Backup, Version Control, and Comparing Your Work

Ever get a few hundred pages into a novel and have the hard drive crash, and you never made a backup? Ever wish you could take a look at the previous version? A writer must (I said must, not should) continually make backup copies of their work, and save versions of it as they make changes, so they can go back to an older version. The backups should be made not only to an external drive, but to the cloud, as well. Writers also need to be able to compare one version to another to see what has changed. Unfortunately, most affordable software does not do a good job of this, or don’t do it at all. 

When writing, I use a combination of Scrivener for Windows, and Atlantis word processor. Neither of them have document compare feature, or a way to save versions, other than their own limited backup files. So, here’s what I do:

To track versions of files, I use Docshield. It’s free (to a point) and it is very easy to use and set up. You tell it what documents you want to save, and where you want to put them, and it creates a single file for each, and saves at intervals you specify, or when you make changes. You can tell it to save to your hard drive, a thumb drive, an external drive, or even to a cloud drive, or all simultaneously. The great thing is that for each document there is only one file on your computer with all the versions, instead of hundreds of files. Then you can access the versions through the software they provide.

Next, you have to backup your work to the cloud, including the file created by DocShield. For that, I use OpenDrive. They give you five gig of storage for free, which is more than you should ever need, unless you use a lot of photos. You tell it what files you want to upload, and it saves them out of the way on the cloud. I save both the Scrivener file and the DocShield archive file for each project, plus any other files I may be working on in my word processor. DocShield detects changes and creates the archive, and OpenDrive saves them according to schedule.

The great part of these two services (other than they’re free) is that once you set them up, they do their thing automatically. You don’t have to remember

Writers also need to be able to compare versions of our work to easily see what has changed. Atlantis does not do this, and neither does Scrivener for Windows. OpenOffice does, but their version is terrible, which I discussed in my blog on word processors. There are online services, but they are expensive, and seem mainly designed for programmers. The solution I found was a plug-in for OpenOffice that does a wonderful job. It’s called DeltaXML-OdtCompare. The downside is that you have to save your document as an odt file in OpenOffice, but the upside is that it gives you an excellent output clearly showing your changes–what’s been added, and what’s been deleted, all nicely color coded. Since you won’t use this very often, I don’t find the extra step of saving a document as an odt file all that offensive. Why not just use OpenOffice in the first place? I found several problems with it that make it less than convenient for writers, which I wrote about in my blog on word processors. For example, the word count is way off (“. . .” is counted as three words).

I’d love to hear from you about what you do to save your work.