Friday, February 5, 2010

Back-Up, Back-Up!

If I am the queen of anything, I am the queen of lost manuscripts. Three fried hard drives and one hacked e-mail account later, I have learned a cold hard fact about writing.

It's not just enough to save.

You've got to back up.

I'm a loser. I have lost two novels because of fried hard drives. Not one. Two. One of them I was able to rewrite and restore (and is my current work in progress). The other one exists only in my heart and mind now, waiting for me to one day put it on the page - again.

All of this could have been avoided if I had just backed things up. But I'm a busy, distracted Mom to kids with autism, a grandmother, teacher and pastor's wife. I don't have time to think about backing up, let alone do it. I thought it would be okay to simply e-mail works-in-progress to myself as a means of backing them up. Since I am constantly interrupted during my day, this method worked pretty well.

Until someone from Nigeria hacked into my e-mail account.

And e-mailed everyone in my account asking for money.

That's when google (Gmail) shut me down. I wasn't given a notice or any type of warning. One day I tried to log in and *poof* just like that, I wasn't allowed into my own account.

I lost everything. All the documents I stored on google documents, and all my e-mail contacts. When I tried to contact google to find out why, I learned that google had an automated restoration service. It just kept kicking me out. There wasn't anyone I could call because google doesn't use "real people" to solve technical issues.

For two weeks, I knew I was doomed. Finally, after I had posted a comment on a google blog that google wouldn't let me have my account back, someone from google contacted me via e-mail and helped me restore my account. I finally had my account restored, but only after I spent countless heart-wrenching hours trying to figure out all I had lost.

I have enjoyed using GMail since it started, and I continue to use it because it meets my needs the best. But the problem with using GMail is all the associated content. I have blogs, YouTube, Facebook and more associated with its log-in name and password. If I can't get into my Gmail account, I can't get into my other accounts. It was a huge problem for me when I was blocked. I lost my twitter account and had to start from scratch again. I was blocked from getting into my Facebook account because I couldn't confirm my e-mail address.

I don't know why I have to learn things the hard way, but learn I did. I knew I needed something more efficient at backing things up. I needed something automatic and reliable.

I now subscribe to Carbonite, an on-line back up service that automatically backs up every single thing on my computer. A friend of mine uses iDrive, and it will store 2 MB free.

I never have to worry about losing anything because Carbonite safely stores it on their server. I do recommend, however, that you store all your passwords on a hard copy and file it in a vault (okay, your filing cabinet) because if you can't remember your password, you won't be able to access your backed up files.

You could use USB memory sticks, but for me, that's just another thing for me to remember and to lose. For my life right now, automatic online back-ups work best.

Another thing I've learned is the importance of strong passwords.

When setting a password, don't use words. Words are easily detected by software created to hack into accounts. Instead of an actual word, use an acronym that you can remember. For example: "I make chocolate milk for my kids to drink." Would be "Imcm4mk2d." Including punctuation in passwords as well as upper and lower case letters and numbers makes a password harder to hack into.

People who hack into your accounts don't care that years of your life and hours of work are wrapped up in them. They are criminals. The only thing standing between them and your work is a strong password.

As for backing up, my computer tech said it best: "It's not a matter of if your hard drive will fry -- it's a matter of when."


  1. Karla, you have just taught all of us some serious lessons. I use gmail regularly, and often instead of copying my latest version of a manuscript to a flash drive or similar safe spot, I've simply emailed a copy to myself. You spelled out the danger of that practice. Thanks a bunch!

  2. That "WHEN my hard drive fries" is a frightening reality. I needed this post to spur me to action. Thanks, Karla. I'm going to try to follow through on everything you advised ("try" because I'm a techno dummy).

    BTW, my oldest grandson has autism. Would love to talk to you about your experiences.

  3. Fortunately, my personal IT guy, my husband, backs everything up, plus I store through Google. But hazards you describe, plus those like fire and computer theft, can wreak havoc on a body of work. Thanks for the warning!

  4. Yikes, thanks for sharing your experience. I keep my manuscripts on both my home computer and work laptop (which both have backup programs installed), and I email them to both Gmail and Hotmail accounts. I figure both Gmail and Microsoft can't both crash at the same time, right? :-)

  5. Steph: I would love to visit with you anytime regarding autism. I'm on facebook! (Karla Reisch Akins).

    Thanks, Rick, Sarah and Rachael for your comments. I hope my experience can help someone else!

  6. Okay, this is almost funny but it's not. My computer has a virus. Guess who has to dump everything and reinstall Windows? And guess who is glad she backed up? I told you I was the Queen!

  7. Good advice. My hard drive went last year and it was quite the learning experience. Thankfully I had most everything backed up. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. I do Carbonite and have already had to download files from them--worked beautifully.

    I have a fireproof lockbox and keep a small notebook with all the passwords there.

    We have internet by a satellite out here in the wilderness. We happened to find out that our new neighbors hacked into our system! (They had a program to blast through our password protected system.) It's awful to think that you have to keep changing passwords because of dishonest neighbors.

    On one hand I love computers/word processing programs, the world at my feet with internet, but sometimes (I'm old enough to remember) the old way of writing was nice. LOL. Keep diligent!