◎ 10 Ways to Not Lose your Novel

October 19, 2012

Today, I am going to talk about something extremely important for both National Novel Writing Month and beyond.

I am talking, of course, about backing up your novel.

Every year, I have a friend whose computer crashes/file gets corrupted/flash drive gets lost during NaNoWriMo, and while I secretly relish the fact that their loss of words puts me ahead in the word count race, I recognize that losing one's novel is a rotten thing to go through. You can easily avoid such a catastrophe by backing up your work intermittently throughout the month using two or three of the following methods.

1. Flash drive Flash drives are relatively inexpensive. Use your flash drive to back up your novel at least once per week. DO NOT carry this flash drive around with your laptop (which is what I used to do). If your laptop is lost or stolen, your back-up'll vanish right along with it. Leave it in a locked box at home or, better yet, at the home of someone you trust.

Edit 10/20: A commenter brought up two additional things that I actually do but neglected to mention!  I always create a new folder on my flash drive ("Novel Back-Ups xx/xx/xx") each time I back up my novels, which makes it easier to find/view past versions. Also, you can carry a flash drive with your laptop for daily back-ups. I didn't include this originally because I was thinking of my own bad habit of backing up ONLY to the flash drive tucked in my laptop case. (Egads!) Being that you should use 2-3 of these measures, however, backing up to a flash drive on your person isn't a bad idea so long as you maintain back-ups elsewhere.

In short, the two options are:

  • Flash drive at home/office/friend's house; back up novel once per week; new folder for each back-up
  • Flash drive on your person; back up daily; new folder for each back-up

2. Email  Email your files to yourself on a regular basis through gmail, yahoo, or some other email provider that lets you store emails for years on end.

3. Buddy Find a friend to file-swap with. They'll safeguard your novel on their computer, and you'll safeguard theirs. (I get the feeling most of us writers are too paranoid about our writing to do this one! However, do note that it's possible to set a password for your file.) 

4. Cloud Use a service like Dropbox to automatically back up your files. Time Machine is a good option for those of you using a desktop Mac computer.

5. CD Burn your novel on a blank disc every now and then JIC. (That stands for “just in case,” friend!) It’s an antiquated notion, but backing up files on a good ol’ CD is just as effective as a flash drive (and is MUCH easier to decorate with Sharpies!)

6. Print Every couple of months, it’s a good idea to actually print out a copy of your novel (or at least the newest section thereof). Not only is this helpful come editing time, it's actually a viable way to restore your novel should all of your electronic backups fail.

7. Scatter Scatter digital back-ups of your novel throughout several trustworthy locations (your house, your parent’s house, online, etc). If all of your back-ups are in one place and something horrific happens (fire, water damage, etc), you could still very well lose everything. What they say about financial portfolios holds true here: DIVERSIFY!

8. Multiple formats Save your novel in several electronic formats once every couple of months, including doc, docx, rtf, and PDF. You never know if a file will become corrupted or be un-openable after a system update or virus!

9. Smart phone Save a copy of your novel to your smart phone. (Again, you can password-protect the file if you’re concerned about someone stealing your phone and making big bucks off your novel.)

10. Schedule Stick to a back-up schedule. (This is where I need to practice what I preach!) For example, decide that you’re going to back up your work to a flash drive every Sunday, burn your work to a disc every month, and replace the outdated version on your cell phone once a month. 

If you simply work 2-3 of the above listed back-up methods into your schedule, you will undoubtedly save yourself some heartache in the future!

Have you ever lost a novel or a significant amount of writing? Did you learn your lesson, or are you back to your non-backing up, carefree ways? ;)


  1. On #1 - to have one flash stick in a different place is fine, to have another for a daily backup is better. This won't prevent stealing, but helps against disk crash, accidental deletion, file corruption
    #11 - keep versioned copies. In case your current file is corrupted, you can reconstruct past chapters from your archive.

    1. I actually do both of those (particularly keeping versioned copies!), but neglected to mention them. Just added a section addressing both points! Thanks again for pointing these out.

  2. Awesome tips Kat! I can do some of the same things to back up school work! This can be used to back up most things :D

  3. I normally use 1 and 2, but I may try printing when my printer gets fixed. Thanks for the tips Kat! :)

  4. This happened to me, but with regular paper(Assassins) and i was sooo sad. I had a hard time looking for the other papers, and im still probably missing some. Lesson: never store fragments of your novel on loose leaf and keep them thrown anywhere. You'll lose them forever!


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