It occurs to me if many companies underweight the value of backups, playwrights probably do as well. This is a non-good thing. There are few more horrible, sinking feelings than irreparably losing your own hard work. Multiply losing the second half of that college term paper times three hundred--that's you trying to piece together years of playwriting labor from printed copies of version X from that reading and some files from a ZIP disk circa 1997. Oh, the horror.

Here's a little guidance from one playwright who has, at a couple times in his day job career, been responsible for developing disaster recovery plans for banks and technology companies.

The most common mistakes you are likely making are:

  1. Putting backup off in lieu of more important things
  2. Not backing up off-site
  3. Avoiding backup because you think it'll be expensive
  4. Assuming it's a bit too technical for you
  5. Never actually testing a restore of your existing backup

I won't bore you with Disaster Recovery theory, but I'll show you what I do; it's not that complicated or time consuming and it'll only cost you a playwriterly amount between $0-$3/month. I'm a PC user, so you Mac people might need to do things a bit differently. If you use different software or tools to write, you might have some differences as well. But don't fret--it's all pretty similar out there at this point.

My backup regime is pretty simple--I have a desktop PC in my home office and a laptop, both of which I write from. So I need to keep them in sync and backup any work I do from either. I'll handle the syncing and version control in separate posts, but know that I'm achieving a constant backup from multiple machines.

CrashPlan

There are a lot of good options out there for backup software, but I use CrashPlan--it's cheap, unlimited, and makes it easy to backup both in my apartment and off-site in a super-secure place all at once. BackBlaze is also good and Mozy used to be great until they killed their unlimited plan. Now I'm a CrashPlan guy (I am not a compensated spokeperson for CrashPlan, I just use their shit). Here's what you do.

Getting CrashPlan set up.

  • Step 1: Go to http://www.crashplan.com/consumer/download.html and download CrashPlan (PC or Mac).
  • Step 2: Launch the thingy you downloaded and sign up for an account to give it a 30-day trial.
  • Step 3: You're probably on the Backup screen in CrashPlan--good job. You should see an area that says "Files" like this:
Selecting Files in Crashplan

Click that Changeā€¦ button and select any folder that contains your work.

Folder Selection in Crashplan

Okay, you're all set up. Now it's just a matter of telling your work where to go. So you get to play Literary Manager here for a bit.

Backing up off-site:

Let me tell you about the fire in my apartment years ago--I was sleeping because it was sleeptime, and woke to the sound of camels running on the ceiling. No alarms, just confusion and the general sense that something was weird. Bleary eye, I turned on the light and woke my roommate up--someone banged on our front door and said, "There's a fire, get out." I went back to my bedroom thinking, "How fast can a fire really spread? I'll probably be able to get dressed and make a few trips for valuables." I threw on some clothes, as it was February, and a plume of black smoke began to shoot through the hole near the radiator pipe. I knew I wanted to save my writing, and my PC looked rather large to try to unplug and carry out, so I grabbed the spiral notebook I had last written in and left the apartment. I passed firemen on the stairs going up and saw a pillar of flame out of the window.

Outside, as I shivered, I clutched my almost entirely empty 3-subject spiral notebook. I had saved a recipe for Bananas Foster.

Backing up off-site is something you must do. CrashPlan is free until you backup on their servers. Do it. Pay the money. This will cost you a few bucks a month and it will be among the best few bucks a month you can spend. You get a 30-day trial, so give it a little run and then make your purchase. If you are just backing up your writing, 10 GB should be plenty; get the only slightly more expensive unlimited plan if you think you'll also want to back up photos, music, and/or videos.

Click on Destinations in CrashPlan. You'll see "CrashPlan Central"--cool, that's where your stuff will live. Click on the "Start Backup" button and your files will start to slowly go to a an off-site location. Your 30 day trial starts now.

No one will be able to make copies or even see your work--it's heavily encrypted and only someone who can login as you will be able to restore anything you backup. It's going to keep running for many days until it gets the first set of everything off-site-then it'll run periodically whenever you change or add files in the folders you selected. You can close CrashPlan and it'll keep doing it's thing in the background as long as your computer is on sometimes.

That's it. You've now done more to take care you personal genius than 95% of people. Have a candy bar. You deserve it.

Backing up locally:

For extra credit, you can also use CrashPlan to backup locally. There are some advantages to doing this:

  1. If in the extremely unlikely event, CrashPlan has a problem, you still have a backup available to you.
  2. If you do have a disaster, like your PC or hard drive explode, restoring from a local backup will be tons faster.

I do this to an external hard drive I bought. These things are everywhere and shouldn't cost you more than $100. You can hook it up directly to your computer or even use one connected to another computer in your world. You can also backup to another computer in your environment or to your sister's computer in Duluth, but I'm not going to cover that.

Back in the Destinations screen, let's click on the "Folders" tab:

Selcting a Local Destination in Crashplan

CrashPlan will now backup your goodies to two different places. You're a superhero.

What if I ever have a problem?

So you need to restore your files. Pat yourself on the back for being prepared, you Boy Scout you. You probably noticed the Restore menu item in CrashPlan--you might have had a real disaster and your computer or laptop was destroyed--you get a new one and install CrashPlan on it. Once you sign in, you'll have access to your stuff again.

Click on Restore--there is your stuff! Relief sets in.

Restoring files in Crashplan

Choose your most valuable files, and click the Restore button. Down they shall come.

When you first start backing up, you should do a little restore test. You'll feel more confident in your backup and less in-the-wind if you ever experience a disaster. It's pretty simple to do.

  1. Back up a completely unimportant file to CrashPlan.
  2. Delete it on your computer.
  3. Restore it.

Ideally, you would test your backup to confirm you got all your important bits & pieces, but that's up to you.

Special bonus: Multiple versions!

You might be working on a script one day and you realize that 4 days ago, you overwrote the best part with a diversion about cat hair. You can find the good part anywhere. CrashPlan has some poor man's version control and it can take you back in time.

In the Restore screen, see where it says "most recent" version? Click that.

Selecting an earlier version in Crashplan

Choose a day from the past and it will be like you are restoring an earlier version of your script. You'll notice it says you are going to "rename" any existing files--that's good. You might find you restored an older version that is not what you wanted to recover, so it won't overwrite what you currently have. Now click on the Restore button and you are good to go.

True version control can be even better--I use Subversion for that. I'll cover that in a different article, but CrashPlan certainly is a nice backup.

So good job--you now have a fully sound and secure backup and recovery strategy.

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