Backup Solutions for your Novel

About this page

This page attempts to document the prevalent backup solution options for writers.

Physical Backup Solutions


  • GOOD: you can hold it and read it!
  • BAD: contributes to tree usage; expensive/takes time to create

Flash Drives

  • GOOD: small/portable; no network required.
  • CAUTION: flash drives will eventually fail -- do not rely on this for your only backup
  • EH: Not automatic.

external hard drive

  • GOOD: more reliable than flash drives.
  • CON: not quite as portable as flash drives.
  • CAUTION: hard drives will eventually fail -- make sure this isn't your only backup
  • EH: not automatic.
  • goodsync backup software for Windows, iOS, Android, Apple
  • Karen's replicator backup software for Windows

Cloud Storage

E-mail to yourself

  • GOOD: simple (everyone has access to e-mail).
  • NOTE: You can do this with gmail as gmail gives you a lot of space.
  • EH/NOTE: no version control in this method. Also not automatic.


  • dropbox
  • WHAT: this is cloud storage with enough available for free that you can just use the free account; there are programs you run on your computer that keep a local directory automatically sync'd with your remote drop box account.
  • GOOD: automatic! Can sync with multiple local computers.
  • NOTE: network access needed to access the backup or sync to it.
  • Note: if you get your dropbox account from an existing dropbox user, both you and they get an extra 500 Mb of storage.
  • Dropbox will create duplicates if you alter a file on two different computers without syncing them first so one file doesn't override the changes on the other.
  • It's probably true of other cloud storage systems, too, but it's worth remembering that Dropbox also stores previous versions. Every time you change a file, the previous version is also stored. This is automatically done for the last 30 days of changes (ideal for NaNo!) or you can pay a little to keep the last year's worth of changes. I've occasionally needed to go back to a previous version of a file, and it's very useful to have that facility. The scene I worked on yesterday has 120 previous versions available to me on Dropbox.


  • google drive
  • WHAT: cloud storage with office apps (though you could just use this as cloud storage).
  • GOOD: automatic versioning. You can write your novel in google docs directly. Can export to various office suite formats like OpenOffice/LibreOffice or Word or RTF.
  • NOTE: there might be a usability limit of 40K words for google docs files
  • NOTE: Here, you can get a copy of all (or select folders) of the documents in Google Drive at once by using 'Google Takeout', which will create an archive of all of them in the format you desire. You can also export any document individually from its File menu, again to whatever format you want. I recommend doing this any time you get anxious.
  • There is a Google Drive client for Linux called Insync. I've used it in the past, and I was pleased with it. It automatically converted my documents from Google Drive's format to ODT and back. It's not free (as in beer or freedom) but for $15 (US) I found it to be well-worth the money.


  • spideroak - another cloud storage provider.
  • save your file into alternating filenames and onto separate physical disks
  • GOOD: some reliability/redundancy gained.
  • EH: not automatic by default.

Version Control Software


  • subversion
  • WHAT: version control software.
  • NOTE: requires a remote server host and network access.
  • GOOD: version control software is very reliable and saves every change you make.
  • EH: not automatic by default, but can be scripted to be.


  • git -
  • WHAT: version control software.
  • NOTE: requires a remote server host and network access.
  • GOOD: version control software is very reliable and saves every change you make.
  • EH: not automatic by default, but can be scripted to be.
  • By the way, Git is also available on Windows, and you can have also free hosting with github or gitlab, depending on your needs. In addition, Markdown (an excellent markup solution/system for writers) is honoured by many Git aware tools.


  • mercurial
  • WHAT: version control software.
  • NOTE: requires a remote server host and network access.
  • GOOD: version control software is very reliable and saves every change you make.
  • EH: not automatic by default, but can be scripted to be.

Scrivener + Python

Marengo writes: Linux is my personal platform of choice - I'm a Unix admin by trade. However, after years of life happily without Microsoft, I got addicted to a couple of Windows applications. I use vi and vim all the time, I am a recovering emacs user, but for creative writing it's hard to beat Scrivener.

I write on a Windows laptop. I'm a sellout.

  1. What is your back up solution? Goodsync to external hard drives - one for daily backup, one for weekly. That's my file-by-file backup, and then I use Windows backup once a week, And a thumbdrive, too, because you can't be too careful.
  2. Why do you use it?Belts and suspenders. Why choose?
  3. How confident are you in your solution?Not at all. Confidence in a backup solution is Murphy's RSVP. Somebody's coming to dinner whether you like it or not.
  4. Have you ever had to restore from backup?Only when switching computers. Worked great.

Perl and vi and emacs have a place, too, although I'm much more productive in Python than Perl.

Right now I have a Python class (object) that interprets the Scrivener XML file (project.xml in Windows). Version Zero of that setup will export all the rtf files out of Scrivener, translating their numeric names to sanitized versions of their binder names, and then import them back into Scrivener after I've edited them on my Android tablet.

Version One does the same export, except it makes subdirectories as needed in the export folder so the binder hierarchy is maintained.

Import, I'm still working on. I want to recognize when an exported file shifts to a different folder, and move the binder around to match, and I want to rewrite the binder as needed to plug new files, externally created, into Scrivener.

It's sort of a backup system - once I've exported the files out of Scrivener, Scrivener itself could explode and I would still have my project - including all my binder names.

This is my favorite Scrivener feature. I can play Dr. Mengele with a project binder, I've never corrupted anything, and I've never had to ask a soul how to pull it off - kudos for transparency to Literature and Latte!

Advice for Scrivener users on Macs

Greg Shenaut writes: I use a Mac. I have a Time Capsule WiFi base station that does a Time Machine backup (onsite) of anything that has changed on my hard drive each hour, plus as many previous snapshots that will fit on its 3T disk. If I am working away from home, Time Machine snapshots are done on my hard drive and as many are kept that will fit, until I get back into range of the Time Capsule. Furthermore, I have CrashPlan, which does an off-site backup of changes to my home folder every 15 minutes whenever I'm online.

I use Scrivener for writing, and it has an automatic backup capability that I have enabled, and it backs up each time I quit the program (probably about once per day on average, and it keeps five of those backups around if I need them.

Because of the complexity of Scrivener's project structure (it is a folder with lots of interlinked document fragments plus notes, comments, and other resources) it is sometimes difficult to restore back to a previous state. In general, though, Time Machine restores are very reliable if you can go back to a time when Scrivener was quiescent for an hour or more. Scrivener continuously write the contents of everything to disk, every few seconds, and keeps its own log of deltas for the purpose of undoing changes. This makes it much less likely that you'll seriously mung your project by restoring from either Time Machine or CrashPlan, but it's always possible.

Scrivener and other backups

Spellguns writes: Stage 0: Separate Internal Harddrive. I keep my work off the OS disk, so that in case of a serious windows fault, all I have to do is pull the work drive, wipe the system to zeroes, and reinstall. The part that takes the longest here is of course reinstalling all my work apps, but I got back up and running in about a day the last time I had to do this. It also means that I can yank the drive quickly in some kind of weather emergency, even if I can't get the whole computer.

Stage 1: Scrivener's backup utility. This step just makes sure that I've got a local backup in case my computer shuts down unexpectedly and corrupts my file or dropbox has a little accident and revisions my files back to neverwhen.

Stage 2: Dropbox. My Scrivener document lives in a dropbox folder, so I can write/edit on my desktop or laptop. This (in theory) makes sure that my work is saved in the cloud, for catastrophic failures of home integrity.

Stage 3: NAS drive. This does a nightly backup of my work harddrive, saving all of my freelance work changes (including my writing) onto a separate machine. Cheap to build, fun to put together, and provides me with more peace of mind.

Stage 4: External Harddive. I have what I call "stacks," a seagate 1tb external that I only plug in to make big backups of finished projects. I keep it away from the rest of the equipment and unplugged, so it'll be safe if I get nailed by lightning.

Stage 5: (Last one, I promise) FTP Backups to a remote server. Every week I have my backup software zip up a large archive of my work documents and FTP them to the server that I use for my websites. Bring on the meteorites.