Four Words No Novelist Wants To Hear

“Catastrophic Hard Disk Failure.”

On Saturday, I came home from the morning errands to find my laptop frozen. No mouse movement, no Cmd-Q to Quit – basically, she was unresponsive.

I suppose this should have fazed me – but it didn’t. I’ve been working with computers in one capacity or another for 33 years. These things happen, even to Macs.

So I power-cycled it, and waited for it to come back…except shortly after the pretty little gray-on-gray Apple logo showed up, I got the Translucent Curtain of Death. Kernel panic.


I restarted a number of times, and that nasty panic never went away. So I booted into single-user mode to run fsck.

Except…single user mode never gave me a prompt.


Booted from the install CD and ran Disk Utility. Why yes, Disk Utility said cheerfully, your hard drive is, in fact, completely hosed. Do you want to repair it?

Why yes, Disk Utility, I do.

Can’t repair it. You need to reformat. Have a nice day!

Now, of course I run Time Machine. With which I backup my iTunes library, which lives on another external drive. I’ve been meaning to change that, now that you can re-download videos as well as music – but I didn’t.

I had lost my boot drive – my photos, my documents, my notes, my passwords – and I had no backup.

This makes me an idiot.

I made a pilgrimage to the Apple Store on Sunday (about an hour’s drive), where the guy at the Genius Bar (young guy, not big on eye contact, cheerful enough but not a salesman like some of them are) gave me the bad news. It looked a lot like hardware failure. He said I could try the reformat, but even if it worked, the drive was likely on its last legs. Replacing the internal drive in my unibody 17″ MacBook Pro would cost $215 plus tax. (At least that quote included labor.)

I took my baby home, took a breath, and reformatted the drive. So far, so good – but you can bet Time Machine is now faithfully backing up my internal hard drive, as it should have been all along.

I hope the dentist remembers to call me before my appointments. I lost iCal too.

On Saturday afternoon, when it became apparent that my computer was not coming back, my husband approached me tentatively and said “I hate to ask…but what about your novel?”

The novel was on the iPad. It was sweet of him to ask; but really, doesn’t he know me well enough to realize that if I’d lost my novel, I would have been curled up in a ball under the kitchen table, sobbing uncontrollably? I mean, it was only a first draft and all, and rewrites are in its future – but if I had lost those 50,000 hard-won words, I would have been truly devastated.

Plus I would have had to send my winner’s t-shirt back.

My laptop is almost back to normal. I’m actually amazed to discover how much of my life is available in Cloud-land. All the software vendors – from Adobe to MacGameStore – had my serial numbers under my account name, and allowed me to re-download my stuff. Even iTunes, although it threatened to overwrite all my iPad apps and their data, left my Pages documents alone (although, yeah, you bet I backed them up first). As for my photographs? Most of them were duplicates of pictures either my mother or my husband has. (Those are getting backed up when I get them back, too.)

I did lose some documents. I had some Scrivener docs and some Pages stuff that hadn’t been iPad-ized, but most of it was obsolete. I’m a big believer in the value of re-writing – it rarely gets any worse if you’re forced to regenerate it from scratch. So really, I came out of this astonishingly stupid mistake relatively unscathed, apart from headaches and the time sink of redownloading and reinstalling stuff.

The next steps for my novel involve:

  • outlining what I have written so far
  • outlining the parts that are not done
  • FINISHING IT (no, really)

But tonight…I am going to watch that Time Machine icon spin gently once an hour, and be grateful my carelessness did not screw me over worse.


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