Are Your Writing Projects Future Proof?

I was going through some boxes the other day and came across some floppy disks that had been cryptically labeled. My first thought was to pop it into a computer and see what was on there that might be good for a laugh. It didn’t take long to realize that whatever was on there is probably lost.

I do have an old PC out in my office that still has a 3.5 inch floppy drive, and I’m fairly confident that it works, but what if the files were made in an old program that I no longer have access to? It doesn’t matter what the files are stored on if you don’t have the software to view it. I’m pretty sure that I have a dBASE III database cataloging all of my cds from the late 80s and early 90s, but that’ll never see the light of day again.

Here’s something scarier. We have a stack of 5.25″ floppies that my wife inherited from her Dad when he passed away. He was the family historian and collected years and years of data about their family history. He used and proprietary piece of family tree software and stored it all on those big black disks. I haven’t had a computer that would read those since 1988.

You are probably spending a huge amount of your time writing your thoughts and compiling them into the stories we all love to read and share. You’re probably using a new version of Word, Scrivener, Pages, or the like. There are lots of ways to back up those files with the ubiquity of portable and cheap storage, not to mention cloud backup services that are baked right into our operating systems. But what happens in several years and you come across that DVD that you backed up all of your book files on and you remember that half written novel that you now know how the third act is supposed to resolve. Good luck finding a PC that still has an optical drive, and lets hope that Word 2020 will still open a file created in 2010. Too far fetched? I’ll send you a copy of my cd database and let you be the judge.

As far as our blind trust in cloud backup services, let me share something with you. I have a backup service that I have used for years. I was an early adopter and the service offered several opportunities for me to “level up” by doing certain things like recommending their service to friends, auto backup my phone pictures, etc. After the “level ups” I had amassed about a half a terabyte of online storage and depended on it to store the hundreds of gigabytes of files I had accumulated from producing the podcast. One day I received an email from the service saying they were terminating the grandfathered free accounts and my storage would be reduced to their standard account size, effective immediately. Sure enough, I checked my synced folder and my files were gone. Luckily I had purchased an external USB 3 hard drive and had dumped those files there recently and I only lost a few files that I had to recreate. Lesson learned. The Cloud is actually just someone else’s computer, and you are subject to their whims.

So what can you do to ensure that your data is safe for a long time? The storage medium problem will always be a problem as technology advances and we find better and cheaper ways to store files. The answer that I have come to is to buy a big portable drive (or two, they’re really cheap now), and backup your files, old and new, religiously. When you see a new technology come along that is a game changer like the change from floppies to optical media to the now cheap and readily available usb flash drives and portable hard drives, move your data to the new platform when you can.

As far as the software platform problem, consider making backups of all your writing projects in plain text. Every computer comes equipped with a basic text editor and it can open any text file created since the 1960s, and probably will be able to for the next 100 years. Software packages come and go, but the one constant in computer systems is plain text. It’s not fancy, but it will be your words, and isn’t that what matters? With plain text backups, you can open those old projects years from now and edit and publish them any way you like. When Amazon is long gone, Microsoft has been replaced by more innovative ideas of computing and Apple is relegated to selling new smart dishwashers, your words will still be readable.

You might even find that writing in a text editor freeing. There are some really great text editors that remove all the distractions of making your words pretty and let you focus on getting your thoughts out. You can always port those words over to your word processor for you know, processing. I have a favorite app called Poe that does just what I want and when I’m done, I can take my txt file and port it into Word and make it pretty.

In a world where we have more control of publishing than we ever have before, don’t fall into the trap of being held hostage to your technology. Make your tech work for you, not leave you wondering what brilliant thing you’ve lost.

Love the craft of writing and hearing from your favorite authors? Check out the Author Stories Podcast.

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