automatically saved/updated online too so it’s pretty cool. gmail/google accounts are free~

    i should get paid for the advertisement. 😉

  5. Reblogged this on Tammy J Rizzo and commented:
    I take great care to maintain back-ups of my writing, my installation files, my emails with registration details for programs, and various other irreplaceable items. I have three physical HDDs in my computer itself, plus a 250Gb externally HDD for my backups. Plus I do off-site backups via the cloud. And still, in these recent computer wow I’ve been going through, I still managed to lose my entire music collection, all my ebooks, all my media’s files of any kind, and hundreds of irreplaceable pictures of my late husband, because I didn’t disconnect the drive they were stored on and my computer formatted that drive instead of the one I thought I told it to use. Everything I had spent years collecting, gone in a flash. True, all my writing was safe, stored online and off-site, and all my installations files were safe, with their key codes and all, but everything else was gone. So take the advice of this article, with the caveat that you should also be sure to disconnect any storage HDDs from your system in the event you have to reinstall your operating system. Just in case.

  6. For my really important files, I just email them to myself and leave them in my inbox. Especially if I’m working on a project — that way I have multiple copies of the project, through all its developmental stages, saved, so I can access any of them at any time (so long as I have an internet connection!)

  7. Oh dear..I can feel your pain!! I recently spilled some tea on my laptop…lost most of my writings and essays..

    Thank you for your advice! Very useful, I will definitely keep them =)

    1. And, I know that sometimes we forget to heed the warning about not having liquids around our computer. My accident happened when I spilled a Coca Cola on it when typing. The sticky glue soaked deep inside and caused me to replace it (…thank goodness it was just my desktop “keyboard”).

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