An American Editor

August 13, 2018

On the Basics — All the Backups

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter 

A recent Facebook group post from someone whose computer conked out when she was on deadline for a project reminded me of the importance of different kinds of backup. We’ve talked about backing up files, but that’s different from backing up equipment — perhaps because equipment can be so expensive, while backup systems can be free, or at least less expensive than buying an additional computer.

Because our ability to meet deadlines and keep our commitments to clients is essential to a freelancer’s business survival, it’s worth assessing what kinds of backups we need to make that happen. These suggestions might seem obvious, but should be useful reminders of practical basics for a freelance business.

The Ephemeral

First, the easy — and inexpensive — stuff. To make sure files and documents don’t disappear mid-project, open an online backup account on Dropbox,, Google Drive, or something similar so you can stash items as you go along and once you’ve finished them.

If you believe in “belts and braces” (both a belt and suspenders to hold up a pair of pants, even if just one or the other would do the job) as I do, back up to Time Machine as well as an external hard drive, disks, or any other physical backup system that you find easy to use. Backups to your backups are essential, because you never know what will continue to work and which providers will stay in business.

Make sure your essential software programs are live and licensed on every computer you have, and that you have the original disks or downloads so you can reinstall them as needed. That way, if the software goes wonky on one machine, it should still work on another, or you should be able to reinstall it on a new one (or maybe even on a friend’s loaner, temporarily). Keep in mind that many, if not most, programs can be licensed for more than one computer. Know about those options before you need them.

Oh, and save-save-save! Remember to save as you work, the more often, (usually) the better. With lengthy and complex documents, consider doing a Save As with a different filename before Word gets cranky. You’ll have several versions of the document, but that’s better than losing even a few minutes’, much less several hours’, worth of work. The client only has to see the final version, and you can ditch the interim versions once you’ve turned it in.

The Physical

The reality is that computers are not infallible. Even the most-respected brands can develop problems, and my experience — as well as what I’ve observed among colleagues — is that they will break down when we have the fewest resources in terms of money, time, contacts, and material to deal with a crisis. In budgeting to launch or maintain a freelance business, the ideal is to save, set aside, or maintain enough funds and credit so you can have at least two computers with the same software on them, just in case one of them goes south or you can’t use one of them. If you have more than one computer, you can send current files to yourself so they’re accessible on both or all machines, and you can work on them no matter which machine is handy or which one goes rogue and stops working.

I have an iMac desktop computer and a MacBook Air laptop, with the same software programs on each, so I can switch between them as needed. I also have an iPad that my brothers gave me a few years ago that I can use for e-mail and some rudimentary other programs in a pinch. I even have an old MacBook Pro that doesn’t hold a charge on its own but still works when plugged in, just in case all of the other three give up the ghost at the same time. Not that I’m a pessimist, but you never know.

I’ve usually maintained two current computers because of needing to work in different locations, either within my apartment or on the road versus at home, but the old iMac conked out recently, making the laptop even more essential to keeping my work going than usual. I was lucky enough to have funds in hand to replace it right away, but if I couldn’t have done so, I could still get my work done and meet those deadlines.

The Collegial

There’s yet one other option to develop and maintain: offsite ways to work through colleagues. In case your electricity goes out, for instance, or something other event makes it difficult or impossible to work at home for a while, have alternatives already in place.

That can mean knowing where the nearest public library is with computers you can use, a cyber café, co-working spaces, etc. It also can mean having friends who might lend you a computer or let you come over and camp out at their place to get the urgent work done.

It also can be a lifesaver to belong to a local computer users’ group. Once you’re active in one, you can usually count on other members to help with troubleshooting, equipment loans, repairs at less than what retail vendors might charge, and similar hand-holding in a crisis.

If you’ve had a software or equipment crash in mid-project, how did you handle it?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. She can be contacted at or



  1. Safe backup has always been a challenge for me because of working at home in an isolated rural area. I’ve always routinely backed up software and documents on an off-board hard drive, but where to keep it in case the house burns down? Well, I have a small fire safe, for what that’s worth. And I have outbuildings, but they suffer extreme temperature and humidity swings. I live too far from town to make a safe deposit box viable. And though I have a second computer, that would go with the first one if the house burned down. Now, with cloud storage available, I initially copied up all work-in-process daily to Gmail so I could always access it from a remote location. Now my ISP provider offers data storage, so I park daily work there. In a recent discussion with my spouse, I learned that today’s mini memory cards have capacity to store my entire system! Purportedly they are more tolerant of environmental conditions than drives with moving parts. So I am shopping for a pair, one for complete system backup and the other for portable working backup. Properly encased, they might be able to live in the garage, for instant retrieval in the event of house fire, lightning strike crashing all plugged-in electronics, computer failure, what-have-you. But I’ll still back up daily work to the cloud for convenience.


    Comment by Carolyn — August 14, 2018 @ 7:14 am | Reply

    • Do you have a neighbor? I often give a duplicate backup hard drive to my neighbor to hold and I do the same for her. The other thing I do is use Carbonite. It’s not inexpensive but they do offer to create a disk and overnight it to you (I don’t use that service).


      Comment by americaneditor — August 15, 2018 @ 5:52 am | Reply

      • Yes, I have neighbors, and they are the wrong people to engage with on this, save for one — at the farthest away end of the road, natch. However, in recent years our acquaintance has turned into friendship, and also she’s retiring next year, which will give her the same backup problem. So it’s likely we’ll arrange a swap to aid in mutual security. Until then, however, I still have to solve the problem another way.


        Comment by Carolyn — August 15, 2018 @ 7:31 am | Reply

  2. […] late, editor Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has taken over most writing duties on the site, including this post on backups for files and equipment. Thaler-Carter also organizes Communication Central’s Be a […]


    Pingback by Five Book Mentors for Editors | Editing Services, Proofreading & Writing — August 22, 2018 @ 10:08 am | Reply

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