Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Best Backup System for Writers

The students in my computer class think it’s cute when I tell them “Jesus saves, and so should you”. I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or denigrate the Savior, but I feel responsible to pound into their thick young skulls the importance of saving and backing up their files. But I’m not totally successful, because every semester at least one student loses a project—which they failed to back up. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

In truth, it is possible retrieve lost and deleted files as long as the user doesn’t add new data to the hard drive. But beyond the recycle bin, retrieving files is usually above the skill level of most of us. Yet, with a little foresight and discipline it shouldn’t be a problem to lose data.

Like most writers, I back up my WIP via a flash drive (memory stick). Actually, I use three flash drives, which I keep in three different locations; one in my briefcase, one at my writing chair, and one in my desk at work. I rarely need the backups, but when the magic fairies in my laptop get contrary, it’s a relief to know I’m safe. Maintaining current backups won’t solve all computer problems since computers by nature quit working on occasion—usually at the most inconvenient times.

Such was my case two weeks ago when I visited an Internet site about exercise for men over fifty. Within sixty seconds my virus protector flashed a warning and by the time I exited the site, a virus shut down my operating system. I restarted my laptop, but before the virus protector could find and quarantine the invader the system locked up again and shut down.

Fortunately, I had a current backup, but my computer was useless since it kept shutting down. My only solution was to erase my hard drive and do a new install, which would take several hours and require reactivating all software.

As you may know, software activation can be troublesome if you haven’t deactivated it first. The only alternative to call the software company and hope you can eventually talk to a real person who’s kind enough to help you. All of this takes a lot of time and if you’ve been there you know it gets frustrating.

The solution? Acronis True Image software ($49.00) When I purchased my new computer fifteen months ago, I splurged the extra expense of Acronis True Image, along with a second matching hard drive, and a hard-drive tray that replaces my DVD drive when needed. In short, these three items allowed me to make a clone (mirror image) of my working hard drive.

When the virus hit, it took less than five minutes to remove my virus infested hard drive and insert the cloned hard drive. No need to reinstall operating systems or applications, no problems with the computer registry, no need to reactivate software.

The computer fairies were never aware I had switched the hard drive at shutdown. Everything worked fine. All I had to do was to install my most recent WIP update from a flash drive and I was one-hundred percent like I was before the virus hit. Of course, I haven’t always been this prepared, but through the years I have learned from failures.

To restate the process; I purchased and installed Acronis software on my hard drive while it was working correctly, next I removed my DVD drive and inserted a special hard-drive tray, which I purchased from the computer manufacture (sometimes you can find them on Ebay). This tray holds a second hard drive, which is typically used for additional storage. I purchased a hard drive exactly like the main hard drive in my laptop, but according to Acronis instructions, the backup drive can be any memory size, speed, or brand.

Once installed, the software offers the option to clone your main hard drive onto this added hard drive. It takes a about four mouse clicks and two hours for the operation to complete. Once it’s finished, I stored the copied hard drive in a safe place until it’s needed.

When I do need it, I simply remove one screw from the bottom of my laptop, pull out the main hard drive and replace it with the clone. I put the screw back in place and restart the computer. That’s all there is to it.

Later, after I verify everything is working correctly, I remove the DVD player, put the corrupt hard drive in the special tray and once again use Acronis to clone a new mirror image of my working hard drive onto the previously corrupt drive—so I’ll be prepared if this happens again. (Oops, did I say if it happens? I mean when it happens again.) It’s simple, it’s easy, and it actually works.

Be warned that it’s possible for a virus to jump from one hard drive to another, so in my case I actually reformatted my virus infested hard drive before I removed it from the computer just to be safe.

Of course, there are other ways to backup, and I’ve used them all. I’ve tried Norton Ghost and other software that promises cloning ability, but Acronis is the only software that has been successful for me. Downtime is minimal, and the total cost for the software, extra hard drive, and adapter to replace my DVD tray was under two-hundred dollars—expensive, but worth it. I should mention Acronis has numerous other features, also.

I have friends and students who’ve experienced these same problems and they usually spend one-hundred dollars to get a tech to fix their computer while their computer is in the shop for two days or longer. I feel like the time saving and security is worth the extra expense. In addition, I can use this system for years.

Maybe there’s a better virus protector, but I’ve tried most of them and no virus protector is perfect. But as I said, viruses aren’t the only computer problems a writer faces. Computers sometimes die without warning. I’ve had hard drives suddenly lock up and never work again. I’ve had computers suddenly show the blue screen of death without warning, and require a complete new install. Once I opened the passenger door of my vehicle and the computer slid out and dropped onto the concrete. The End.


  1. Great Post. I have a folder with everything I create in it. Once a month, I burn that to a DVD (or two). This way, I have a hard copy of the "important stuff."
    They say there are two kinds of people in the world, those who back up and those who will learn to back up soon...

  2. Hey Kenny, I really like your tech posts. You might consider making a label of your name, then assign all your posts to it. This allows viewers to click on your label (which would appear over to the left of the blog) and view all your posts in chronological order...

  3. I backup my WIP on a flash drive that I keep in my purse, and I regularly back it up on one that I actually keep in my safe deposit box (with all my completed manuscripts). While the one in the safe deposit box isn't up-to-date, at least it gives me something to work from if I need it.

    We had a flood here in September 2008, and I lost the hard drive for my desktop computer. However, I fled with my laptop and the flash drive containg my WIP (and my completed manuscripts were all in the safety deposit box), so I knew my manuscripts were safe.

    Kenny, I'm considering using one of those online services that automatically backup your files, but I still do some legal work and some of the stuff on my hard drive is confidential. What do you think?

    Darren, how do you make a label of your name and assign your posts to it?

  4. Great post. No one ever thinks it will happen to them but it will.

    I wrote about this myself here:

    I use Carbonite, an online back-up system. I've needed it twice. My tech told me that it's not a matter of IF your hard drive will fail/blow up/die it's a matter of WHEN. Carbonite restored my all my files the two times my hard drive died.

    I use a free virus protector: Microsoft Security Essentials, and so far it's worked perfectly, even better than the McAfee system I used to pay for.

    Another easy thing I do is save my important documents both on a flash drive and my hard drive. That way I can at least keep working on my deadlines while my computer is being fixed.

  5. Great post! And SO important! In addition to two flash drives that I backup on myself (hmm -- I backup on myself? :-), every 24 hours EVERYTHING on my computer is backed up by MOZYHOME, including my emails. My consultant son (with a Yale law degree) insisted on it. He uses it for his multiple consulting jobs (so Kathryn, I think you could). I also save every few minutes while I'm writing. I don't want to lose even a paragraph or a sentence. I still mourn a poem I lost a couple of years ago when my computer crashed without warning, and nothing could be retrieved. If I'd been with MH then, I wouldn't have lost it. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve all my other writings because I had them saved on disks (now I use flash drives, as I mentioned earlier). The end. :-)

  6. Let me write down the steps, then I will come back here and post...

  7. Goto the "Create New Post"
    Edit Posts
    Checkmark just ONE of your posts
    At the top of the page, pull down the "Label Actions" menu
    Scroll down to the VERY bottom of the list (very long way)
    Just up from the bottom of that list will be "new label"
    A window will pop up, enter what you want the new label to be (which will be whatever name you want for yourself)
    Hit Save
    Now, go back to your Edit Posts, go through and checkmark all your posts, pull down the "Label Actions" menu list and select your newly created label (which is your name) and complete.
    Then, your name label will appear to the left of the main window. Someone can select that now and see all the post you have assigned that label in chronological order. Assuming you did this for all your posts, it's a nice way for someone to see everything you have written with one click.

  8. Most backup systems work great. Where we fail is not backing up, or making only one backup. Some people e-mail their wip to themselves, that way they'll have an online backup.

    However, I know of one person who used an online backup service that failed him because his password suddenly didn't work. He could never talk to a human to resolve this.

    So the bottom line is, the more different backups in different locations, the better.

  9. There is also a technology label...