back up and sleep wellBack Up and Sleep Well

by Ann Harth


"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 saw…

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 naïve (or foolish) enough to have ignored these words and neatly put them into the box marked 'computer geek language -- 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 … on to the next sentence.

I have overcome my paranoia of losing my work, but I am still vigilant.


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 me.

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 … 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.

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 emails.

On line briefcase- Another means of saving your work is to use Yahoo briefcase. If you visit  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 current work.

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.

© copyright Ann Harth. Ann Harth is a freelance manuscript assessor, copyeditor, proofreader and ghostwriter as well as a published author. She writes in all genres of children'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, a  literary on-line magazine. She is also on the creative writing staff of, a website for children.

More information on the freelance services that Ann Harth offers can be found on her website at


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