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Back again? Blimey, you guys don’t quit. Cleared your desk of cables? Given up being a performer with strange habits? Good, because for the next few episodes I’m going to talk about a few tech related issues for writers.

Hey, I’m a writer.

Good, glad to hear it.

But, episodes? Don’t you mean Posts?

Believe me, if you saw the crying, screaming and whining that goes into each one of these, you’d call them episodes as well.

Gotcha. So what are you going to thrill us with today?


Backup? Nigel! Backup? Seriously, you’re going to talk about backup?

Er, yeah. So quit whining and read on.

Actually, you have a point. No one, not even those who do it for a living, get excited about backing up their work. But, don’t dismiss the importance of backup (yeah, that’s what those people who do it for a living say as well – ed).

The average lifespan of a hard disk in a computer is five years.

FIVE years?

Yeah. That’s good and bad. It’s good because you’ll only lose five years of your writing and it’s bad because you’ll lose 5 years of your writing. (I’m going to ignore that person with a malicious grin, who just put their hand up and asked the age of my computer).

The average piece of software to recover data from a hard disk is obscure. They make having a backup plan look simple. They’re also tend to be the kind of #@$%ware that infests so many Windows machines, often “free” and almost always a pain in one of the places you definitely don’t want hurt. At least I don’t. Your preferences may be different.

Let’s look at the most likely claims for not backing up your work.

  1. I don’t know how to do it.
  2. I’ll do it when I’ve finished my first (second, third …) draft
  3. My friend set it up for me, but I don’t know how it works.
  4. I wish you’d mentioned it sooner …

In case 1, read on.

Case 2, hope nothing happens to your precious work before you get it set up, and read on.

Case 3, beat the friend over the head (or take a few notes next time – ON PAPER) and read on.

Case 4, Sorry, I hope you’ve got a good memory … and read on.

Still reading? Good.

The following advice isn’t for video producers who think a terabyte reasonable space for a couple of high-def video clips. If you are a video producer – hi, nice to have you reading, but you need to get advice from people who do that sort of stuff for a living. Yeah, they’ll be all serious and don’t honestly enjoy their jobs, but you need something very different to writers.

What writers need is Dropbox.

Nigel, are you taking about the hidden compartments that spies use to pass coded messages, written on microdots, to each other?


In fact, if that was you first thought, don’t answer the phone. It’ll be the 1980’s calling wanting their LED watch back. Spies don’t do that any more. They haven’t done it for years. Unplug the phone now, run fast and try to catch up with the rest of us. is a website that provides a backup and synchronization service for free. At least it’s free if you backup less than 2Gb.


Yeah, 2Gb. Like I said. Dropbox is good for writers. It allows you to save the stuff you write, not the contents of your entire computer (OS, music, videos etc).

If you’re a writer, you probably generate text, Word, Excel and (if you’ve seen the light) Scrivener documents (more about that in another post). All of these docs have a lot of text and no, or very few, pictures. This means the file sizes are small, 10kb to 5Mb. Even at the 5Mb size (which is a %$#@! lot of typing), 2Gb is a thousand documents. If your work-in-progress is more than 1000 documents you’d better get the number of that video producer now.

And Dropbox doesn’t just backup your files. It synchronizes them. If you link two computers to a Dropbox account and change a file on one it will be updated on the second computer. That’s pretty useful if you have a desktop and a laptop.

Or an iPad.

Or iPhone.

Or an Android phone.

Or a Linux box or a PC or a Mac or even a Blackberry.

In fact if you’ve got something not on that list (like a ten year old Bebox) you can even log in with any old web browser.

Ok, ok. So how do we do all this stuff?

1) Go to

2) Click on the Download Dropbox button and install the software. You will have to come up with a password at this point. WRITE IT DOWN. Really. You’ll need it to set up any other computers.

3) Move your work in progress folders into the Dropbox folder.

4) Volia! After a few moments all your files will be sync’d onto the Dropbox server.

That’s it. You’ve backed up your work.

You’ll notice the folders and files in the Dropbox folder have small green ticks by them. This means they’ve been sync’d. When you finish editing a document you will see it change to a couple of blue arrows for a moment as it’s sync’d and then back to the green tick.

Ok, I feel better because I’ve backed up my work. But what happens when I’m not connected to the internet?

No problem. Edit away. The copies of the documents are on the Dropbox server and in the Dropbox folder on your computer(s). When you finally reconnect to the internet, Dropbox will sync up all your changes.

Is that all it does?

What? Backing up all your hard work, syncing it across multiple platforms and OSs for free isn’t enough? You guys are never satisfied.

I was only asking.

Ok, I’ll stop ranting. Yeah, it does more.

First off, it saves every revision you make to a document. Every. Well at least every time you exit the program you’re using to edit the file. So, if you accidentally paste your shopping list over your world domination plans, no problem (at least as far as the plans go, the rest of us might be in for a rough time). All you have to do is go to, login in, click on the “Files” tab to get the screen below.

Dropbox File List

Secondly, you can share files or folders. Sharing a folder is a great way for a group to collaborate on a project, rather than emailing files around.

From the Files screen above, click Invite to Folder and you’ll be asked to give the email addresses of the people you want to invite to use the folder.

Invite to FolderThe people you invite will receive an email with a link. They just click on the link and the folder will be added to their Dropbox sync’d folders.

You can create subfolders below the main folder and every invitee will be able to read and write to those folders. Obviously, these folders are viewable by all, so only place things you want to share in those folders.

So that’s it. Get a Dropbox account, sync up your work, and sleep safe at night. You know it makes sense (which is more than can be said for the next post -ed).

There are several other similar services,, for example. If you’ve any experience with them, or any other similar services, let us know, below.


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