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Emergency Preparedness for Writers
by Vickey Kalambakal

Whenever storms, earthquakes, or fires turn lives upside down, we’re inundated by articles on emergency preparedness. We’ve all heard the advice: “Keep a backpack by the door, a first aid kit in the car...pack up the family photos...”

Family photos? Sorry, Grandma, but my brother can rescue the photos. I’m grabbing the Zip disk that holds my novel’s third draft.

What will you grab?

Do you have something to grab?

Most of us write on PCs. A fire, flood, or even a basic computer crash can erase your screenplay as if it had never been. FEMA, the Red Cross, and all the king’s horses won’t help you out of that one.

The easy way to avoid risk is simply to save copies of your work in different places. Here are some suggestions:

1. Email briefcases, offered by Yahoo and other companies, will store your work—between 25 and 50 MB--on a server. You move your data into a file that sits on Yahoo’s equipment, where you can access or update it anytime—from anywhere. Find out more at http://briefcase.yahoo.com. There are other companies offering this service for free; a list of them is at http://www.freewebspace.net/guide/diskstorage.shtml

2. Making backups is as easy as dragging and dropping your work to a disk. Besides your hard drive, what is in your computer? If you have a Zip or Jaz drive, one disk should hold all of your writing. Floppies are passé and don’t hold enough to be really useful. If that’s all you have, consider buying a tiny flash drive. A flash drive can hold anything from 32 MB to 8 gigs, and weighs only a few ounces. Flash drives are portable: you plug them in, transfer a copy of your work, and drop them in your pocket. Voila: instant protection starting well under $50. Check them out at any electronics store, or online at any of a thousand stores (Amazon and Overstock.com have them too).

3. Once your work is copied, you have to put it somewhere. A fireproof safe isn’t the answer. Safes will withstand a fire’s heat for an hour or two, then the internal temperatures will rise to incinerate your backups.

Take your backups with you to your office or a friend’s house, or even your car (unless you live in the desert—high temperatures can damage disks). And remind yourself, with post-its, calendars, or whatever it takes, to update and swap out those drives or disks every few weeks.

4. Keep a disk in your Zip, Jaz, cdrom, or (shudder) floppy drive and update that just before shutting down each day. That’s the disk you want to grab if you’re forced to leave your home in a hurry.

Pick your media, but do something. Remember John-Boy, trying to save his manuscript from the fire that raged through Walton’s Mountain? He had to write the whole book over again, on a manual typewriter. If you don’t remember John-Boy, you probably don’t know what a manual typewriter looks like either. But trust me; you don’t want to be in that position. Back up your work!

© Copyright 2007, Vickey Kalambakal

Vickey Kalambakal is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles, California area. Her work has appeared in Variety Weekend, Arizona Highways, American History, and other magazines, as well as in books and newspapers. Her website is at www.kalambakal.com

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