Simplest way to back up my book?
April 7, 2012 9:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm writing a book on my iMac using Office (Word) 2004. I've written books using a computer before, but it's more complicated now and I'm still a Luddite. Please help me back it up! Here's the situation:

I want to break up what I've written into chapters, each a separate Word document. I know how to do this. Then I want to work on each chapter document, add to it, revise it, update it and then save it, and also BACK IT UP in some place other than this computer. I did this before on floppy disks. I don't know how to do it now. What's the simplest, cleanest, safest way? On a CD? How? In the cloud? How? Most important, please walk me through your recommended process step-by-step and remember that I'm far more ignorant about this than you can possibly imagine.

And thanks so much!
posted by fivesavagepalms to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Plug in a second hard disk and let Time Machine take care of it. Then install Dropbox and save all the documents you're working on in your dropbox. That gives you local and cloud backups.
posted by kindall at 9:24 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get an external hard drive and use Time Machine. It's really, really simple for Macs.

Another option is to get a Dropbox account and keep your Word docs in there. When you save the file it'll automatically be uploaded to Dropbox. If your computer is hosed, you can always log in from another computer and download the files there.

I'm a big fan of using JungleDisk with an Amazon S3 account. I tell JungleDisk to watch a few folders, and if anything in those folders changes, it sends those files to Amazon, where Amazon keeps it on their cloud.

Start with Time Machine.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:25 AM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Word 2004 implies an older model iMac that may not have Time
Machine. Do you know what version of the operating system you have? You can check by clicking About This Mac in the Apple menu; it will be a number like 10.4, 10.5, or 10.6.
posted by bcwinters at 9:37 AM on April 7, 2012

You can also email it to yourself. I use a mac + time machine, but every day that I write I also email myself my work file at the end of the day.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:37 AM on April 7, 2012

It's 10.6.8
I use the old Word 2004 because it's simpler and fine for my purpose.
Time Machine seems complicated to me and doesn't it require more hardware?
Dropbox sounds more like it. Could you tell me step by step how it's done?
Sorry, I know I sound 3 or 103 years old.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2012

If you're comfortable with the floppy-disk workflow, just do exactly the same thing only using USB memory sticks instead of floppy disks. You can buy these quite cheaply and even the smallest one available is going to have more than enough space to store multiple copies of a whole novel.

The only trick with using USB memory sticks for backup is use two. Always copy the same things to both. If one stick fails, make buying a second one and duplicating the remaining good one a priority. USB sticks are less likely to fail than floppies, but unlike floppy disks which typically go bad one block at a time, USB memory tends to fail totally when it fails at all.
posted by flabdablet at 9:54 AM on April 7, 2012

By the way: when you plug a USB memory stick into your computer, it will show up in the sidebar of every Finder window; that makes it easy to open for dragging and dropping files onto it. And before you physically unplug it, you should click on the little up-arrow Eject icon next to its name in the sidebar. Doing that makes sure your computer has actually finished writing everything out to the stick before it's unplugged; not doing that may cause data corruption and swearing.
posted by flabdablet at 9:58 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

With Dropbox, you'll just have a My Dropbox folder in My Documents. Save files there, and they get saved online (2Gb for free, I believe). It's that simple. I use Dropbox as my work folder for everything.

Whenever you install Dropbox on a new computer, with the same account, it will sync (download, essentially) to the Dropbox folder on that computer. Or you can view the files through the website

There used to be a video explaining things on the Dropbox site, not sure if it is still there.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:05 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

fivesavagepalms, you don't sound like a 3 year old or a 103 year old. You sound like someone who doesn't do this kind of thing, just like someone who is asking for an excellent, step-by-step explanation of how to roll over a 401(K) or make a soufflé. I'm just like you -- when I ask for help on a specific problem, I want someone to give me numbered steps to leave nothing to chance. I actually laughed when people were saying "use Time Machine" or "get Dropbox" because it reminded me of the time my mother answered my question about breadmaking with "Oh, use an egg wash." Yeah, OK, but HOW? ;-)

It's been too long since I installed Dropbox to remember how to tell you step-by-step, but until someone else steps in with a comforting "recipe" -- see if you can walk yourself through it by going to:


to read and follow the steps. I remember doing it without difficulty, and since just installing it doesn't impact your book, you can ramp up your comfort level. You might also want to Google "How to use Dropbox" or "How to install Dropbox" on YouTube to get a walk-through like this:

On my own (ancient) Mac, it installing yielded a little box-looking icon at the top right corner of my screen, next to my Airport signal, date and volume alert. When I want to put something in the box, I merely click on it to reveal a menu, and the first choice is "Open Dropbox folder."

A folder opens, just like every other folder you have on your desktop, and you drag your file to the Dropbox folder. (Personally, when people feel ill at ease, I have them make a COPY of whatever document they're using (by clicking on the document, then selecting "Duplicate" in the File menu") and copying that to the Dropbox folder. Most people feel better that way, having a copy on the hard drive and a copy in the cloud. Bear in mind, some people will suggest this step is excessive, since you'll have to remember to drag successive revisions over to the Dropbox (rather than just treating the file in the Dropbox as the working document). It's up to you.

I was a very tentative user of Dropbox at first, but I've come to find it's one of those magical things I wouldn't ever want to do without.

And yes, fabdablet's advice is also good. You can't have enough backups. And it's nice to know that when you make a backup to a USB memory stick (also called a thumb drive or flash drive), you simply drag the icon for your document to the icon for the device, just like you used to do with floppy disks. (When you drag a document from one folder to another on your Mac, it MOVES it. When you drag it from one folder to another device, it copies it. As I understand it, because Dropbox lives simultaneously in the cloud and on your computer, dragging to it moves a file, rather than copying; hence my advice to consider using the "duplicate" command.)

Good luck!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 10:06 AM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I'm worried about files and need to save them elsewhere, I just email them to myself. If you have gmail, the size of the file shouldn't be a problem. Or, you can upload them to google docs.
posted by fuzzysoft at 10:40 AM on April 7, 2012

Dropbox is more complicated than you need in terms of "cloud" backup.

If you don't have one already, get a gmail account. Then, every day (every writing session), when you're finished, email the day's work to yourself. As long as you're just using WORD, there's really no limit as to how much stuff you can store online.

As for non-cloud backup, flabdablet's solution is simple and effective.
posted by philip-random at 11:01 AM on April 7, 2012

Dropbox is more complicated than you need in terms of "cloud" backup.

I read this three times because I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Saving files to Dropbox is no more difficult than saving files to any other folder on your computer. It is literally of the exact same degree of difficulty.

AFAIC, it's the ultimate backup solution.
posted by Trurl at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Time Machine is not complicated. Plug in an external hard drive, then go to Time Machine in System Preferences and turn it on.

Please do not cling to the idea that Time Machine is difficult as a reason not to use it. It isn’t difficult. I have just listed every single step you will need to take – both of them.
posted by joeclark at 1:03 PM on April 7, 2012

Everyone here is basically right. Dropbox is a dead simple and great way to make sure that your documents are backed up. Time Machine is a great way to make sure that your entire computer is backed up, which will help get you up and running again quickly if you were to have a hard drive crash or other problem. There is no reason to not do both!

They are both dead simple to set up. Dropbox involves going to their website, downloading the Dropbox app (they make this very easy, with pictures and everything!) and then saving any of your working documents in the Dropbox folder (which on a Mac is in your Home folder, along with your Documents folder, your Desktop folder, and so on.)

Time machine is even easier to set up but does require a (very cheap, less than $100) external hard drive. Macs running Snow Leopard or later (including yours) are set up so that if you plug in a new external hard drive and you haven't set up Time Machine before, they'll just pop right up and ask you if you want to use the disk for Time Machine. Click yes. There is no step two.

After that, you can just leave the drive plugged in and forget it's there, safe in the assurance that if your computer dies, you can plug the Time Machine hard drive into a new Mac (or your own repaired Mac) and be back where you left off with all your documents and settings in a matter of minutes.

If I had to pick one or the other to do I would set up Time Machine, because it'll save you a lot of time setting things back up on your computer should a problem occur. Dropbox will only be backing up the documents you choose to put into the Dropbox folder, where Time Machine will be backing up everything.
posted by raygan at 3:41 PM on April 7, 2012

Dropbox will only be backing up the documents you choose to put into the Dropbox folder, where Time Machine will be backing up everything.

On the other hand, once you save something to Dropbox, it literally would not matter (at least as far as backing up is concerned) if your entire home blew up a second later. The document is still as safe as if it were sitting in a vault in Fort Knox.

While this benefit is admittedly more psychological than practical, I find it nevertheless meaningful.
posted by Trurl at 4:31 PM on April 7, 2012

One thing folks haven't mentioned is that if you have a bunch of chapters, do yourself a favor and stick them in one folder and just do two things

- back up the entire folder, every time, in whichever way you decide to back it up
- carry a copy of it around with you on a thumb drive, just for safekeeping

A whole folder of chapters will be small enough to fit on even the most ancient thumb drive and having this backup with you will probably give you peace of mind. Keeping it all in a folder means you won't have to worry about which chapters you have or have not updated. Time Machine is great and Just Works but means your backup is somewhere in your house and/or on your network. Dropbox likewise but your documents are "in the cloud" Time Machine is good just in general because you'll be keeping your computer backed up in case something happens to it, you will still have your files. Both cases you won't be able to accidentally "overwrite" the folder. Just make sure you always just back up to the device you choose and don't start reading/opening the files on the remote storage devices.

Also if you right-click or STRL-click on a folder you can choose the "compress" option which will let you make a zipped version of the folder which is an easy way to have a single file that you could use to send to yourself [or someone else] over email.
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 PM on April 7, 2012

Wow, thanks a lot. I think I'll be going with Dropbox plus thumb drives plus jessamyn's suggestion of popping it all into a single folder, if I can remember how to do that.

This is going to give me peace of mind. Thanks again.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:09 AM on April 8, 2012

One approach you might care to consider for managing your thumb drives is that immediately after dragging your live working folder to the backup location (inside Dropbox or on your thumb drives), change the backup copy's folder name to include the name of the day you made the backup. If you're about to rename Novel as Novel-Monday but you already have a Novel-Monday folder on the backup drive, just delete the old folder before doing today's rename. That way you always end up with seven backups on each medium, giving you a week's worth of protection against regrettable deletions as well as technological disasters.

Time Machine does this kind of thing automatically without you needing to change the folder names - it will hold onto as many versions of everything it backs up as will fit on the backup drive, letting you "reach back in time" to earlier versions of everything. If you often find yourself wishing you hadn't saved that last edit, it might be worth your while plugging in a 2TB external hard drive and switching on Time Machine as well as doing your manual Dropbox and flash drive backups.
posted by flabdablet at 9:18 AM on April 8, 2012

Dropbox does automatic versioning, too. You can go back in time to previous versions of any file.
posted by kindall at 9:39 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

So it does!

posted by flabdablet at 6:48 PM on April 8, 2012

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