Massive Computer Crash and Simultaneous Backup Failure (or, every writer’s worst nightmare)

broken shattered cracked glass window( — Imagine this: It’s the night before a big deadline, about 10 p.m. You’re in the middle of attaching your revised, almost-final draft of a major proposal to an e-mail to your client when your computer freezes. You try everything you can think of to no avail, so you do a forced shut-down…and then your computer never turns back on. And inside, trapped, is the proposal you have been slaving over for weeks.

The one that’s due to the client tomorrow morning.

Yeah, that’s what happened to me last month. What would you have done? Me, well, I had a panic attack.

Let’s back up a minute.

For the last several months, there’s been something wrong with my computer. It was freezing randomly, and certain processes were running really slowly. I kept calling tech support and they’d walk me through a temporary fix, but the problems just kept coming back. In the meantime, my external hard drive (aka, the useless-when-I-actually-needed-it backup drive) spontaneously stopped working and had to be sent out for replacement. I didn’t really think much of it, and I was learning to live with the random slowness.

And then disaster struck. I was literally — literally — attaching the draft to the e-mail when the computer froze up. Literally. If it had waited 30 seconds, this would still be a sucky story but not an absolute freakin’ nightmare. Don’t worry, I won’t disappoint. It was an utter disaster.

I called my client as soon as I realized there was a problem, but at that point I wasn’t in complete panic mode yet. That came later.

I still had faith in tech support walking me through some magical fix by phone. She stayed calm, I stayed calm, we agreed that she would e-mail the end client and just let them know that there was a tech glitch and we’d sent the document as soon as it was resolved. But then I hung up the phone and tried to do a little troubleshooting of my own by attempting to access my desktop through my laptop like an external drive. That’s when I got the message that my desktop’s hard drive didn’t exist. That was when I had the panic attack.

The next morning I was on the phone with tech support when they opened. We tried everything. Nothing happened. “Well,” the guy said, “the next option would be to erase the hard drive and reinstall everything from scratch to see if that will make it recognize it.” Uh, dude, are you on CRACK? eRASE the HARD drive? When my STUFF is still ON there?

That obviously didn’t fly. Instead, I got a referral to a data recovery service and my husband cancelled all of his plans for the day and schlepped the comptuer to the local store for some on-site attempts at repair. Nada. Data recovery it was.

And data recovery is expensive! The quotes I got ranged from $2,000 to $9,000, with no guarantee of success. Since I hadn’t set the computer on fire, thrown it down the stairs, or immersed it in water or another liquid, the company I ultimately went with was pretty optimistic that they’d be able to get at least something back for me. Something. Gee, thanks. But I FexExed it off to them and started waiting.

Last night I got an e-mail: Please call our customer service department about your order. When I did, a nice lady named Kelly told me they had recovered more than 99% of my data. I screamed. “Kelly,” I said, “if you were in the room I would hug you.” She laughed. The bill? Only (and I use the term loosely) $2,100 and change. Considering how much worse it could have been, I’ll take it.

I’ll have my data back by the end of the week, and my computer is still under warranty so I should have a new machine shortly thereafter.

“But Kristen,” you ask, “what happened with the proposal?”

Once I realized that the file was gone forever, or at least until well after the deadline, I busted out my laptop and combed my sent e-mails for earlier drafts, and then painstakingly reconstructed the 10 hours of work I had put in the day before in about 4 hours. I’m still not sure how I managed it. We missed that deadline by a few hours but still made the important one — the deadline to actually submit the proposal — with time to spare, so all’s well that ends well. And I’m getting my files back! Woohoo!

Lessons learned:

  • One backup method is not enough. (That phrase makes me think of middle school sex ed class. Snort.)
  • Never underestimate the value of e-mailing yourself interim drafts to a Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or other Web-based account so if you have a crisis, you also have a safety net.
  • When you screw up, whether it’s your fault or a circumstance beyond your control, just panicking doesn’t help. Panic for a few minutes, but then get it together and bust your butt to make it right; if you do that, you’ll keep your client despite the crisis.

After we sent the reconstructed draft to the end client, my client said to me, “I wasn’t going to tell you this last night, but I was really nervous. I’ve been left holding the bag in situations like this before, and we haven’t really been in the trenches together yet. You get an A+ for professionalism and perseverance. And this makes me want to work with you even more.” Hey, works for me!

Contents Copyright © 2006-2014 Kristen King

18 comments… add one
  • Michele Jun 2, 2009

    I can totally relate, Kristen. My bill wasn’t as much as yours but my laptop recently crashed (at the end of last week) while I was in the middle of writing articles. I was on deadline as well and had a few files open going back and forth working on each of them. When it crashed, I almost cried. I panicked, too. I immediately contacted my editors and clients and told them that the work I had due might be late because it was the end of the week and I didn’t even know if a computer shop would squeeze me in and get my computer back up and running again. I was horrified, just horrified! They all assured me it was fine and to just get my computer taken care of. Thank goodness the computer man I found bumped me up to top priority because I told him I’m a freelance writer and blogger and this computer is used for business purposes. I was ecstatic when he called that evening and said he’d been able to get my computer to come back on and he thought everything could be saved, and that he thought I’d have my computer by the next day. I didn’t lose anything–not even those files I was working on when it crashed!! I could’ve hugged him but I tried to act civilized. LOL

    I’m so thankful we both had positive endings. My bank account took a bit of a beating, as yours did–but we didn’t lose our stuff! Whew! That was a close one! :-)

    Oh, and I have started emailing myself too just to have another backup. It’s like the old saying goes: it’s better to be safe than sorry!


    Michele´s last blog post..Potholes in the Cyber Highway

  • Speed Jun 2, 2009

    Using a web based e-mail service as a backup is a great idea. Microsoft has a free service (Office Live Workspace) that allows you to save Microsoft Office files directly on Microsoft servers. If your computer dies, you can work on the file using another intenet connected computer.

    Another option (also free from Microsoft) is Sync which will automagically keep two (or more) copies of a file (or files or folder or folders) synchronized on two (or more) computers. This way you can do all your work on your desktop and as long as your laptop is connected to your network (or the internet) it will be duplicated on your laptop. And visa-versa. Works with any file/format — not just Microsoft products.

  • Kim Woodbridge Jun 2, 2009

    Oh Kristen – I was wondering why you had kind of disappeared. That’s a big price tag but it’s awesome that they got 99% of your data.

    I have 2 external hard drives – one backs up my files daily and the other weekly. I keep the weekly one at a friend’s house during the week – my backups aren’t going to do me any good if my house burns down. Of course, this system wouldn’t have helped me in your scenario if I hadn’t backed up right before emailing the file.

    It sounds like emailing the file to yourself is a great idea while working on something that big.

    Kim Woodbridge´s last blog post..Twitter and Facebook Integration: Stop Making Every Tweet Your Facebook Status

  • Katharine Jun 2, 2009

    Kristen, kudos to you for how professionally you handled this emergency with your client. No wonder the client wants to work with you again. You rock!

    Katharine´s last blog post..What Some Clients Try to Do to Freelancers

  • Lori Jun 4, 2009

    Wait – you’re on a Mac, right? There goes my theory that Mac crashes are more “user friendly” in nature. Sorry to hear it!

    It’s a good case for an external backup. My husband had me partition the drive, but I argued if the entire drive is locked up, what’s the point? I use Mozy. It’s an online backup service (I think they give you 2 GB of free backup space). I set the computer to back up every afternoon and forget about it. It’s not a perfect setup, but at least all is not lost. I think the best solution is an external drive. Perhaps it’s time I invested in one, too. I have a dinosaur of a computer….

    Lori´s last blog post..Random Wastes of Time

  • Lori Jun 4, 2009

    Then again, you said your drive was faulty, too. It’s like the universe was telling you “GET THIS FIXED!” and you couldn’t hear it. Boy, have we all been there!

    Try the online backup services. Seriously. It’ll save you mountains of heartache and stress.

    Lori´s last blog post..Random Wastes of Time

  • Kristen King Jun 4, 2009

    Lori, it was the actual hard drive itself that was faulty, nothing to do with the operating system. It happens every now and then and there’s no way to prevent it. That’s what the data recovery people told me, anyway. The guy said:

    Your hard drive has suffered from media damage. This occurs when the read/write heads physically scratch off the surface of the media, taking bits of your data off. Fortunately we were able to rebuild your drive in our cleanroom, extract an image of the data and logically repair the physically damaged files.

    There is no way to guard against this type of crash. All hard drives are going to fail eventually. Some are actually going to fail on the first day of operation or the 5th month, or 10th year. Your only protection is by making a backup and verifying it.

    I used to use Mozy, but then when I got the on-site backup, I got lazy. No more! I already renewed my account. :)

  • Caitlin Jun 4, 2009

    I have been realizing that I need a more solid backup system (I’ve been emailing things to myself and using google docs) but I wasn’t sure where to start. All these options are really helpful and I also now know that I should find two backup systems (maybe one on-site and one off-site) to cover my bases. Thanks!

  • Lori Jun 5, 2009

    Oh my, that’s scary! Okay, I’m looking into an external drive today. Mozy’s great, but a lot of my files are in email, which would take up oodles of space in Mozy.

    Lori´s last blog post..Meet the Author: Colin Galbraith

  • NAlyseWalker Jun 9, 2009

    Kristen, in a work world full of complaints, excuses, and “oh well, too bad’s” you exhibit a refreshing example of a strong, classic professional work ethic. I am working to get to that point!

    NAlyseWalker´s last blog post..Life: Don’t Wait To Find Out Just How Short Life Really Is

  • Carole Jun 11, 2009

    Clickfree has easy-to-use back up drives. It saves all docs, images, e-mails, etc. The external drives are available for both PCs and Macs. Since Clickfree doesn’t back up OS and apps, you may want another drive that will do this for you. Seagate has one.

    Glad you were able to retrieve your work. The idea of sending to Web mail is brilliant. Thanks!

  • FLASHRelations Jul 7, 2009

    What a horrible experience to endure. Yet, so many people have. It is, indeed, every writers worst nightmare. I recently spoke with people who had hard drive issues, too. They were experiencing coastal floods and their computers/external drives got soaked. All it takes is a crack in the ceiling for one drop of water to fall on our hard work and zap our life away.

    You inspired me by your writing, along with the other commenters, so hopefully I can help and inspire you!

    I found this external drive that is the golden ticket. I think it covers all the bases. How about you? :)

    FLASHRelations´s last blog post..Get to Know Them: Ambulance LTD.

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