How to Archive Your Documents Like a Pro

Recently, I found myself in a panic, trying to find beloved footage of sea turtles from my vacation to Maui. I pored over my work laptop, my home desktop, my home external hard drive. Desperately, I tried to think where I would have put the files. It might be on my work desktop or my work external hard drive…

“This is ridiculous!” I thought. Something must be done to control all these files.

We’ve all been there. You accidentally delete an important work project and unthinkingly empty your trash. Your PC succumbs to a virus. Your laptop gets run over by a car. And you sit, numbly, too heartbroken for tears, as you realize that a labor of love—or, at least, tons of time—has been lost forever.

Learn from your mistakes. Maintain an active, well-organized archive. Especially for writers, keeping your work backed up is crucial. Even if something was published in a major venue, you should have your own copy (or copies).

I’m certainly not perfect, but I do try to keep organized, complete archives of all of my work—dating back to when I stored it on floppy drives. (Yeah, I said floppy drives. Now turn down that rap music and get off my lawn, you whippersnappers.) So I have a few suggestions.

Everything important should be backed up in three places. I use external hard drives and cloud storage in addition to local drives (such as my computer’s desktop or Documents folder).

If the phrase “external hard drive” is new to you, don’t panic. Follow these links to the Amazons (or, if you’re into that sort of thing, check them out at your local computer store). Do not look at the price tag! These are your digital babies we’re talking about—this is no time to cheap out. I recommend LaCie, especially the “rugged” drives, which work with both Macs and PCs. My faithful Western Digital drive has stood the test of time, and I haven’t had many problems switching from Mac to PC with it, either. I’m old-school; when I bought the Western Digital drive back in 2006, 320 GB was an amazing amount of space, and I haven’t really needed more than that. However, you might want to spring for the 500 GB or even 1 TB (terabyte) drive if you are storing a lot of photos and video.

Now, on to the fun part: Organizing and backing everything up.

I have two different archives.

One, named “Melody’s Master Archive,” lives on my home desktop and my home external hard drive. Individual folders worth keeping—for instance, a folder containing all of the papers I ever wrote as an undergrad—should also be stored on discs. (And they will be, once I quit writing this blog post and start taking my own advice.)

My Master Archive contains everything that I have deemed worth keeping over the years, from pictures to music to half-baked story ideas. Everything. Every 4-6 months, I make sure everything is organized on the home-desktop version, and then I copy it over to the home external hard drive. The external exists only to store back-ups of the Master Archive. I recommend storing the external in a warm, dry, safe place—perhaps wrapped in silk and nestled among pillows, with a cloud of guardian angels surrounding it. Just like a computer hard drive, external drives can break, so never store anything on an external drive that you don’t also have somewhere else.

Then I have my cloud storage. I use Dropbox primarily, with Google Drive as a backup. I have linked all three of my computers—home desktop, work laptop, and work desktop—to sync with Dropbox, and I keep all of the documents I’m actively working on those folders. Once I’m done with a story or a bunch of reviews, I then move those documents over to my Master Archive and delete them from Dropbox.

Note: Do not store sensitive or confidential information (your social security number, passwords, sources’ names and contact info, W-2s and taxes, pictures of your weed, etc) in the cloud. Identity theft can happen to anyone—even the pros.

It is extremely important to make sure you keep your Dropbox documents backed up. These are the documents that I use every day, and I would be lost without them. It is fearfully easy to delete items in Dropbox, and deleted documents are only retrievable for 30 days. Therefore, I like to create a “Dropbox backup archive” on my home desktop that I update every month or so. I copy all my files to a local desktop in a folder named with the date on which I copied them.

No matter what system you devise, the most important thing is that you save your work in as many places as possible. Hoard it. Your documents, pictures, videos from vacation—all of these digital items comprise hard work and fantastic memories, a life represented by a series of code and some tubes (as I understand). Don’t lose the things that matter to you just because they’re technically not real.

Do it for the sea turtles.

1 reply »

  1. I use a synced Google Drive folder for all of my current projects and a 1TB Seagate Barracuda as my hard back up. This is all great advice that all creative types should heed. The time to address disaster recovery is BEFORE the disaster 🙂


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