February 25, 2018
Do you have recurring dreams about your novel getting stolen before you can finish writing it?
I do. It’s not completely rational. No one’s going to want to finish it themselves and publish it. No, most likely it’d be someone I’ve wronged over the years finally taking sweet vengeance, or an unlucky bout of ransomware.
I bring this up because I want to talk about backups today. How are you backing up your in-progress novel? Are you doing it after every writing session?
You might not even be writing a novel. I’m not judging you, but I warn you that the rest of this post, which is targeted at people who are, may be lost on you.
Without further ado, here is the rest of the post.
If your novel lives in Dropbox, you’ve got a copy on your drive and automatic backups on the cloud. It even provides a kind of version control that lets you download earlier snapshots of your file.
So why wouldn’t you use Dropbox?
I’m not here to put ideas in your head that using Dropbox is bad. After all, it would ruin my future chances of getting this blog sponsored by them.
But let’s say there are reasons that you don’t want to store your book on remote hard drives that belong to a huge corporation. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to steal your novel or anything, but let’s say you still don’t want to.
No, see... the email server is owned by a different huge corporation! We’ve already established that you’re paranoid about that sort of thing, because that’s potentially how novels get stolen.
So stop emailing your novel to yourself, because, at best, you’ll end up with a huge folder of old versions, and you also might accidentally forward it to somebody who shouldn’t have it. You’ve definitely made mistakes of that severity before.
If you want to keep everything so it’s under your control, and ensure your data can survive a computer failure, you’re probably looking at an external hard drive. Get an SSD for its data integrity, but don’t worry too much about size. This is only for your most important backups. I don’t doubt you have terabytes worth of data that’s valuable to you, but I’m guessing the really, really important stuff, like your novel, is small.
Now, I’ve certainly got enough enemies at this point that I’ve mentally prepared for the consequences of getting firebombed. Have you? At any rate, if your data’s important enough — and we all know how important our novels are — you’re going to want it in a fireproof safe.
So get one of those, and make it a habit to copy your novel to your external drive and lock it away after every session.
The problem with this solution is you’re not going to do that. It’s too much hassle to connect up the drive, and feels too paranoid to lock it up every day. Hard to justify to loved ones. Plus, you’ll still end up with that folder of files called Novel_NEW.doc, Novel_NEWEST.doc, etc. You’ll end up hating the hard drive.
Luckily, there’s a better way to back up your files. Initialize a Git repo in your novel’s directory and set up a Raspberry Pi as your Git server.
Did I just lose you? I didn’t say the solution was going to be non-technical, but since you’ve read this far into a blog that’s ostensibly about computers, you might as well consider this option.
If you’ve never used Git: it puts your files under version control, which is like turning on Track Changes folder-wide. Every line you modify is recorded, and at the end of your session, you can review each change, packaging them all together into a “commit.” Your external Git server will store a complete history of all commits and your project’s current state, and you can push your latest version to it — wirelessly — in seconds. Git’s designed to be used on the command line, but if you aren’t comfortable with that, there are plenty of graphical Git clients like SourceTree (though I prefer Cola which is jankier) that’ll help you view and commit your daily changes.
Start by getting yourself a Raspberry Pi, either one with built-in wireless capability or an older one into which you’ll plug a wireless USB dongle. Make sure the SD card that acts as the Pi’s hard disk is big enough to store your most valuable files. You’ll also need a power supply for the Pi and probably a small case for it. This may seem like a lot of things to buy, but the Raspberry Pi is pretty cheap, and even with those extras, you’re looking at a comparable price to a quality external hard drive.
Once you’ve got the Raspberry Pi up and running & hooked into your wireless network, initialize a bare Git repo on it and set it as your novel’s Git remote – don't worry, there are tutorials for these tasks. Commit the whole project in its current state, and you’re all backed up.
Then run your Raspberry Pi from inside your fireproof safe! Keep the safe open during the Pi’s operation, and when you’re done committing your changes, unplug the Pi and close the safe for the night. It’s easy enough to work into a routine, and doesn’t look paranoid enough that your loved ones ridicule you for having mental illness.
This solution’s not perfect — you have to learn how to use Git, for one — but once you start, you may find it’s the best way to work on big projects. I know you’ll love the feeling of having your novel backed up and fireproofed in just a few seconds.
That, and the peace of mind that no one’s going to STEAL IT.