You’ve been writing for years, ever since your teachers and friends told you that you have a gift. You’re so good, that you’ve made writing your career. And you’ve done well — written for great online publications and earned a living through your writing.
And then… poof! One day, it’s all gone. Years of excellent work and nothing to show for it.
What can you do to prevent this? What’s the ideal process to back up your work? This guide will go over why you need a writing backup, why the current advice regarding writing backups is sorely lacking, and, most importantly, how you can create the perfect writing backup with almost no effort.
Losing your writing is terrible
I lost a lot of articles and other work because websites shut down.
Our work is our career, and that needs to be protected. How else will we continue to build a portfolio? Our work is our career, and that needs to be protected.
I’ve been burned many times by publications that went under, were acquired, redesigned, switched their content management system, or just unceremoniously seemed to dump old content without warning.
You'll probably lose some of your writing at some point. It happens to everyone, even the best. It has happened to me, and as you can see above, it has befallen accomplished folks the world over.
In fact, famous writers in history such as Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, and Sylvia Plath have all lost writing at various stages of their lives (and for some after their deaths).
Reasons why writing gets lost even if you've been careful
In the modern world, with modern gadgets, you can still lose your writing even when it isn't your fault. After all, the internet is by no means perfect and is not storing your writing forever. You can lose your writing when:
- a CMS switch has been botched – it happens a lot when publishers merge their operations
- for SEO reasons, your article has been removed from the sitemap
- your article has been re-bylined and is now under someone else's name
- your writing has gone behind a paywall
- the publication has gone bust, and the whole site has gone down
Reasons why writing is lost when you're busy and distracted
You can lose your articles because you weren't too careful.
- You didn't find time to save it – no prolific writer spends much of their time on the tedious task of manually backing up everything they write – and they shouldn't be expected to!
- You did save your work, but it got lost in your massive archive of backed-up folders and files – I confess this has happened to me: PDFs, screenshots, Google docs, and Microsoft Word docs are mighty hard to go through!
- Disaster struck in the form of a house fire, earthquake, flood, storm, or worse. And you didn't have an offsite backup at a second location or an online backup program. I agree that this is super harsh, and I'm glad you're safe, but once normal life returns and you get back to work, your missing articles will be… well, missed.
So, you need a writing backup OR a better way to back up your articles. And we'll go into the why, how, and where of it all.
You need a writing backup
The fact that you're here, reading this article, shows that you're ready to wrest back control from the forces of entropy.
1. A backup of everything you've ever created
For many writers and journalists, a writing portfolio or journalism portfolio is integral to getting more work. Having records of everything you've ever published gives you a body of work to depend on for a living. You never know when a piece from eons ago will have a hand in getting you your next project.
2. A backup of everything that you'll ever create
Once you've backed up all your past articles, you'll need to ensure that all your future articles are safeguarded. Ideally, this should happen automatically without you having to go and save them in a PDF or file actively.
3. So that you can comb through it for inspiration
Sometimes, you'll need to refer to one of your old articles – for a quote or a piece of information – and it'll be great to have it handy. At other times, you'll want to peruse your archive for inspiration (something I do quite often with my writing and music).
Hence, the ability to quickly find what you're looking for in your writing backup is hugely vital. The ideal writing backup solution should have search and filter functions that let you do this with ease.
4. So that you can go through it for nostalgia's sake
Heck, you might want to read your old writing from years ago, just for your own amusement. That's also allowed! Are you even growing if you aren't embarrassed by your past writing?
5. To prove that you've had a successful career
As a corollary from the first point: a body of work is often required to prove to prospective clients and publications that you're not just capable but actually accomplished and excellent at what you do. It allows you to prove that you can deliver excellent writing, which can be the difference between getting the next writing gig and not. An archive is also a "proof of publication" as it not only matters what you've published but also where — if you've written for The New York Times, then that's something you'd like to prove you have done.
The usual advice available online is sorely lacking
The usual advice that I find being given to writers is along the following lines:
- use an online backup service like Backblaze, Carbonite, or Dropbox
- back up your articles regularly (on an external drive)
- use a backup tool that saves your pieces as screenshots or PDFs
- use the web archive
This advice is passé and severely lacking and can hurt you in the long run. Let me explain in more detail.
1. Why using backup services like Backblaze, Carbonite, or Dropbox is not enough
I'll start by saying that I use Backblaze to back up my files – not my writing! And yes, there's a difference.
Services like Backblaze, Carbonite, Google Drive, or Dropbox – or any other cloud storage software – have been made for an entirely different use case: they're meant for backing up all kinds of files. They're not meant to back up your online writing.
The most significant problem writers face – and this hasn't been addressed elsewhere – is having the final edited versions of their articles on their personal or work computers. That happens extremely rarely. Usually, these days, you're collaborating on Google docs or Notion docs, and the editor has the final edited copy on a CMS, and that's the version that goes on to the website for publication. But, as a writer, you may not have access to that version. And even if you do, you'll need to copy and paste that content onto a file on your computer, which your cloud backup service will then save.
Again, I highly recommend using a cloud backup tool to back up your entire computer. But it's not enough to back up your writing because of the steps involved. I'll explain with an example.
Let's say I've taken the trouble to copy & paste the final edited version of the article from my editor's copy and saved it on a file on my computer. Great, my cloud backup service will back this up. And let's say I repeat this process every time I publish an article (highly unlikely, but let's assume I do it for the sake of the example). Again, my cloud backup will back this up. Now, years later, when I need to find a quote from an article long forgotten, am I going to search through my entire set of files? Or would it be easier to try a Google search with my name and article and hope for the best?
And therein lies the difference: your writing backup needs to be searchable!
When you're backing up your writing, you're not just doing it to save yourself – you're doing it so that it's helpful in the future. You are, in essence, creating a living and breathing archive of all your work – something that you can use to write better and also to get you more work.
To conclude this section, let's reiterate: please use a cloud backup tool if you so need for your computer – I do as well, but:
- you'll need to copy & paste the final edited version of every article that you write onto a file on your drive;
- it's not the same as being able to look through all your files and finding what you need;
- it's not going to back up all your old hard drives unless you have them plugged in or you pay for more (this is especially true for Backblaze);
- it's not going to find all your content online — content that's not on your local backup or external hard drive or computer — articles from long ago.
Hence, using cloud storage sites like Backblaze, Carbonite, or Dropbox is a good start, but it's clearly not enough for serious, professional writers.
2. Why "back up regularly" is terrible advice
If we could all "back up regularly" — back up to an external drive and the like — there wouldn't be an entire industry dedicated to backups. Automatic backups are the way. Backups have to happen as you carry out your regular writing tasks and should never become an extra step that you need to think about. If your backup process is even slightly complicated, you will fall behind at some point. You need to be focused on your writing and not on other tasks that come in the way of that.
3. Why services that back up articles as PDFs & screenshots are useless
PDF backups become useless because it’s all just files in a “big box” on my computer.
The ideal writer's backup tool will save all the articles in text format, not as screenshots and PDFs that are not indexable or searchable. Using a tool like this will necessitate creating the copies in the first place. It follows from the points above that you're looking to build an archive that you can go through and find exactly what you need. Screenshots and PDFs will not do that – they're not indexable, so you can't search and filter through them as you would with text.
4. Why web archives can't be depended on
Web archives are doing a massive favor to us all by saving as much of the web as they can. But they're not perfect. They only keep occasional snapshots of your work, and they don't do it for all of it – they often just back up a handful of your articles, and finding and accessing them is a slow and painful experience.
Authory: Back up EVERYTHING you have & will ever publish, forever
Our solution to all the issues outlined above is Authory. As far as we know, what Authory does is unique.
What Authory does
Authory finds ALL your past content – yes, all of it – and imports it onto your account. You only need to point Authory to the right sources, and then all the articles written by you on those websites will get added to your Authory account, leaving you with a back catalog that you can leverage for your use.
Authory is automated: which means that once you've added your sources, you don't need to do a thing. Authory will automatically import all that content in 48 hours.
Authory will find ALL your future content: Whenever you publish on these sites again, Authory will self-update and import all your new content. Often, Authory finds new articles written by you even before your editor has let you know that the piece has gone live. Authory will immediately notify you via email about what has been found and where.
Authory is searchable: Authory will import all the content in text format – not as a screenshot or a PDF – allowing for easy indexation.
That means you can search your archive for old ideas, quotes, information, and anything else you might need. This searchable archive can be used to update an article that you're writing right now, or you may want to share an old piece with a prospect because it's relevant, or you might be looking for inspiration, or just sheer nostalgia – Authory is your oyster, as it were. And remember, as you write more, your archive grows. Authory, in essence, is a living and breathing archive of your entire life's work.
ALL your content at your fingertips: We've stressed the importance of using a body of work to initiate conversations for getting more work. Along with the backup, Authory gives you a portfolio out-of-the-box. We'll cover more on this later.
Examples of Authory in action
Germain Lussier is the entertainment reporter of io9/Gizmodo and is formerly of Slashfilm, Collider, & EW.com.
He has backed up 14,754 content items from 6 sources!
And at the other end of the spectrum, we have Geoff, a supply chain, SMB, eCommerce, and technology writer.
He's backed up 1,074 content items from 333 sources!
Without Authory, to have backed up over 14,000 articles would have taken Germain months of work. It would be the same for Geoff if he had to back up content from 333 sources manually.
While these are impressive cases, Authory is super useful as a writing backup tool. Here are a few more quotes from other happy Authory customers.
I’m so glad Authory keeps these backed up for me because I would have lost them, otherwise unless I spent endless hours backing them up myself.
Authory has worked great since I started using it. My backlog on some sites is over a half-decade long and I’ve rediscovered old articles of mine I forgot I wrote!
Get it, unless you don’t care about your job or you’re leaving media for good.
I’ve found that Authory has become my own outboard memory, and when I can’t remember if I’ve written about something, I’ll search my Authory index to see if I can find it there! I can, of course, search my local disk drives, but I have about 35 years of data accumulated on them, and that can make it difficult to find needles in my own haystack.
Beyond Backups, Search & Filters
Authory is also a beautiful portfolio builder: As mentioned earlier, Authory not only backs up everything you've ever created and will create but also works as a great-looking portfolio. We've written about how to create a writing portfolio and a journalism portfolio, and we've also explained how to create a portfolio using Authory.
Authory has collections: Authory allows you to divide your portfolio into collections. Hence, you can curate your content based on your needs – by niche, interests, geography, etc. These collections are also self-updating like the rest of Authory. You can share specific collections with prospective clients. You can also hide certain collections if you so choose.
Authory lets you build an audience: With Authory, you can create a newsletter for your readers that go directly to their emails, and you can also add an RSS feed for your followers.
Authory also comes with more features like tracking and social media analytics: Authory is not just an archive; you can see just how successful every single piece of content has been on social media.