Did you know the UK still prints its laws on vellum? This may sound like something out of a Terry Pratchett story, but there is a tall tower in the Palace of Westminster full of rolled vellum scrolls inscribed with legislation, including some dating back more than five hundred years.
Earlier this year the House of Lords voted to discontinue vellum scroll record-keeping on cost grounds. You’d have thought this was the ideal opportunity to bypass paper and go direct to digital-only storage, but after due consideration the Cabinet Office decided to stick with scrolls (and agreed to pick up the bill). The reason might be that we Brits love a good tradition (true!), and I’m sure there are digital libraries of new legislation as well, but there are sound reasons for deciding to keep physical records.
Those reasons apply to writers, too.
Last month Justine posted a reminder about establishing good online security habits – backup your work, encrypt and create a good password. Click here to read more of her excellent advice.
I know a few people still write longhand, but for most of us now, digital technology is our default. We might debate Word over Scrivener, Mac vs PC, cloud storage compared with a hard drive or a thumb drive, but we create digitally and because we know bad things can happen, we take precautions to make sure we can recover our work in the event of a catastrophe.
Digital backups are the obvious and most convenient way to avoid losing our work, but there are a number of reasons why you should consider adding a physical backup to your armory – not every day, but at important stages in your work. Here’s why:
Viruses, malware, ransomeware, or a just-for-fun individual hack like the one described in Justine’s post – the downside of connectivity is that we’re increasingly exposed to bad stuff, and if your backup sources are linked and automated, there’s a chance the backups might get hit too.
Weird Stuff Happens
Last week I was happily typing away at my WIP when for no discernible reason, Word decided to change a chunk of my text to Chinese characters. A quick search of the internet revealed that this is a known glitch. None of the quick fixes listed worked. My laptop was backing up automatically at frequent intervals. Unfortunately that meant it backed up the Chinese file. The most recent usable file I recovered was almost an hour old. That cost me a few hundred words and a lot of swearing, but it could have been worse.
Have you ever checked a backup (or gone to restore from one) and found it was corrupted or empty or otherwise unusable? It happens.
And most importantly of all:
Digital files aren’t readable without the correct technology, which is changing at a terrifying rate. I have music on vinyl, tapes, CD, and now digitally. I have (very old) work documents backed up on magnetic tapes, on floppy disks, on diskettes and on CDs. Laptops and PCs don’t have CD players as standard any more, let alone disk or tape drives, and as for the software to read said documents – not a chance.
Another example. Between 1984 and 1986 more than a million people around Britain took part in the Domesday Project. A statistical survey plus people’s personal thoughts and memories were stored on special laser discs – the cutting edge technology of the time. Within twenty years there were virtually no players left that could read the discs. Domesday Book itself however, written in the eleventh century, is still readable – the oldest government record still held in the National Archives. Click here to find out more.
So when you’ve finished a first draft or a final draft, or if you decide to put a manuscript to one side for a few weeks or months while you work on something else, consider printing out and filing a hard copy before you move on to your new, shiny project. If your time horizon is weeks, months, years or decades rather than centuries, good quality paper and ink should suffice.
You (or your children or grandchildren) might be glad you did!