Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing the first draft of a book about writing a book about your business. As I was preparing to print the first draft so I could start revisions, it struck me that reading this excerpt sooner rather than later could save some of you from a future headache.
Practise safe writing
Imagine having written 20,000 words of your book, saving it on your laptop, and having your laptop stolen. Alternatively, imagine finishing your first draft, saving it, and coming back to it the next day to find that your computer won’t turn on at all.
I know writers who have had such experiences. To keep you from having to add your name to the list of the unfortunate, I want you to put some healthy habits in place before you start writing. In this chapter I’ll address how to keep both hard copies and digital copies safe.
Protecting paper copies
Many writers still write their drafts out longhand before they type them up. For some people this both frees and focuses the mind. If you are one of these people, carry on, but take some precautions.
Risks to paper
Massively destructive fires are, thankfully, less common than they used to be. But they aren’t unheard of. For a few pounds, you can get a small fire safe in which to keep your completed manuscript pages/notebooks.
Don’t store your manuscript on the first floor if your house is prone to flooding. Also, don’t store it in the bathroom or kitchen (I’m not sure why anyone would, but stranger things have happened).
Water and paper are not good friends. Water and ink get on less well. Try to choose a pen that doesn’t run when it gets wet.
Okay, maybe not wild animals, but pets can wreak havoc with your paper manuscript. When she was younger, my cat took great pleasure in sliding my papers around the flat. Now, she takes pleasure in chewing on them. Keep an eye on your pets, and keep your papers out of reach.
If you have children, until they are old enough to understand that they mustn’t touch your papers, keep them well out of reach. You don’t want to come home to find that chapter one has been used for your little one’s latest masterpiece, or to find that they’ve smeared the carrot they weren’t happy about at lunch all over the first page.
Backing up your work
Backing up a hard copy requires more work on your part than backing up digital copies. I recommend you do all of these:
- Get in the habit of photocopying, scanning, or photographing new pages as you produce them.
- If you choose to scan or photograph them, skip to the next section.
- If you choose to photocopy your manuscript, keep a copy in your firesafe.
- In addition to this, at least once a month, take a second copy to store somewhere else – at a trusted friend’s house, in your office (assuming you don’t work at home), or in a safe deposit box at the bank.
You may think these suggestions are extreme, especially the safe deposit box, but think about how you’d feel if you lost your whole book before you could type it up and publish it. That would mean throwing dozens, if not hundreds, of hours away because you didn’t take the time to back up your work.
Protecting digital copies
We’ll start with how to keep it safe while you’re actually writing and work forward from there. We all know that the main risks to a digital copy are failure to save, virus infection, and power surges. Install good virus protection software and use a surge protector. For everything else, read on.
Autosave is your friend
Word has an autosave function. If you’re typing your manuscript in Word, click on File — Options — Save and then choose 1 minute for how often you want autosave to save your document. You can also toggle the autosave function on in the upper left corner (this saves your document to your OneDrive and works similarly to Google Docs). If you use another kind of software, it is worth your while to check whether it has a similar function.
Hard save regularly
If you haven’t already, you’ll soon learn that I don’t trust computers. In addition to using autosave, get in the habit of manually saving your document at least once an hour. Doing this will massively increase your chance of saving everything should there be a power surge, or should your computer take a funny turn.
Save to a flash drive and/or email yourself a copy
At least once a week, save a copy of your manuscript to a flash drive and/or email it to yourself. I suggest doing both just to be absolutely certain you don’t lose anything. If you don’t email it to yourself, make sure you keep your flash drive in a different building than the one you keep your computer in. You could also consider saving a copy in Google Docs – since that is not saved on your computer, so long as you don’t get locked out of your Google account, you’ll be able to access it.
Invest in the Cloud
Saving everything to the cloud is affordable and easy. If you didn’t buy the cloud backup package when you bought your computer, now is the time to look into it.
Print a copy
At the end of each draft, I strongly recommend that you print a copy and ask a trusted friend to keep it or store it in your office if your office is not in your home. As I said above, I don’t trust computers. Also, I recognise the fragility of paper. Printing a copy, in addition to the other steps, almost guarantees that you will have a copy somewhere. Though computers sometimes seem to have minds of their own, paper always behaves as you expect it to.
If you’ve finished reading this and you think I’m just being alarmist, ignore this advice at your own risk. Losing your book draft is much worse than losing your homework or even a term paper could possibly be.