5 Things I Learned from Losing Another Hard-Drive

Part of my story as a novelist goes like this: It was the winter of 2008. At least I think it was 2008—my memory and sense of time passing has been going lately, so let’s just assume I know what year it was. It was the winter of 2008 (probably). I’d written a quick-and-dirty draft of a novel during November, my first-ever attempt at NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t “win,” and I didn’t like the experience because I’m a revise-as-I-go kind of writer, but it wasn’t a complete waste because I had about 200, 220 pages. Sure, I found those rough pages shameful. Still I had a draft. A physical something. A start.

Then my laptop died. The hard-drive turned on itself and ate its own head. All data was lost and not even the angels of Tekserve (an Apple specialist computer shop in New York City, known for data recovery) could recover it.

I lost the draft.

I mourned.

I raged.

But the good news is I would then go on to completely rewrite the book from scratch and that book turned into Imaginary Girls, and while I’m sure losing the first ugly draft was all for the best, creatively, it was still a painful way to get some good words down, you know?

I lost other pieces of writing in that hard-drive crash, too.

Not to mention photos, songs, diary entries, notes to myself, stuff. Lots of stuff. I lost A LOT.

Because I hadn’t been backing up very often.

You’d think a writer such as myself would learn a lesson from the Terrible Winter of 2008: The lesson that computers are flimsy things that cannot be relied on. The lesson that you can count only on yourself, if your self is smart enough to back your shit up.

Well, since the big crash in the winter of 2008, I went through a whole other laptop. (Which died and is a whole other story.) Now I’m on another new one, a shiny new Macbook Air that is less than a year old.

This shiny, new, practically perfect Macbook Air that is less than a year old died on me a week ago today.

It froze while I was reading an article on the New York Times website, and with that, in a blink, it was dead.

That morning—after a visit to the Apple Store, then to Tekserve (because the Apple Store won’t even attempt to try to recover your data), I learned that the hard drive and had turned on itself and melted to oblivion and was gone to the world. Gone.

The replacement would be covered by warranty, as the laptop is so new.  And the tech at the Apple Store, and the tech at Tekserve, they both said to me, “But you’ve been backing up, right?”

And oh.

And ugh.

Because I remembered that I hadn’t been backing up as regularly as I’d meant to.

Because I’d gotten comfortable.

I’d gotten too trusting.

I thought for sure a bad hard-drive crash like the one in the winter of 2008 would not happen to me a second time… surely.

I thought Apple wouldn’t make a laptop so defective that it would die so horribly less than a year after I bought it.

I was dead wrong. And the writing I lost will be gone to me forever.

And the people who said, “Don’t you have Dropbox?” made me want to hurt them. (Because, yes, I do have Dropbox, but, no, it wasn’t set up to automatically back up for me.)

And the people who said, “Blah blah I back up every day” made me want to scream. (Because I used to do that and lately I’d been forgetting.)

And the person who did not back up every single day (me) is the person I am most angry at.

(My laptop returned to me, repaired and with a factory-fresh, blank hard-drive.)
(My laptop returned to me, repaired and with a factory-fresh, blank hard-drive.)

Here is what I learned from losing yet another hard-drive:

  1. Never get comfortable. Assume your laptop could break tomorrow. Could break in the next five minutes. Back up every chance you get, like a paranoid backup fiend. Do not trust anyone—least of all a soulless machine.
  2. Do not expect sympathy if you lose your writing because you were not backing up every day. No one cares as much as you do. No one but you even knows what you lost.
  3. Tell yourself the writing you lost was needing to be lost in order to become what it was truly meant to be. And prove it, by writing up a storm. Prove it by being better than you ever thought you could be.
  4. Sometimes there is joy in writing from memory. It’s even better than it was before, I know it. (And don’t let your doubts tell you different.)
  5. Oh, and buy a Time Capsule or sign up for some kind of automatic backup service if you’re okay with your files being out in a cloud somewhere. Now I am backed up every hour on the hour, when I’m connected to home wifi, so I can do an easy Time Machine restore if (face it: when) this ever happens again. Plus yes, yes, I know: Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox.

None of this is news. It was only a hiccup. A setback. And now I’m off and running and I’ll get everything back that I lost, everything and more.

PSA: Have you backed up your writing today?

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12 responses to “5 Things I Learned from Losing Another Hard-Drive”

  1. We’ve all had that Terrible Winter of 2008, haven’t we? Your first point really hits home—no one can ever really sympathize because only you can replay in your head all the documents and notes that you’d saved that you can never get back. I’ve had this happen to me a couple times, and I feel your pain in this post.

    And about point number 4, no. Just no. lol. I HATE writing from memory when I lose something because then I can’t stop thinking about all of the stuff I’m not remembering. And I have a bad memory. It’s why I take Gingko Biloba extract—which reminds me… I need to take it.

    I really enjoyed this post, mostly through empathetic mourning of stuff long lost. And thanks for the info on the Dropbox and what not—and of course, the kick in the pants to back up my stuff TODAY! Because my laptop is way shittier than a year old Mac Book Air. O.O


  2. True story: I once had a laptop burst into flames in mid-sentence. Actual. Flames. I was about 150 pages into the book. When someone asked me if I had backed up, I had no idea what they were talking about. Fortunately, there is something amazing about starting over. It’s like how farmers burn their fields from time to time and plant in the ash – sometimes you have to kill a thing in order to make it live.


  3. I lost a large piece of my NaNo in 2009 because I didn’t back up. I then installed an automatic save every 2 minutes – I know paranoid but know I only have to ‘remember’ 2 minutes worth of work. Keep the paranoia it helps!


  4. Nova, please explain ‘Dropbox.’ What’s the advantage over just old fashioned usb’s, of which I have three cause no way am I trusting one. And yes, I’m one of those paranoid types that really does back up work on all three. I did have a computer melt down and lost all email contacts a few months back, and all those precious notes. I’d write emails to myself with ideas, notes and such, the idea being they’d be safe in my email account. Duh! That hit hard too, but certainly not as bad as losing your work. I feel terrible for you, but love your positivity!


    • I actually don’t know why people are so hung up on Dropbox. It’s a free way to store your files in a place you can access from any computer… But it’s not a full backup, and it’s not automatic… You have to drag the files you want saved to your Dropbox folder. So I don’t get the passion, to be honest. But when my hard-drive died, I can’t count the number of people who asked if I was using Dropbox, as if it could singlehandedly save the day.

      What will save the day, imho, is a Time Machine backup, because it restores absolutely everything just as it was before my hard-drive died: preferences, bookmarks, apps, even the mess of my desktop, and of course the files.

      My computer is just as it was before the crash (just minus the lost work). I didn’t have to set anything up again. I just hit “restore” and soon it was the way I remembered.

      Maybe someone else can explain why Dropbox is better than that, but I don’t see how it could be. I’m only using Dropbox as secondary backup to my first backup, which is on the Time Capsule (using the Time Machine app).


  5. I back up with thumb drives, on line, and in triplicate. But come to think of it, my last 6000 words aren’t backed up! Thanks for reminding me how bad it sucks to lose good ideas.


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