"Cyclone Larry, category 4, is expected to intensify
as it moves toward the Queensland coast..."
It's the stuff of nightmares.
For two days we scrambled.
Fill gas and water bottles. Make sure the car has fuel.
Collect candles, torches, batteries and tinned food. Clean
the yard and gutters, tape the windows. Pack the cars with
clothes, camping gear, first aid kit and chain sawâ€¦
The instructions pounded through our heads as we checked and
rechecked our preparations. When the basic survival
necessities were in order, I dove into my office and filled
a box with my favourite books, manuscripts, contracts, etc.
My computer waited. "Can I come?" it blinked.
Years of writing, emails, addresses and taxes were contained
in that bulky tower. Even my favourites folder had taken
forever to compile. I needed them all. What if we lost the
roof? My computer and its contents would be strewn across
the far north, never to be seen again.
Time to back up.
I've been careless in the past and paid for my sins.
'Backing up' was just another one of those computer terms
like 'defragment' and 'disc cleaning'. A few years ago my
computer crashed. I was naÃ¯ve (or foolish) enough to have
ignored these words and neatly put them into the box marked
'computer geek language â€“ unnecessary'. I didn't need to
know about them. I only used the computer. I didn't have to
know how it worked.
My computer crashed. The experts said 'Nothing is
retrievable'. I felt like I'd crashed and burned with my
files. I lost it all except for a few hard copies of a few
first drafts. Fortunately, this was at the beginning of my
writing career and my psyche was salvageable (just). I had
lost all of my contacts, my writing, snippets of ideas for
bestsellers (some of which I'm sure are still bouncing
around out there waiting for me to remember them) and my
all-important favourites folder.
I moaned, raged, cried and pulled out handfuls of my hair.
After a few weeks, I licked my wounds, brushed my hair and
bought a new computer. The first thing I learned to do?
Back up my work.
At that stage, I used the best method available to me. The
floppy disc is no longer viable and many computers don't
even have a floppy disc drive anymore. But at that point it
was a Godsend. I became an avid backer-upper. At first it
took me twice as long to accomplish my work, as I would
write a sentence and get nervous. Was that a flicker on my
screen? Did the lights dim? Was the power going to go out?
I'd save my document and drag it onto my floppy. Whew â€¦ on
to the next sentence.
I have overcome my paranoia of losing my work, but I am
Some people back up weekly, some people three or more times
a day. This is an individual choice. I back up at least once
a day. I've had enough computer problems to know that
lightning can strike just as easily at noon as it can in the
middle of the night. If I have written a particularly
scintillating article or a phenomenal work of prose, I will
back up immediately. (My moments of brilliance don't happen
frequently enough to throw them away.) If it's a reasonably
normal day with reasonably normal writing, I can usually
wait until I'm ready to log off.
I'm sure there are dozens of methods and programs and
software that will help you back-up your work. There are
probably even little alarms that will tell when you are due.
I don't know about those, but I will tell you what works for
â€¢ CDs- Until recently, I backed-up my work by
dragging it onto rewritable cds. This worked quite well and
would have been perfect except that I kept changing my
system and ended up with dozens of cds containing some or
part of the same files. One week I felt that the most
efficient method would be to classify my cds by genre:
children's writing on one, articles on another, emails on a
third. The next week that wasn't good enough and I decided
that I'd be better off with a chronological back-up system.
That worked for a while, but my labelling was atrocious so,
in order to find a file I'd backed up a month ago, I'd have
to go through seven cds to find it.
I finally decided 'this is a back-up system. I might never
need it.' I simply dragged my most recent work onto the
closest cd and forgot about it. I'd find it if I ever needed
it. The important thing was that I had it â€¦ somewhere. I
didn't find it the most efficient back up method, but it
does work and you wouldn't have to go far to be more
organised than I am.
â€¢ Email- If you're using Outlook Express or a similar
system for email, a simple short term method of ensuring you
keep your important letters is to forward them to yourself.
Before the cyclone, I emailed all of my crucial letters to
myself and then didn't open Outlook Express on my PC. You
can even write emails to yourself and attach documents. This
way I could open my mail from any computer and have access
to the saved emails. The important thing is to refrain from
opening Outlook Express until you are up and running again.
This system does work well, but its quite time consuming if
you want to save all of your work. I save this method for
â€¢ On line briefcase- Another means of saving your
work is to use Yahoo briefcase. If you visit
http://briefcase.yahoo.com/bc//home you can sign
up for your own briefcase. I have downloaded much of my work
onto my own private section of this site. Again, this means
that I can access any of it from any computer in the world.
It also takes a bit more time as you have to wait to
download it, but once you have the bulk of your work there,
you only need to top it up. I often use this method for my
â€¢ USB flash drive- The flash drive is my favourite.
It's the size of your thumb (this is possibly why it's
sometimes called a thumb drive or a pen drive). They come in
different capacities. Some hold as much as 8 gigabytes and
the smallest I've seen holds 125mb. These little devices
plug into your USB port on your computer (the newer
computers have them in the front where it's easily accessed.
The older computers had them at the back. Could be painful).
Once plugged in, it will open automatically or you can go
into My Computer and click on the appropriate drive. Drag
your folders, files and documents into the drive and remove
the thumb drive from your computer. The only drawback I've
found with these little creatures is that they are so small
and so easily lost. I have one with a string attached so I
can wear it around my neck. You can also attach it to your
key chain if you're travelling or evacuating.
Backing up doesn't have to be painful and it's worth it.
I've found that a combination of the methods above covers me
comfortably. Your time is precious and, if you're anything
like I am, many of those inspired thoughts flit past and
disappear forever. Hang onto them.
Cyclone Larry is gone, leaving devastation in his wake. We
were lucky. We missed the worst of it. We did evacuate and
spent a frightening night on mattresses on the floor. But I
was surrounded by my family and friends while my career
dangled safely from a chain around my neck.
Â© copyright Ann
Harth 2005. Comments and suggestions for specific topics pertaining
to writing, editing or working from home are welcome. Please
contact me at
Ann Harth is a
freelance manuscript assessor, copyeditor, proofreader and
ghostwriter as well as a published author. She writes in all
genres of childrenâ€™s fiction from picture books to young
adult novels as well as adult fiction and non-fiction. She
has successfully completed several text-editing projects for
university students and authors, and is the assistant
fiction editor of www.moondance.com, a literary on-line magazine. She is
also on the creative writing staff of
www.storydog.com, a website for children.
More information on the freelance services that Ann Harth
offers can be found on her website at