Why You Need to Back Up Your Shit (and How to Do It)

If you’ve visited Untamed Writing over the past few days, you may have noticed it’s been, er, absent. I first noticed on Monday afternoon that the site wasn’t loading properly. Occasionally it would appear, but usually? No dice. I had a Skype call with a client that afternoon, and I figured the problem would have resolved itself by the time the call ended. It hadn’t. And it still hadn’t over a day later.

Turns out my server was being hit with a DOS attack (that’s a ‘Denial of Service’ attack, in which a server is flooded with so much traffic it can’t handle it and refuses to load). So my site didn’t load properly for almost two full days.

At first I didn’t know what the problem was. All I knew was my site wasn’t working any more. I couldn’t log into WordPress to see what was going on either. I’d just catch occasional glimpses of my site when a page miraculously loaded properly and that was it.

My tendency is to think ‘It’ll all be fine! Everything will work out’, so I can be pretty lax on the taking-precautions-to-prevent-disaster front. So instead of spending Tuesday working on my latest client project, I found myself frantically (okay, less frantic, more determined; I don’t really do frantic) trying to rescue everything I could from my site, lest I had to create everything again from scratch should the worst happen.

So I spent a painstaking day trying to back up all my shit manually. I managed to copy and paste almost all of my blog posts and pages into Evernote, as well as snag a few lines of code I’d edited here and there in my WordPress theme. I just about managed to scavenge everything I’d need to piece the site back together bit by bit. It would be a pissing annoying job, but I could do it.

Naturally, this was when decided I needed to do a better job of backing my shit up. I thought I had backed my site up, but that was back in August, and I’d published a fistful of blog posts since then, as well as made changes to most of the pages on my site. Even restoring the August-version of my site would be a ballache. But as it turned out, the folder was empty anyway. (Well done, Karen.)

As it turns out, everything was fine and did work out okay. The problem resolved itself overnight and I woke up on Wednesday to a fully functioning site (give or take a few plugins). So! With that cautionary tale out of the way, let’s take a look at a few of the ways you can back your shit up.

Your Hosting Provider’s Site Backup Service

Your website’s host probably has its own safety precautions to back up your site, meaning it will be able to restore a previous version of your site if something goes wrong. It may have free and premium versions, so make sure you check out the options available to you.

Manual Website Backups

As well as backing up your site for you, your hosting provider should also enable you to easily download all your files yourself, so you can still access them if something goes awry on your host’s servers. So, you know – make sure you do that.

Dropbox

Dropbox is fabulous, and is one of the few backup measures I DID already have in place (though that wasn’t that useful in the face of a website meltdown, since none of my website stuff is in there). Basically, you can setup Dropbox as a folder on your computer, and everything you drop into it will automatically be saved in the cloud. All my client work and course materials are kept in Dropbox, meaning not only will everything be saved in the cloud if my computer fucks up, but also that I can access my files from any other device, including my phone or my mum’s computer. You get a couple of gigs free, but you can pay for more space if you want it. Find out more here. (Other similar services include Google Drive and iCloud.)

Time Machine

If you use a Mac, make sure you take advantage of its Time Machine app, which will allow you to backup your entire computer, right down to the last app, on an external hard drive. You can find out how to set it up here.

Crashplan

I don’t use Crashplan myself, but from what I can gather it’s essentially a cloud-based version of Time Machine. If you’re a belt-and-braces kinda person, or if you’re using a PC, you might want to get on this. The cloud backup plan requires a monthly subscription, and you can get it for as little as $5 a month. Find out more here.

Make Sure You Back Up Regularly

Some of the options listed above automatically back things up continuously, so you won’t need to think about it once you’ve got everything set up. But other options might not. If that’s the case, you need to make sure you back shit up manually on a regular basis. At least once a month is a good idea, though if you can handle doing it on a weekly basis, your future self will thank you.

I was lucky this time and didn’t lose anything during this shitstorm of a couple of days. But everything could easily have gone tits up, and you’d be staring at a basic, crappy website with little content right now instead of having an entire site’s worth of archives to browse through. Lesson learned: you need to back your shit up.

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