Never Lose Your Work Again!

A very well known writer recently tweeted about how he’d accidentally overtyped a whole morning’s work. I think every writer would feel his pain – not only is there the frustration of having to retype everything, but there’s also the thought that it will never be as good the second time. Things written in the flight of creativity are never as good as things slavishly repeated. (That’s why I think good ideas/scenes/dialogue should be captured live, but that’s another post)

There’s no reason that any writer should have to lose any work, however. All you need is a little planning. It all comes down to backups and version control.


If you’re not backing up your work already you’re a fool. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s just the way it is. If you haven’t got a backup routine, stop what reading this and go and get one.  Here’s some links:

I’m assuming if you’ve got this far you have a backup routine in place.

So, have you ever actually checked your backups? It’s surprisingly common for people to set up regular backups without checking that files are being backed up properly.  If not, go and see if you can restore a file.

Okay, let’s assume you have a backup strategy and you’ve taken a look at what’s being backed up. What we’re interested in, for the purposes of this post, is what is called incremental backups. Suppose you have ten files on your computer, you edit two of them and then perform a backup. With an incremental backup you’d end up with 12 files: the original 10 and the 2 new edited ones.

Actually, incremental backups are cleverer than that, but the above will do as an example. The point is, with incremental backups you’ll have a series of “snapshots” of your hard drive, each snapshot showing your machine’s state at a certain date. Look at a snapshot, and the backup software will rather cleverly put together a selection of files showing you what was on your machine on a particular day.

Just realised that the file you want is the one you deleted two months ago?   The one you thought you’d never need it again? No problem, just go to that snapshot in your Backups

Incremental backups mean that you will never lose more than a days worth of work.

All this talk about saving extra files might make you concerned about disc space.  There’s no need for worry.  Your Word documents are tiny, especially when compared to sound and video files. I’ve just checked, and my life’s work is comfortably less than 1Gb. That wouldn’t be a problem to anyone with a machine built in the last 10 years.  You’ll have more than enough space.

Version Control

Daily backups mean you can always restore yesterday’s work – you never lose more than a day’s work. But what about losing this morning’s work? For that you need version control.

The excellent How To Geek site has an overview of version control for Word Users:

Have I mentioned I use Emacs to write? Here’s a simple solution for Emacs users.

It will take you about half an hour to set up the above.   Half an hour now and you’ll sleep more soundly in future.  And half an hour now is much better than retyping a morning’s work…