Posted by: anitanolan | January 10, 2011

On Backing Up Your Computer; A Cautionary Tale

I have gotten more than a few gray hairs over the last couple of weeks, caused by my computer hard drive, which decided to die as a special Christmas present. I took it to the local Mac store, and not a problem, it still had a couple of months left on the extended warranty (Computers are the only thing for which I get extended warranties. I am batting better than 50-50 in using them, so I’ve found that they are money well spent.)

The tech told me that they’d replace the hard drive, but everything on my computer would be lost. It would be just like a new computer when I got it back.

“Not a problem,” I said. “I have Carbonite.” (Carbonite is an online backup system.)

He gave me a look that was a little unsettling.

I wasn’t too concerned, because I also periodically emailed myself my manuscripts, and I saved all the articles for Sprouts on my email as well. Double insurance–right?

So, I got my computer back just before the end of the year, and tried to restore. But being the total computer illiterate that I am, I didn’t realize I needed to download Office Suite, Quicken, etc again before I restored. So, the restore failed.

That began a more than a week-long saga of trying to get through on live chat or the phone to folks at Carbonite. They told me early on that they could get me my files, but actually getting it done was quite another thing. I wasn’t too worried, because I’d emailed my manuscripts to myself, so even if I didn’t have the latest version, I had a recent version. And I had those Sprouts articles in my email too.

That would have been good backup, except that Hotmail had a major breakdown as well over the holidays and lost many saved files–including mine. When I went to look for my manuscripts in the folder where they’d been–it was empty.

I cannot begin to describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized that all my work–all the notes and handouts of my workshops and classes, my manuscripts, stories I’d written, etc etc, were gone. Fortunately, I’d kept the paper copies of my manuscripts when I last revised, so could always re-enter into the computer, if necessary. But still. We’re talking years of work, and all of it had to be either re-entered into the computer, and probably revised again, or it was just gone.

Talk about sleepless nights.

Finally, this Friday evening, I spent most of the time between 4 PM and Midnight on Live Chat with a couple of different techs, and have most of my files back at last. There are still a few things I can’t find, (one of which is the file of Sprouts articles) but  for the most part I’ve got everything back, except for the things I’d saved through email.

So – what have I learned?

First, that having online backup is great, and the folks at Carbonite are very helpful–and patient–but I’m not comfortable relying only on them. I’ll continue to use them, but I won’t be so smug thinking that I can’t have a problem just because I have online backup.

Second, that having two forms of backup isn’t sufficient. Emailing myself files is okay, but not good enough.

Third, that I’m  getting two flash drives and downloading all manuscripts on them. I’ll keep one at work and the other at home, and once a month I’ll save my work in progress on the drive I have at home, then I’ll take it to work and bring home the other and save stories, workshop notes, etc to that as well as my hard drive as I create them.

Last–nothing helps you sleep at night like having a paper copy of your manuscript. Yes, retyping it into your computer stinks, but it is better than seeing all your hard work disappear into the ether. And, I find that retyping the entire story really is a good way to revise.

By the way, if you have sent me anything for Sprouts, please double-check with me and make sure I have your article. I think I only had a couple, and I’ve contacted those people whose articles I can’t fine, but I could have forgotten something.

Anybody have any other good backup suggestions?


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amy Leblanc. Amy Leblanc said: RT @jsubject: On Backing Up Your Computer; A Cautionary Tale « Anita Nolan's blog via @anitanolan […]

  2. Ugh, so sorry to hear about the hard drive nightmare!

    • Thanks Debbie! At least it ended pretty well. A couple weeks lost, but most of my files recovered. (Probably all, but haven’t thought about everything, and some things have been difficult to find.

  3. I’m a bit paranoid about backing up, so in addition to flash drives, e-mailing and occasional CDs, I have Mac’s Time Capsule. It allows me to return to files of previous dates so, should a current version of something prove to be getting off track, I can retrieve an earlier version and rewrite from there.

    • Is that Time Machine? I have that, but I don’t think it helps if your hard drive fails.
      Thanks for the comment!

      • Time Machine is the application; Time Capsule is an external wireless airport and hard drive and operates separate from the internal hard drive so I can hook another computer to it and retrieve all prior files.

      • Oh, good to know. I did have an external hard drive for a time, but it filled up and is useless at this point. I’ll check out Time Capsule. Of course, since I don’t have wireless at this point, I don’t know if I can use it or not, but I’ll look into it. Thanks!

  4. OMG my worse nightmare! I had a friend recently a full MS critique she had done for me – a very similar story! So, now I have an external hard-drive backup AND online backup – and I’m still considering getting a flash drive backup system going. And major drafts get printed.

    *still shivers*

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