Tag Archives: dropbox

Cloud-Based Storage and You: How to Never Lose Your Work, Because if You Did, You Would Cry Like a Little Baby

Have you ever had a “friend” lose a manuscript, or even half a manuscript, due to a computer crash? They may describe it like a slow-motion car accident, their hope melting away with each second. Something like this.

Friends don’t let friends save work solely on their desktops. Friends make sure friends are saving their work on a cloud-based storage. I personally don’t care which company you go with, just as long as you do go with one as a back up. 

You may accuse me, by the end of this article, of using scare tactics to get you to back up your work. 

Yes, you are correct. 

In the Writing World, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The writers who save their work, and the writers that do not save their work or have copies. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.

1. Lord Byron. What’s worse than dying? Sending the very last thing you wrote, your memoirs, to your editor with the request he publish them after you die, and instead he rips up each page and throws it into a fire. THAT’S worse than dying, probably.

2. Sylvia Plath. How about after you die, your own husband destroys your very last works, including 130 pages of a novel you were working on?

3. Ernest Hemingway. Maybe it would be less painful if your wife took a bunch of your short stories to show them off to friends, only to have her bags stolen in the train station.

4. Edna St. Vincent Millay. Let’s say you take a vacation to Florida and bring your manuscript. When you return to the hotel after a stroll on the beach, you find the hotel engulfed in flames.

5. Author 1 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). When this author was just starting out, he lent the only copy of his very first novel to his friend to read. She lost it. Oops!

I know what you’re thinking. But Kristin, those writers didn’t use computers. Computers are different.

OH ARE THEY?

6. Toy Story 2. That time when an employee accidentally entered the wrong code, which started systematically wiping the entire film from the database. (Guess why this is a happy ending? Somebody was smart/lucky enough to have a back-up drive at home.)

7. Author 2 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). When this author was just starting out, he decided to write a short story every week. The first year went pretty well, so he decided to keep going with this goal. He was doing fine until his house burned down in a fire, and he lost every single story he had written over several years.

8. Author 3 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). This author was blazing through a late and long-awaited novel. He left his office for the day, only to return the next day to find all of his computers, back up drives, and other technical equipment stolen. Because he had been in such a rush to finish the novel, he hadn’t been saving it regularly, which meant the only form he had left of the novel was the first couple of chapters, which also hadn’t yet undergone the heavy edits he had just made to them.

Let’s learn from these brave souls’ (very) hard-earned mistakes. Back up your work. One of the best, free resources out there right now is Dropbox. It’s a cloud-based application that saves your work on multiple third-party servers, which means you can access your saved work at any time from any device with internet.

It doesn’t hurt to also have a hard copy, in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Because we all know that planning is everything.

What’s the most painful story you’ve heard about a work being destroyed or lost or deleted?

The Invisible Library

I love collecting digital bits.

And I am considered an early adopter by friends.

As disorganized as I may be with files littering my virtual and actual desktops, I have an excellent track record of not losing digital data. Misplacing, yes, but my backup processes are fairly secure.

I hit the save key reflexively every few seconds or whenever I stop typing. I email copies of documents to myself to ensure they’re backed up in the cloud. I have onsite and offsite physical backups of all my files.

Ever since the advent of the Kindle and the iPad, I’ve been delighted. There are so many ways to access the rich library of documents I’ve been squirreling away for all these years. And with tools like Dropbox and various PDF viewers on the iPad, I’ve been able to have useful subsets of my digital library with me wherever I go.

Recently I’ve even begun backing up bits of my library. I’ve taken a number of big tomes and sent them to Blue Leaf Bookscanning to get turned into PDFs and word documents and even robot-read audiobooks.

But there’s a cost for me to digitization.

Serendipity.

In my home I have bookshelves. Many of them. And I have an area where I keep all my language books. And sometimes, when I walk over to that part of the shelf, I feel compelled to learn some more Portuguese verbs. Or another Latin phrase. It’s not planned.

I have another shelf full of mid 1800s American “Cyclopediae”. Had I planned to look up something in that? Not really. Was I enriched by it? Yes.

I have a shelf next to my bed, supposed to be a nightstand. It’s actually a two foot wide, 5 foot tall shelf. It has possibly 50 books I’m in the middle of browsing or reading. My “nightstand” gives me that same feeling I get when I stand in front of the magazine stand at a good bookstore. “Oooh – what am I going to choose?” There are too many good choices.

To be fair, I have experienced some form of this on my iPad. I’ve loaded up a ton of PDFs into the Apple iBooks app. Sadly (for Apple), I have to say that iBooks is only used store PDFs; Amazon has my eBook business and will keep it until I can read iBooks on my computer. (But that’s a separate rant.)

And so occasionally, I have said “why look there, there’s a book on programming Ruby on Rails, I should browse through that.”

“Oh theres that manual I downloaded on Intellectual Property and patent drafting, I’ll read it. ”

But the point is, I think it will be a while before I have the scant 64Gb of my iPad chock full of ALL my digital documents. Years in fact. I just don’t see it. First theres the scanning, or re-acquiring the book in digital form. Then there’s the filling the space, or hoping that “cloud books” comes out when “cloud music” is just getting started.

There’s no question that eBooks are rising fast. So much so that they will be the most significant part of the Western reading market soon. Ebook sales will be the driver, not just a growing segment, of book sales.

Books will go down fighting. It will probably take generations to fully marginalize books, even though digital formats are eclipsed within two decades. VHS. Tape. CDs. DVDs. Blu-Ray. These are all formats-come-lately. They have not persisted. Photographs and phonograph records are a bit longer lasting. But printed word has millennia of success.

So what of the browse? What of the bookstore? What of the random luck that comes from browsing not just a corner bookstore but of rediscovering one’s own library? Or of putting a reminder to one’s self to read a book, by leaving it in your bag?

When all books are equally accessible in a huge digital bookstore on your iPad, and when new books are constantly marketed to you, invading the privacy of your own tablet, what will this do to undirected reading? How will one continue to enjoy these essential and random encounters with books?

I don’t know. What I do know is that my family is shopping for a house right now. And after digging through probably a hundred houses on the multiple listing service, I remember just two have really stood out to me. I may make an offer on one next week. And only when I was finishing writing this article did I realize something.

Both of those homes have a library.

 

A Writer’s Software Arsenal

The enemy of every writer is the same: the blank page. We each have different weapons that we use against this common foe, but being a programmer by trade, I tend to use software in my arsenal. Being my first post, I thought it would be a good idea to list some of the common software tools that many authors, including myself, use. Just to note, these are all my own personal recommendations and I have not been influenced by their publishers.

The Word Processor

Microsoft Word: ~$149.99 with office. (https://office.microsoft.com)
Openoffice: Free (http://www.openoffice.org/)
Google Docs: Free (https://docs.google.com/)

A common theme you’ll hear when writers give advice is to use what works best for you. It doesn’t really matter which word processor you use, as long as you have something you can use to write with. When you write, you should use something that is familiar to you and lets you work with very little thought on how it goes down on paper. If the line that appears under misspelled words throws you off your game, disable the feature. You can always run a spell check at the end. Just write!

Plotting:

Wikidpad: Free http://wikidpad.sourceforge.net/

When I first started plotting my books, I would create a lot of files in Microsoft Word and put my thoughts down there. As my novels grew larger, my system began to fall apart. Another author suggested wikidpad to me and it has been a huge time-saver ever since. It has a small learning curve that takes a little getting used to, but once you’re familiar with it, things begin to fall into place. As you plot out elements, you can quickly link to other elements and world elements. This can easily turn a convoluted mess into a well-structured system. The price is hard to beat as well.

Backup

Dropbox: Free http://www.dropbox.com
Carbonite: $59/year http://www.carbonite.com/

Computer backup services have been around for a while but still tend to go unused by many writers. Some claim that they don’t want their unpublished works stored somewhere online, while others just haven’t taken the time to set it up. As with any type of insurance, it’s not a problem until something goes wrong. I personally keep all my transcripts on dropbox. The advantages are numerous. I can access my documents from my home or work. I can start writing on my desktop at home, and finish from my laptop in a café with no worry of how to transfer it between the two computers. If I’m at a conference, I can pull out my iPhone and instantly pull up a transcript to show off, or even email to potential agents or publishers. One other feature I like about Dropbox is that it will keep a revision history. If you have a bad night and delete half the document in a fit of rage, you can go back and pull up a prior version, restoring the lost chapters.

I will continue to look at other software that may be useful to writers to battle the blank page. If you have ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment, and I may look at them in future posts.