Memoir Technology Writing Life

Rebooting Myself After The Great Computer Crash: You Gotta Back That Thang Up

photo from mandyxclear @

It’s not like there weren’t signs.

There were.

I just wanted Mac to make it to my son’s bar mitzvah.

I promised Mac would be able to rest the very next day. So despite his advanced age, I pushed my computer to stay with me until June 23, 2012.

But then I heard Mountain Lion was coming out.

So I waited.

And all through July, I continued to pressure Mac to perform.

Even though I knew he was crashing.

Because he kept crashing.

Whenever Mac went down, I’d curse, get a snack and a drink, give him a few minutes to cool down, then I’d press the power button. And Mac would hum to let me know he wasn’t too furious, and he’d take me back to the lovely blue screen.

Until one day, he didn’t.

On Friday, August 24th, I held an 8 gig flash drive in my hand. I’d planned to back up all my files so I could transfer everything to the new computer, the one I was going out to buy – right after I had transferred all my files.

I was greeted by a white screen.

Reacting to Trouble

If you see this, you should probably start crying. Maybe.

After attempting to reboot several times, I put my face close to Mac’s LCD, and when I listened, I heard Mac making quiet beeping noises – like the countdown to some kind of nuclear detonation. After a moment, the icon of a dark gray file folder appeared in the center of the white screen. Centered inside the folder was an ominous flashing question mark.

Four hours later, I dragged the entire mess to a well-respected computer data retrieval professional. Several of us stood in a queue, holding our boxes and cables, the pieces-parts of our sundry devices. Looking grief-stricken, we spoke in hushed tones about the symptoms of our beloved electronics and dared to guess their prognoses.

When it was Mac’s turn to be seen, Lou performed all kinds of procedures.

Nothing worked.

Lou asked if he could hold onto my computer for 24 hours. He wanted to try one more test.

Of course, I agreed.

Anything to resurrect Mac long enough to extract his memories, my memories.


As I waited to hear from Lou, I considered what I had potentially lost:

  • 20 years of English curricula
  • Irreplaceable letters of recommendation
  • The contact information for everyone I know
  • My calendar information
  • 34,000 songs uploaded from CDs (not purchased from iTunes)
  • Decades of photographs & videos

But by far the worst thing was the realization that I had lost my writing.

  • Over 400 poems
  • Twenty short stories
  • A full-length non-fiction memoir
  • And my current 400-page fiction manuscript, which was on the 2nd draft of revisions.

But you had backed things up, right?

All I can do is hang my head in shame.


No, I didn’t.

And how stupid was that?

If you do not have at least one external hard drive, do yourself a favor and get one. Set it to back-up daily or, at least, weekly.

Several people tell me they keep one flash drive outside their homes, with friends or in a safe deposit box. That way, in the case of fire or flood, they feel secure knowing they still have a copy of their most beloved photographs and other hard to replace documents.

You mean you didn’t have Dropbox/iCloud?

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Both Dropbox and iCloud provide “invisible storage.” You  put your faith that someone else’s server is going to do a good job for you. Dropbox is a cool tool, but it is not meant to store thousands of photographs. When you sign up, the folks at Dropbox provide you with 2 GB of storage, but you have to remember to put your stuff in there. It isn’t automatic. Clearly, I’ve demonstrated that I’m not good about reliably saving my computer files, so if the whole backing-things-up doesn’t occur automatically, it might not happen at all for me.

As far as iCloud goes, even the folks at Apple will tell you iCloud is meant for saving text. iCloud isn’t great when it comes to large files like photographs or very large text files. So yes, iCloud is better than nothing – but an external hard drive is still better.

Signs That Your Computer is Dying

As I said earlier, there were indications that my beloved Mac was in trouble. And I ignored every single sign. Here are some of the most basic symptoms that will tell you that you need to back your stuff up and fast:

1.Lag. Remember when your computer was young and zippy? Me, too. I knew Mac had become slow and irritable over the years, but I never thought he’d just konk out on me. Lag is one of the very first signs that you need to have your computer looked at. Sometimes there are just a lot of duplicate files that need to be deleted. Sometimes there is dust inside your computer that needs to be cleaned out. If your computer is noticeably slower than it once was, bring it to a technician.

2. Noises. If your old girl is knocking around, making banging sounds or clicking sounds; or if you hear chirping noises — almost like birds — these are not good things. Also if it sounds like there is a small car inside your computer constantly revving up and then cooling down, you will want to back that thang up. Immediately. And then bring your computer to a technician.

You know? This.

3. The Spinning Wheel of Doom. Apple users are familiar with the circular icon that looks like you’ve just won at Trivial Pursuit. And it shows up once in a while. But as your computer gets older and fills with more stuff, you may start to see it more often and for longer durations. In my case, the freakin’ wheel was spinning for much longer than normal. I just accepted it. Meanwhile, I learned this is your computer’s way of screaming at you: “Doctor! Somebody get me a doctor! I have a serious problem!” Learn your computer’s language and listen to what it is trying to tell you.

4. Frequent crashing. If you are in the middle doing something and the application unexpectedly quits, this is not a good thing. Be sure to know how old your computer is. Apple warranties its computers for three years. Three years. There is a reason for that. The folks at Apple know how long these suckers their desktops are going to last. Mac’s warranty ended in March 2012. It died 5 months later. I was on borrowed time. FYI: Laptops can have a shorter life, depending on the way they are handled.

Moving Through The Stages of Loss

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is well-recognized for her book On Death and Dying which explains the 5 stages of grief. Since I had been living in denial about Mac’s situation for so long, I quickly moved to anger. I was furious at myself for not buying a new computer, especially once Mountain Lion was released. I mean, seriously, what precisely was I waiting for? I screamed at my son for playing so much Minecraft because I was sure that was what had put the final nail in Mac’s coffin. Then I got mad at myself again for yelling at my son. But not before I accused my husband of being unhelpful because he didn’t insist that I get a new computer, especially when he knew I needed a new one.

I’d put the last of my hopes into Lou, who sent me this email 24 hours after I’d left Mac in his office.

Your drive has a fatal hardware failure. Most likely the bearings that the spindle rides on have seized, preventing the motor from turning the spindle. Recovery of the data from this drive is a tier 2 level of recovery which requires a clean room and a level of expertise I don’t have in-house.

However, I have an out-of-house recovery group that can do this work.  Let me know what you would like to do.

I’m not going to lie. For a week, I was in a funk. A person who is generally sparkly, I felt pretty sparked-out.

Like my formerly functioning computer, I shut down.

I didn’t realize how dependent I’d become on my Mac. Everything I needed was in one place. I didn’t know how I was going to rebuild. I could only see loss.

In reality, getting mad or feeling sad wasn’t going to bring Mac back.

Right when I was feeling my most lowly-low, I read Kristen Lamb’s piece Maturity – The Difference Between the Amateur and the Professional where she reminds writers that writing is hard work. Inadvertently, she reminded me that I had a choice in this situation. I could be a pee-pee head and keep crying about all that I had lost. I could quit. Or I could start creating again. I could view the death of my computer as an ending or a beginning.

I went and ordered a new iMac. (It should be here next week.)

To get me excited, my son designed a cool new header for my blog. (It’s not up yet.) And I’m working on some other updates to my blog, too.

So What About The Clean Room Thing? Are You Doing It?

I contacted that forensics data retrieval lab in Temple, Texas. If I agree, they will bury my computer in the ground and, just like in Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, they will resurrect it. But they can’t guarantee that Mac won’t come back all weird and creepy and try to kill me.

Just kidding.

They aren’t going to bury Mac. The deal at ACS Data Recovery is this: I send them my hard drive, and if they can’t retrieve 100% of the information, the cost to me is $0. But if they can, the cost is 1.64 bajillion dollars.

I feel like I have to give it a whirl, to know that I tried everything.

Obviously, this post is about the death of my computer. And while I temporarily lost it, I think I’ve regained some perspective. I mean, we have food and shelter. I’m grateful that everyone in my life is healthy and as the Jewish High Holidays approach over the next few weeks, I will be thinking and writing about more than just my recent computer woes.

But this seemed like an opportunity to share something with everyone.

The hard drive nestled in the cardboard box on my kitchen table represents twenty years of my life. And, as a friend pointed out: “It isn’t the computer that has the value, it’s the stuff on our computers that is worth everything.”

If you take nothing else from this post, take this: If you have valuable things on your computer, things you cherish, please please please spend $125 and get yourself an external hard drive.

And don’t say you’ll do it tomorrow.

Do it today.


Because tomorrow could be your computer’s big crash.

What is one thing you’d be devastated to learn was gone if your computer died? Do you have an external hard drive? Can you recommend a good one? How often do you back-up? What method(s) do you use? Assuming you could get your computer files back, how much would you be willing to spend? 

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86 thoughts on “Rebooting Myself After The Great Computer Crash: You Gotta Back That Thang Up

  1. Dang. I’ve never had a hard drive blow up on me, but I have had them stop working for whatever reason. Fortunately, I was able to get all my files put onto several DVD’s and I was able to install my new hard drive without a problem. I actually need to purchase another external hard drive. I have a 320 gig LaCie drive that I love, except that it’s almost full. It has all the pictures I’ve taken from 2004 – 2009 (280+/- gigs worth), 20 gigs of music, and the rest is the occasional video, or text document. I’m currently using my work computer / server to host photos from 2009-2012 (about 200 gigs). I really need a 1-3TB external drive to have all my photos in one place.

  2. It was a wake up call for me. 🙂 I do not use external drive too. So everything which belongs to only me, is there in my laptop. And as you very rightly mentioned, people who made it knows most about it’s longevity and mine is now during its extended warranty period. I took many things from this post. Thank you for that. I wish you could recover all those things you had lost.

        1. Well, I believe your work is worthy of being saved. Or can I just steal lines and use them myself?

          Are you cringing? Does the idea of my stealing your work and posting it as your own offend you?

          Then you are a writer.

          Back it up, Jack. 😉

  3. I back up roughly every three to four weeks onto an external hard drive (Western Digital, I think the current one is 500Gb. I have two of these). That said, there is very little on my computer that I’d feel bereft without if it suddenly crashed. That’s because I’ve never entirely felt comfortable with the ‘paperless office’ and my poems (yes, I used to write them and very occasionally still do) were written on paper, the few novels I’ve tried writings (and failed at!) were on paper, my family photos were all scanned from – you guessed it, paper – and so on. I’ve multiple copies of most of my artwork and my digital photos – well, I’ve at least one copy of the more recent ones, and two or more copies of each of the old ones.

    In the years since I’ve had a computer, I’ve had two die on me completely, the last one exited like yours did (though I’m not a Mac or a laptop user). The last one still lives in the room downstairs where it died. Bruce and I share a computer for the internet and our letters, and the rest of the time I do my art on this one. You’d think I’d be heartbroken if I were to lose my artwork but actually there’s something I have that you probably have too that you may not have thought of: WordPress. And I have Redbubble and Flickr.

    Think of the time you’ve been posting stuff online – your photos for this blog are in the media library here. That’s many that aren’t lost. Think of the writing you’ve done in your blog – that’s here too. So in a way, you are already using a ‘cloud’ system and trusting someone’s server (or in wp’s case, servers as they’ve got their own backups.)

    When you get your new computer – also get yourself one or two (or more) other blogs on Make them private. Upload your photos and your writing to them. And just keep them there. If you get wind of a takeover of (which might happen, I suspect), get yourself private blogs somewhere else and transfer them. One of my blogs that nobody but myself sees is where I store my family photos online. There’s 3Gb free storage in each account. Use it. (And if you can afford it yearly, as these upgrades can add up, you can buy more space here.)

    Be well, Renee – things will work out. And these things happen for a reason, I believe. I’m not religious but I do believe that there is a reason for most things – call it a lesson learnt. And – as you’re doing – move on into the future. Hugs.

    1. Thanks Val. I’m already in a much better place. But as you know, TechSupport didn’t allow me to take many pictures of him here on the blog. And many of the pictures that I use come from other people’s photos from flickr. One thing that’s for sure, next time I’ll be smarter. I’m glad to know that you have your head about you and wouldn’t be lost without your computer. I lost my calendar, with important dates through May 2013. Sigh. People will have to understand if I miss some things.

      By the way, there are some blessings to all of this. I will eventually post the flip side of all this. 😉

  4. You poor thing! I so feel for you. In 2002 (in the days when we had to save everything to disks) my roommate plugged my laptop into the wall instead of the surge protector strip. Of course we had a major lightning storm that night and it fried my computer…and hundreds of pages of writing including 3/4 of a novel I had just finished.

    I’m happy my blog came at the right time, though sometimes we don’t really want to hear the lecture about growing up. Just look at it this way. Mac took you from neophyte to amateur and this new Mac will be your friend, your launching pad to professional author :D.

    Lots of love, Girl and just keep pressing. So proud how you have handled this and turned it into a killer post. Now you need to find some way of inserting this into your book. I think Adina needs her hard drive to crash after her mother lets her kids play Minecraft on her computer :D…and it eats all of her work data, tax information and plans for the Bar Mitzvah. Yes, I never stop thinking of these things, LOL.

    1. Oy vey, KLamb. That is really good. You are amazing, the way you are always on. Turning the messes into useful content.

      Seriously, the big girl panties are on. I’m ready to start over.

      That said, your story from 2002 is a horror. Please tell me you cried a little. You did, right? If you say no, I’ll KNOW you really are part alien. 😉

  5. Oh no, Renee! I’m *SO* sorry. *hugs* I really wish I could wave a magic wand and make it better for you. I’ve been there–when I lost everything, I nearly had a nervous breakdown because I felt like *I’d* lost my brain.

    Now I have multiple layers of backups on my computer. And I use DropBox too. I just copied all my writing folders to be under (inside?) my DropBox folder. That way it *is* automatic.

    But you’re right, that doesn’t take care of pictures and big files. That’s what backups to other hard drives are for.

    Now, all that said, I’m horrible about downloading pictures off my phone. After the #EpicRoadTrip, I have about 2000 pictures on my phone that haven’t been copied to my computer (where they can be backed up). Bad me. Totally bad me. The program to connect my phone to my computer is wonky and never works for me, so I haven’t bothered to figure out another way to copy them over yet. Really, really bad me. 🙂

    Thanks for the reminder! And I hope things get better. *hugs*

    1. Okay, I’m going to show that comment to TechSupport because if there is a way to automate DropBox, I want to go to there!

      It won’t take care of photos, but hello…I’m a writer! 😉

      And, like you, my phone NEVER syncs properly. So, like you, I have all these pictures that I can’t download and — because they were attached to the device that is no longer working — well, they will be wiped clear if I try to attach it to something else. So I’m emailing them to myself.

      There were some surprising blessings, so I’ll write about that another day!

      Thanks for the love, Jami!

      1. Renzay. I use dropbox as my folder system. If you download it onto your actual computer and if you use ONLY that folder to save it in, it automatically saves to dropbox. Plus, you can access it from you iPhone, iPad, iWhatever. That’s what I do. I just save to dropbox. Nowhere else. I have something like 12G of storage there (you get 2G for free). It is so handy. No reminding. It automatically syncs with everything. Love. It.

        And love you.

        And this pains me!

        1. I don’t get the automatic save thing. You mean you save everything there? Photos? Videos? Whaaat? Did you get the extra storage by referring others or did you purchase their premium services?

          I’m suspicious about putting all my stuff in a place where someone else could access it.

          I worry about things like that.

          I think I need to talk to you for 6 hours.

    1. Oh! Please please please! Think about everything you could lose. The hassle of it all. I have NO pictures of my son from 1999-2012, except from when I was really into scrap-booking. Disaster.

      Actually, that’s not totally true.

      I have some photo albums saved at Snapfish. Now, if I can just remember my password there (it was stored in a locked file on my computer), I might be able to get those photos back on disks.

  6. I felt this in my kishkes. So sorry Renee.

    I would add a couple of words to your advice:

    You’ve conflated The Cloud (a metaphor for storing data “up there” on the web) with iCloud (Apple’s proprietary data storage service in The Cloud). Yes, iCloud is not the place to throw your entire hard drive. It’s like AppleDropbox. It has limited storage.

    But The Cloud is a wonderful place to store your entire hard drive, if you get to the right service. Websites like Mozy (or CrashPlan, which I use) will back up ALL of your files in the background and you will never need to worry again.

    I use an external drive with Time Machine too. It’s kind of like donning a belt and suspenders at the same time, but this way, you KNOW your pants are going to stay up.

    The only trouble with my metaphor is that you do want to take your pants off from time to time. But I think you get my point.

    RIP, Renee’s iMac.

    love, your cousin Steve

    1. CrashPlan? Whaaaat? I need to get schooled, Professor Mazie. I thought The Cloud and iCloud were interchangeable. I plan to use Time Machine with my soon-to-be-new external hard drive.

      I want my pants to stay up.

      Seriously, on this one, I want snowpants over my jeans.

      Might need a phone call on this one, cuz. 😉

      1. Any good external drive will work. The trickiest part is setting up your backup system so that you are copying over and not just making another copy of your files. It takes about an hour just to back up my photos. When you first plug it in, you will probably have the option of an automatic backup or manual. I chose manual. Good luck!

  7. *I’m wearing appropriate black attire*

    Hi Renee, sorry to hear about your hard drive. TechWife has killed 3 drives in the time we’ve been together. (I’ve never lost one.) Her computer is now backed up twice a day to two different locations and then one of those locations is backed up to a server far away from here.

    Since you’re on a Mac, you should look at using “Time Machine” for your backups. It runs automatically and is built into OS X.

    Windows users have lots of options, from software that comes with an external drive to (my favorite) running a product called “Windows Home Server” which can back up every computer in the house (PC or Mac). This way all the computers in the house are backed up.

    Since I’m paid to be paranoid, I recommend people keeping 2 external drives. Keep the second at a relative’s house so if your home is destroyed or robbed, you’ll still have the other backup drive. Every time you go visit the relative, swap backup drives.

    The two biggest things which kill hard drive are heat and any sort of impacts. Heat is the bane of all electronics. Be sure to keep your computer dust free and in a place where there is some airflow. Use a can of compressed air to blow the dust out of the beast every 6 months or so. Here in AZ, I do it more frequently.

    As to Lou’s advice, I’m lightly skeptical of his diagnosis. The treatment may be correct but the drive’s electronics and built in diagnostics should be able to identify the problem. Regardless, physical drive damage is beyond the skill set of even a good computer technician.

    I’m not sure what Lou tried but there are a couple of crazy things that have worked for me. The first is generall safe, put the drive in the freezer for a couple hours and then pull it out and give it a shot. The second is, while powered off, hold it 6″ off the ground and drop it so it hits flush with the ground.

    Optimally if you do either, you’ll have a new boot drive for the computer and connect the sick drive via a USB or Firewire external chassis. That way if it does come up, you can focus on pulling all your data off.

    I have a few other rabbits in my hat but would need to know the drive model and version numbers.

    Good luck!


    1. Jay, Lou did both of those crazy things. That’s why he asked to keep the computer overnight. He wanted to freeze it. He also did the drop to try to loosen bearings (or something). He did say it was filled with dust. *ahem* Who knew these devices are like little vacuum cleaners?

      I can give you any info you need, but not here. Let me grab your email and send. If you think I could do better than sending to ACS Data — where they guarantee 100% recovery or no cost, I’m all ears.

      I plan to use Time Machine with an external hard drive. Is there one you like?

  8. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this, Renee, but I have an alternate solution.

    Don’t know if it works for Macs or not, but I use Oops Backup. It automatically backs up my work AS I GO. I have it directed to a flash drive, but I presume it could go to a CD or even to another computer I’m networked with – but then I’d have to have the other computer on all the time. The trouble with any backup program that’s not automatic is that you have to REMEMBER to do the backup, and there’s always that lag between backups.

    BTW, I noticed I was the fifth person to “Like” this post, and three of us are from the Metroplex. You seriously have to come to DFW Conference next spring, Renee.

  9. So sorry to hear about such a nightmare. I heard something about a crash but had no idea how much may be lost. I hope the techies come up with a last minute save for you. I’m sure it’s not easy to write a post like this but great reminder for everyone. Before I went to external HD, I backed up a couple ways. Used to email every chapter to myself years ago when working on a novel. Keep your chin up fryber. You’re doing great.

    1. Yes, I’m boxing things up right now and getting ready to send Mac’s brain to Texas.

      I figure people have pets that do stupid things like eat socks and get intestinal blockages. Then they require expensive surgeries and just hope that their beloved family pet is going to make it.

      So I guess Mac is kind of like my beloved pet. I have to try everything and hope for the best.

      Thanks for the love, Fryber.

  10. I use Dropbox as my cloud backup and I downloaded the program and it’s a file on my computer. If you use Dropbox to transfer your photos from your camera to the computer they will give you free space! Now I have 5.5gb of free space on my Dropbox account.

    I don’t have enough files for an external hard drive so I burn my important files onto a CD. So I have a few backups available in the case my computer goes crazy. I hope you can your files back!

    1. Hi Nathan. Thanks for the tips. I didn’t think that 5 GB of Dropbox space would have been enough to save me. My son (TechSupport) assures me it would have been plenty. I’m pretty sure everything will be going straight into Dropbox from now on. Duh. *head desk*

  11. Most file transfer tools are cumbersome. Binfer is a great alternative for transferring big files. Check it out.

  12. This is seriously tragic. Computer problems make me feel way more vulnerable than a strong woman should ever feel.

    I wouldn’t even know HOW to back up any of my computers – the ones at work, the ones at home. My whole office has been without email since last weekend and I’m still here at 7 pm because they JUST got it fixed. Looks like only today’s emails are coming through -where are the last week’s worth? Maybe in techno heaven with all your stuff.

    Great, funny post, but I hear the angst underneath the funny. It ain’t a death in the family, but it is terrible. And you’re not a pee-pee head.

    1. Peg!

      It took all my energy to tap this into my husband’s computer. That’s why I’ve been MIA. Everything is so cumbersome on the phone. And I’ve got phat fingers that push all the wrong buttons.

      Thank you for commiserating! And please! Get someone to back up your stuff to DropBox! And somewhere else! Your writing is too precious to lose.

  13. I think before my Flintstone 1.0 in the dining room finally gives up the ghost, I’ll scan about 100 sheets of poems (they can be condensed) and upload into Documents, then immediately download them onto the handy zip-drive/thumb-drive/flash-drive which son gave me on which I have stored many other poems and writings and many, many photos (I already saved all other folks’ photos to CDs). I better go get another because I’d like to save the CD’d photos that have been sent to me to this kind of drive, too. But at least with CDs one can get prints. Online backup scares me –the words “power grid failure” seem to sit right on my solar plexus. I’m really sorry that you may’ve lost a bunch of private work and photos — it has probably happened to 80% of your readers at least once. Um, yes –me, too. Well, there’s only one way to go — up. 🙂

    1. You needn’t worry about power failure. No power, you aren’t going to use the computer anyway (unless your laptop is fully charged).

      Of course you usually will be working on the originals, so not being able to connect to Cloud backup immediately isn’t a huge deal.


    2. Thanks Carol. Since I posted this piece, I’ve learned that anything I saved to Facebook can back onto my phone and then be emailed to my hard drive. Okay, so I might lose a minute amount of quality, but at least I can go through at my leisure and send myself old pictures that I loved and lost. I also found out that anything I’d saved at Snapfish can be put on CD and sent to me, so at least I can recover some things. I may cost a zillion dollars, but if the folks in Texas can’t help, I have that as a Plan B.

      The writing, of course, is gone.

      And I guess I’m writing a new resume at some point.

  14. Renee, I feel your pain – I can imagine that heart drop you must have felt, that utter devastation, because it’s happened to me. Not 20 years worth (and I would pay as much as I could afford to get it back were I in your shoes), but I have lost things in a crash. I now have two external hard drives! My laptop crashed in July, but this time I was seeing the warning signs, and I made sure everything was backed up fully before it went for good. I sure hope they are able to get all of your files back for you! Virtual Hug!!

    1. It is amazing to me to see how many people have lost information in computer crashes. I’m glad you recognized the signs before I did. Denial is a powerful thing, eh? I just didn’t want to believe it could happen to me. *head desk*

  15. Now you know what to do with your new Mac. A happy Mac is like a happy husband…I’ll have to let you decide on the comparison. I realized what I was going to write is not PG13. 😉

    1. My new Mac is going to be a girl. She’s going to be Macarena or MacKenzie or something like that. Because your best girl friend never lets you down. And Macarena or MacKenzie is going to be a party girl who can go all day and all night. And Macarena or Macie or MacKenna is not a drinker, so she’ll never get drunk. She’ll always have her wits about her. She’s going to be awesome.

      Boys always let you down. 😉

      And who said this is PG-13?

  16. Remember – OFF-SITE Backups. Got a relative or writing partner close by? Drop off a backup with them, and update monthly.

    Keep on backup with you at all times. House burns down, you’ve got it handy.

    Work from a laptop. That way you’ve got your computer with you at all times, and can keep your data handy.

    Leave one backup at home. Just in case.

    And remember Murphy’s Law. What can go wrong, will.


    1. Wayne! I read everything you said on Facebook and solemnly swear to do all these things.

      I am such an idiot.

      Can you even imagine?

      Although, apparently, this isn’t that uncommon – judging from the comments. So maybe I should be grateful this is the first time it has ever happened! My bestie is about to inherit a flash drive. 🙂

  17. OK! Gonna get myself an external hard drive. Gonna go do that tomorrow. Eww…shopping on a Saturday? Here’s the deal…my daughter’s computer is going to crash and die soon, I just know it. She’s not too old, but she does have music, photos, and a million home-made music videos she and her friends create. She is also working on an epilogue to Harry Potter (She knows about copyright and all that, but I let her continue because she’s writing and I’m thrilled about that).

    And then there’s my laptop which has been inadvertently dumped on the floor from my bed. Here’s a hint…do NOT continue using laptop in bed after taking Ambien (or any other hypnotic sleep medication). It’s likely you will find your laptop on the floor when you wake up in the morning. Amazingly, my Mac has survived several such plunges off the bed and continues to bless me with functioning well. But…but…but…things aren’t quite the same any more. And Ms mac is getting kinda old.

    So, i will back up all my data and will back up all my daughter’s data (cuz her computer is gonna crash and it better not be right now while I’m writing this).

    Thank you for the reminder, but boy am I sorry for how you came to writing this blog. I cried a little for you too!

  18. Uh oh, this all sounds eerily familiar… Especially the part about thinking I should get an external hard drive – some day. I always have a good excuse to push back getting one, which is definitely not the greatest of ideas.

    I like your post, full of humor despite the situation. I do hope you somehow manage to retrieve your data !

  19. Years ago I went through this and lost everything on my computer without backup. One of my clients could not believe I did not backup the system or store relevant information. I realized how dependent we had become on computers and learned to backup so I would never experience that stress again.

  20. How timely! I’ve been seeing too much of that Spinning Wheel of Doom lately. Thanks for this great article and for sharing your experience. I’m so sorry this happened to you!

  21. I truly got chills when I read the list of all you may have lost.

    I have an external hard drive around here somewhere because I’m a more or less smart person who knows she should back things up.
    Have I? No. Will I? Tout de suite.

    Thank you for this. I’d be happy to contribute some spare change to your $1.64 bajillion recovery fund.

    1. Hi Hippie. Yeah. Thank goodness I have a phone where I can, at least, communicate with humans and receive my email.

      I will be sure to let everyone know what happens with Mac’s brain.

      If he can make like a zombie and become undead.

      Thanks for the love, ladybug. 😉

  22. My heart has been aching just thinking of your loss. I’m so sorry, Renee, and grateful that you’re getting back up and learning from the whole ordeal.

    Your notes about it on Facebook prompted me to start using SugarSync. I have an external hard drive that’s been sitting unopened on a shelf for too long. I plan to use it, but felt I should do something to save my novel drafts pronto. Prior to that, I was simply emailing myself drafts every now and then. But like DropBox, that takes routine maintenance.

    Thanks so much for inspiring us all with your story, and being so open and honest. Lord knows most writers have fears of something similar happening, and not all would be gutsy enough to share. Keep your head up and know that awesomeness is in your future. I JUST KNOW IT! 🙂

    1. Oh August! I’m so glad that you saw this and it became your call to action! I kept planning to use my flash drive to back things up.


      Something more important always seemed to come up.

      There have been some positive things to come as a result.

      I’ve been writing by hand, but also — essentially forced to rethink things.

      I read your post on the need for solitude. I guess I got mine whether I wanted it or not! 😉 It’s hard to comment on my phone, so I’m telling you I want one of those t-shirts, too!

  23. This is so me. I really need to do this. My computer is geriatric. I need to back up but haven’t. What’s worse is that my work computer has a ton of personal stuff on it as well that I’ve accumulated over the years and there is no way to back it up. Yes, I’m dumb. Doesn’t mean I stop putting stuff on there, though. See above re: dumb.

    Good luck on your retrieval. Is it crazy that I’m picturing some sterile matrix-like white room with techs in head to toe white linen jumpsuits fixing your computer?

    1. Don’t be me, Misty. Seriously, I’m sure there is a way to save some of your geriatric files. I had stuff saved in Claris Works. Do you know what that is? .cwk files? Yeah, that was what Apple used to use about six billion years ago.

      Just get a big-ass flash drive and put your most important things on there. Please!

  24. Renee, your true character shines thru in this piece–always helping others, even via an ultra painful event…thanks for what you give to your compadres. May the men in white work magic. I’m looking for my flashdrive right now.

    1. Yes yes yes! Use your flash drive! I keep thinking of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, when Mike TeeVee tried to travel through the airwaves. And his experiment failed miserably. 😉 We’ll see. Eventually.

      Thanks for your kind words, Erm.

  25. I am SO sorry this happened, but what an incredibly generous and helpful post. I have dropbox, but like you, I forget to use it. But after your tweets on this, I updated the external drive. Still, hard to remember to do that too.

    1. Just put EVERYTHING in Dropbox. If you need to take something out, make a copy of it first! On my next computer, I’m totally using Time Machine. I already bought the hard drive. Western Digital My Passport — $99 at Staples this weekend! Can’t wait until they both get here!

      1. So will you always have an external drive connected when you’re working and time machines automatically updates the files on the drive? Trying to understand. I’ll do whatever you tell me. 😉

  26. Wow that really sucks. Mac is in my prayers. I once lost a bunch of digital photographs to a virus. I remember the mixture of anger and regret, and that was just photographs of my friends and I hanging out. Nothing on the scale of your potential loss.

    I’m sure you’ve heard this story. In 1922, before he had published any fiction, Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley lost a suitcase of virtually all of his work up to that time, all of it unpublished. She was transporting the suitcase so that Hemingway could show his work to Lincoln Steffens, who was interested and wanted to see more. Hemingway had to start over, but some believe that the desire to replenish the work quickly forced him to develop the terse style that made him famous.

    I hope your work is saved. But either way, I hope that this motivates and inspires you in the writing that is yet to come.

  27. I tried to post on this last week, but WordPress ate my comment. I was too tired to retype it. 🙁

    I use a LaCie Rugged external drive with SuperDuper software to create a clone of my hard drive. If I get the blinking question mark, I just boot from the clone and I’m back in business. I think I paid $30 for SuperDuper. It does a Smart Update on subsequent backups so that it only updates what’s new from your last backup. I highly recommend it. 🙂

  28. Hey Lady! So glad things are turning around for you! Didn’t read thru all 78 (!!) comments, so not sure if anyone mentioned putting your external backup drive in a fireproof box. They self them at Staple for like $15, made by Sentry. That’s where I store mine. While I wrote my book, I emailed every chapter of every draft to both myself and hubby as an additional backup. Happy Day to you!

  29. Ohhh Gawd. I so feel for you, Renee! It’s heartbreaking. What’s awesome though? That you shared these words of wisdom and that your new lap top is on the way. I think the new banner idea is a FANTASTIC way to embrace a new era. I can’t wait to see it!

    As you know, I just recently set up an automatic back-up for about $10/month. Totally worth it – I was so close to losing everything when I spilled water ALL OVER my lap top! (Amazing that it was water, and not vodka, huh?)

  30. When you are married to a computer engineer, you have a 4 terabyte fireproof storage device that automatically backs up both our computers every night. I love that man.

  31. I am late to the parade, as usual….. was wondering what happened to you…. I have fallen down a hole and I can’t get up, or at least it seems so… hang in there….. as for me It would be the pictures…… I have them backed up on a hard-drive but I can’t access it right now and I’ve not seriously tried to get in a month or so, distracted…. hope school is starting for you well this year…

  32. My God, I feel your pain. I had a laptop stolen in Mexico that wasn’t fully backed up, and it was traumatic. Just wanted to mention Carbonite to you. It’s a reasonably priced subscription (around $60/year as I recall), and whenever you’re online it notes any changes to your computer and sucks up your new work and automatically backs it up for you. If your computer is lost/stolen/commits ritual suicide you can just download your info to the new computer. It’s a virtual external hard drive, especially good for traveling, when your backup hard drive could also get lost/stolen. I also carry a small Passport external drive while traveling, but the Carbonite is a real worry-reliever.

    1. Hi Kathryn! Oh. I am super uber backed up, now, Jack. You. Have. No. Idea. Except it sounds like you do. Kinda. I’m so sorry you lost part of your stuff. I lost everything. On the other hand, it was kind of liberating to start over. New email addresses. I needed new Passwords to everything because I didn’t know what ny were byt heart. And it taught me a valuable lesson! Thank you for stopping by! I wish you a wonderful 2013.

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