A Tale of a Dead Computer and Resurrected Writing

This isn’t the story I had planned to tell. But then my computer died. It was a tragedy, but only a partial one. And it occurred to me that it would be a good way to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at my writing business.ย I’ve talked before about my favorite tools, but what does that mean when something like this happens?

Tale of a Dead Computer and Resurrected Writing

It’s not the first time I’ve had a computer die. And sadly, it probably won’t be the last, because they just don’t make them like they used to. As usual, there was no warning (well, unless you count failing to restart, failing to load Windows and failing to show anything on the screen). The computer chugged along for a little while till those intermittent failures became permanent. That was yesterday.

While I should have been meeting deadlines, I was out checking out computers and figuring out how quickly I could get a new one. (As it turned out, today is looking good). But then it was back to my work. And that’s where some of the behind the scenes magic did its thing.

I have a netbook. Once the bees’ knees, it’s now very, very sluggish. It’s running Windows XP in an online world optimized for Windows 8. That means there’s a limit to what I can do with it. One thing I can do, is write. Of course, I can’t use Dragon Naturally Speaking and Scrivener. but I’ve been able to access my files and continue to work on them. Because, technology failures or not, I’m committed to delivering work on time.

That’s why I went to Dropbox and accessed my last Scrivener backup (boy, did cloud backup turn out to be a smart decision), then downloaded it to the netbook. I spent a while wading through the files (Scrivener only gives them numbers, which isn’t helpful, and the search on Windows XP only does filenames not file contents). Eventually, I found the most urgent piece of work, copied it to Google Docs and then uploaded the finished post to WordPress.

Then I looked for another piece of work that wasn’t part of the Scrivener backup. However, it did appear in my backup-as-you-go solution, SugarSync. Another piece of work successfully completed.

Sure, there are some things I haven’t been able to do. The netbook has taken a dislike to Skype and I can forget about editing images. But I am able to write, so that’s what I’ve done, while making clients aware that some delay is likely. I believe in communication, and re-negotiating a deadline because of force majeure isn’t the same as missing it for no reason at all.

Now, I’m just a couple of hours away (I hope) from getting my new computer, and a couple more hours away from having it set up and ready to go. In the meantime, though, thanks to my backup computer and online backup, my clients won’t suffer.

I have learned one thing, though – my next backup computer won’t be a netbook. It will be a laptop capable of running Scrivener, Dragon and Chrome at the same time. I’ve already got a lead on the model!

Update: My local computer firm got my new computer ready in less than 48 hours, and they installed Chrome and transferred my files too. Excellent service!

23 thoughts on “A Tale of a Dead Computer and Resurrected Writing”

  1. Oh Sharon, I can’t tell you how I feel your pain! Many years ago I had a serious crash and had no backup. I went to “the man” who did some very expensive magic to retrieve most of my data, for which I was tremendously grateful, and then I never, ever, ever did anything without backing it up again. I used to use Symantec for my PC which was amazing because you can create a whole disc image – that means if your computer dies you spin up the entire (virtual) disc on a new computer and it retains all your data, programs and settings. THAT came in handy once or twice… unfortunately there is no good counterpart on the Mac (Time Machine is not as helpful as one might hope) but I do make sure all my files, at least, are in the cloud. I never want to have that feeling of “all that work I did is gone”. What torture. Anyway, I’m glad you are (sort of??) back on track. And good riddance to Windows XP!

    • Windows XP was a real step back from Windows 7, Carol Lynn. I felt like I had to relearn it. Disk images are a great idea. I’m with you, I never want to have that panicked feeling again. I did once, years ago, and that’s when I got paranoid about backup. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. You make it all sound so…normal! Not even a hint of freak out in your voice, LOL. I’m just glad I live with my own in-house tech support. And yes, back it up, back it up, back it up!

    So glad to hear you’ve got your new equipment.

    • LOL, Tea, there was definitely some freaking out, especially when I thought I’d lost my whole post for Crazy Egg. Once I located that I calmed down a lot.. Loving the speed of my new PC. I have 8 Chrome tabs open, along with Scrivener, Skype, Google Docs and Dragon, and for a while there I had Word open too. And everything works – fast!!! All I have to do now is get to grips with Windows 8.

  3. Wow Sharon…so sorry to hear about the failed computer, not surprised at all that you were backed up, ready to still meet the needs of your clients because of the outstanding person that you are! I recently had the same issue, mine was worse…a virus that ruined my hard drive and no funds to get something new. Thanks to a dear friend that gives me nothing but love and support all the time came through and calmly took care of it with an excellent resource…as well as access to another laptop and my carbonite back up…I too did not miss a beat…that’s what we do right? Thanks for sharing…

  4. Sharon, like Tea I marvelled at how coolly you dealt with what is truly one of a small businesses nastiest nightmares. I am in awe, you even got a post done. Amazing. I feel particularly for you as I managed (no asking how, please) to delete my entire client folder on Thursday and it could not be retrieved, nor I found out had it been backed up since October to Time Machine, which has Carol Lynn says is less than reliable. So fortunately most things I have emailed by pdf, so I could at least retrieve evidence of the work, but I will be redoing a whole lot of Indesign work which makes me want to cry. Back up and NEVER be complacent about it. You really would think we know this, but so many of us get caught. Thank you for teaching me to keep cool if (when) it happens again!

    • So sorry about your client folder, Sandy. That really is a nightmare. ๐Ÿ™ Sadly complacency and backup don’t mix – I’m still thinking about how to improve my setup. As for the cool – that was after I finished railing against my computer. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Oh, Sharon! Talk about instant heart attack…I’ve definitely been there.

    In college I had an old Dell Inspiron laptop that was mostly full of music (I’m a huge music lover). I remember sitting at the computer when suddenly it just melted down. The screen fizzled out and it never turned on again. Even the computer repair shop couldn’t pull the music off the hard drive.

    I criedโ€”mostly out of pure frustration, but those were real tearsโ€”until I realized that there was literally nothing I could do. I was taking a Zen Buddhism class at the time, and I thought about how Buddhists believe in “non-attachment”โ€”and this is exactly why. Our attachments to material things often cause us pain when they get lost, trashed, stolen, etc.

    I took a moment, focused, and let it go. I still use that technique when something is completely out of my hands, but I have to admit that losing my treasured music collection still stings a bit.

    These days, I use the cloud for almost all my work, and I have it (Dropbox) constantly backing up to my main desktop computer. That way I can switch between computers without having to transfer files, and so far (knock on wood!) I haven’t had any problems.

    I’m glad you were able to retrieve your work! Time for a new computer ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ouch – all your music?! I can see why that’s still a painful memory, Molly. Dropbox is a lifesaver, though I still don’t trust my stuff to any single provider. Don’t want to have to learn that lesson the hard way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I second Tea…you sound so…sane! I’m so glad your computer got replaced in a timely manner and that you found a local place with great service. I’ll have to check into Mac options for syncing…I’m used to writing 100% of the time in Google Docs, and I do love it, but after doing some NaNoWriMo experiments with writing speed, I found I write MUCH faster inside Byword or Ulysses, which means that I need to make absolutely sure I have backups if I’m writing on an offline solution!

  7. For all those who think the cloud is a passing fad, I say, “Read this!” Sharon, you were probably more prepared than 90% of the folks whose computers died along with yours. That’s a sad opinion in an age where free online storage is plentiful.

    Because, ultimately, it’s not about the storage. It’s about procedure, as SandyMc strongly asserts. This post has reminded me why I put up with all those tray icons sucking up CPU bandwidth. LOL

    I’m glad you have a happy ending to your story.



    • I know you’ve got some robust backup procedures, Mitch, which means you should be ok if something like this happens. I’d add to what you said that once you have a system, it’s important to check that your backup is actually working – you don’t want to find out it has failed when you need it most.

      • Sharon, I will say this: my DATA is safe. I’m not where I want to be if this laptop sizzled and fried right this moment.

        One of the biggest concerns is productivity based on “muscle memory” for lack of a better term. Every keystroke, mouse click and docked window preference is at risk. I believe the only solution for that is to embrace disaster as a chance to clean house and try something new.

        However, some things are just too darned useful! LOL How do we backup that precise order of bits that open a document with two clicks? ๐Ÿ™‚

        Not to worry, I happen to enjoy experimenting and, as long as I have my install disks or downloads (better yet, links to latest versions), then I’m going to be okay.



  8. OMG I hate it when that happens! Carbonite, which is my current choice for cloud backup, saved me the last time I had to replace my computer… made it almost easy. Love your attitude.

  9. Sharon you are a one cool customer… While I would have also done everything I could to meet deadlines, on the inside a freakout would be happening. And thumbs up on the clear timely communication to clients.

    I too had a memory issue and had to shell out some serious change to get some (not all) of my files recovered. Since that point I use Carbonite (like Anne mentions she does). Every time my computer is connected to the internet Carbonite checks for new files (any kind, pics, music, video, word, excel…) and backs them up. That peace of mind is well worth the 50 odd dollars I pay them annually.

    Plus, if Carbonite was good enough for Han Solo, shouldn’t it be good enough for me?

    • I definitely have to give Carbonite a look with both you and Anne recommending it, Nicole. I may have outgrown SugarSync. Once you have one of these incidents, you definitely get more rigorous about backup. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. My first year in business, my main computer’s motherboard died. I had a dinky backup computer (in the form of a Mac Mini desktop hooked up to my TV, mostly used for watching DVDs and testing websites).

    I had 3 websites due that week and no way to code ’em. My Mac Mini just wasn’t set up for coding like that. So it was off to the Apple store with not much in my bank account and three contracts riding on my ability to quickly get the computer up and running.

    Everything turned out, but ever since then I’ve never been without a backup computer (or three) at any given time. Right now, I have 3 workhorse computers which can easily and quickly replace any system that happens to go down.

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