True, the Mac was ancient. That didn't stop me from consulting two different computer gurus to confirm what was already painfully obvious – the Mac had gone to the big computer orgy in the sky.
That was a big enough blow, but when I learned Sunday that no files could be retrieved from the hard drive, I contemplated mouth-to-Mac resuscitation.
Fortunately, I've worked with computers long enough to have a few backup systems in place. I lost some files, but it could have been much worse.
Here are a few things I did right, and a few I'll do better next time.
How I got lucky:
- The plus side of never deleting emails. The Mac sat upstairs in my bedroom, while an older PC lived in my office downstairs. There was no rhyme or reason to which I'd choose to use each day, which meant I emailed files back and forth to myself constantly. The fact that I seldom delete emails annoys the crap out of me when I'm forced to wade through 100 messages from my aunt insisting Bill Gates wants to give me $100 for forwarding a chain letter, but it worked in my favor this time. Between my in-box and my sent folder, I was able to retrieve a lot of files.
- CDs and thumb drives are my friends. In addition to my somewhat accidental email backup system, I had a less accidental (but still haphazard) habit of dumping important files onto CDs and thumb drives. When I rifled through them on Monday, I was pleased to discover most of what I hoped to save was spread somewhere between four thumb drives and three-dozen cryptically labeled CDs (several of which had been used as coasters).
- Dates in the file names. I'm fairly neurotic when it comes to saving manuscripts. Each time I open one, I re-save a new version with the current date in the title. I learned this trick the hard way six years ago when I used to save the files with merely a title and a version number. I wasn't always consistent with the numbers, but since I went by the file date anyway, assumed it didn't matter. Then my computer crashed, and all my retrieved files were cryptically branded with a date of August 1969. Adding the date to the file name has saved my butt more than a few times since then.
- Scheduled backups. Though I got lucky with my haphazard backup system, a girl can't count on getting lucky all the time. That's a shame. In the future, I'll pick a designated day to back up whatever I've worked on that week, perhaps on an external hard drive this time.
- Smarter labeling. Though I was wise enough to dump bigger files on CDs and thumb drives, I wasn't wise enough to have a good system for knowing what's on them. The few CDs that bear labels have helpful titles like "pics" and "files," which doesn't do much to distinguish vacation photos of monkey sex from my professional author photos. In the future, I'll have more savvy system for labeling my external backups.
- Consistent file names. Though I was able to search my email for the names of my manuscripts, there was the small issue of name changes in those documents. My manuscripts all have working titles like PIRATEBITCH, PSYCHICBITCH, and WINEBITCH. There's an inevitable shift that happens when I start sending the files to my agent or editor and I'm forced to call them by their real titles (MAKING WAVES, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, and LET IT BREATHE, respectively). In the future, I should probably start adopting the real titles earlier in the game. Either that, or convince my editor that the bitch series has real marketing potential.
I'll be making sure my new Macintosh doorstop is positioned correctly.