Words on a Page Writings about writing

How to effectively archive your writing

Three different ways to store your information

Most of you probably don’t remember the days when hard drive space on a computer was at a premium. Back then, we regularly had to back up our files on to floppy disks to both free up some space and to protect against losing those files due to a hard drive failure.

These days, we definitely don’t lack for real estate on our hard drives. It’s still a good idea, however, to archive your writing files. Why? Hard drives still fail. Your computer might get stolen or damaged. You might accidentally click Delete when you shouldn’t.

Effectively archiving your writing involves more than just dumping files somewhere. I’d like to share with you a strategy for doing that.

Organization is the key

Properly organizing your writing files can go a long way to helping you better archive them. But what do I mean by properly organizing your files?

Many writers I know have a folder on their computers named Writing or Blogging. And they just dump their files in there. That doesn’t help organize their work. Those folders are just a dumping ground. Putting files into them is like tossing your clothes into a corner in your bedroom.

Instead, I suggest using one of the following directory structures:

A task-based structure, which you can use for blog posts or for articles. When I use this kind of structure, I usually name the base folder after the publication or blog — for example, Words on a Page. Then, I have subdirectories for the year and within each year’s subdirectory I have subdirectories for each month. If I’m writing for a publication to which I only contribute every so often, I’ll name subdirectories after the articles I’m working on. Of course, I’ll also include subdirectories for images, notes, and the like.

A project-based structure, which you can use for specific, one-time projects. That could be a writing assignment for a corporate client or it could be for an ebook. Depending on the project, you should have subdirectories for images, notes, and the like.

Also, think carefully about how you name your files. Saving them with the name article1.doc or screenshot-123.png isn’t useful. Instead, make the names of your files descriptive. I offer some advice for naming files in this post.

Where to archive your files

That’s the question, isn’t it? You have two options:

  • An online service like Dropbox or SpiderOak
  • An external hard drive

Each option has its strengths and its drawbacks.

With an online backup service, you can install software that automatically synchronizes your files as you create and save them. This automation eliminates a lot of labour on your part. On the other hand, if you delete a file either on your computer or in web interface of the service, that file will disappear forever when you next sync. On top of that, you never know when a service could go belly up.

An external hard drive, on the other hand, is something you control. Depending on the drive you choose, you might have to manually move files or you can use software that comes with the drive to automatically back up your files at an interval you set. An external hard drive, like any other hard drive, could fail or files on the drive could become corrupt. As well, the drive could get stolen or it could be lost if, for example, there’s a house fire.

Which approach to choose? If you can afford to do so, I suggest use both an online storage service and an external hard drive.

How often to archive your files

If you’re doing it automatically, you won’t need to worry that. If you aren’t, try to manually backup your files monthly and annually.

Archiving monthly ensures you have a fairly up-to-date set of backups for your work. Annually gives you the opportunity to clear out your folders and start anew while having a backup of your work in case you need to repurpose it or base a future project on that work.

If you’re paranoid about losing work on a large project (or even a small one), you can archive your files every day. The gets a bit cumbersome, but you never know what will happen.

To compress or not to compress?

By compress, I mean create a zip file that compresses a number of files into a single file. Zipping files used to be essential in the days when hard drive space was at a premium. Compressing a bunch of files can result in a zip file that’s smaller that the combined sizes of all the files you’ve compressed.

To compress or not is up to you. Zip files are easier to manage, but you can’t determine what’s in them without opening those files. Zip files can also get corrupted. If that happens, you lose everything.

If you do decide to compress your files, give your zip files a descriptive name. A name like writing-backup-2016.zip doesn’t cut it. Instead, think about including the following in the name of the file:

  • The name of the publication, blog, client, or project
  • The date that the zip file covers

For example, let’s say you write a column for a weekly newspaper in your area. If you’re archiving your files annually, and compressing them, you can name the file something like: newspaper-name-columns-2016.zip (replace newspaper-name with the actual name of the newspaper).

Whether or not you archive your writing is up to you. If you do, remember to do the deed regularly. There might come a time when you’ll thank yourself for doing that.

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