Weekend Edition – A Writer’s Technical Nightmare Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The spinning pinwheel of death - so pretty, and yet, so deadly

The spinning pinwheel of death – so pretty, and yet, so deadly

Stand By: Technical Difficulties Ahead

Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to over the last few days – whether online, or in “real life” – has had similarly disparaging things to say about the past week. Perhaps it was the transition from summer to autumn, or the adjustment to the start of another school year (which seems to affect everyone, whether or not they have school-aged children), or just something run amuck in the stars. Whatever it was, I truly hope it has run its course and will not continue to trouble us as we step into September in earnest.

I closed out my work week with a rather terrifying technology snafu. Late on Thursday, my wireless “magic trackpad” developed a mind of its own. Instead of obediently responding to the taps and swipes of my fingers, it began jumping all over the screen, randomly highlighting objects and content, dragging them from here to there, refusing to disengage when I clicked elsewhere. Typing was impossible. Phantom highlighting would suddenly delete entire paragraphs without warning. Or, my cursor would inexplicably disappear from where I was meant to be typing and appear elsewhere on the page, usually in the middle of a word.

I was not encouraged to find that “my apple trackpad is possessed” is a pre-populated Google search term.

I called apple. Forty-seven minutes and nineteen dollars later (my applecare contract expired three months ago, of course), I had no cure for the mysterious, technical ailment. What I did have, was an appointment at the so-called “Genius Bar” for 1:15 today. Hurrah.

I do not know exactly how this story will end, but I know the moral before we even find out the fate of my computer: Back up your files! For years, I was very casual about my backup systems. Because the process was outside my technical comfort zone, I just pretended I didn’t need to worry about it. I trusted to fate. Silly girl. Though I have (touch wood) so far avoided complete disaster, I’ve had one too many friends and colleagues suffer great tragedy at the hands of faulty hard drives and other evils. My advice to you, if you don’t already have a backup system, is to get one. Today. Maybe two.

Though I am not an expert about computer backups, here are the methods I currently use:

Carbonite: This is a cloud backup system that works in the background – automatically backing up your files in real time. This is a paid service, but it’s very much worth the peace of mind that comes from knowing that even if you’re being lazy about manual backups, your important files and photos, etc. are still being backed up on a regular basis.

External Hard Drive: Because I don’t trust any virtual backup 100%, I also purchased an external hard drive. After talking with a “genius” at the apple store, I went with something called a G-drive Slim. I also learned that it’s important, if you’re a Mac user, to have something called Time Machine (a built-in apple feature) turned on because that will ensure that your backup not only contains your files, but keeps them organized in the directories and folders that you created. Otherwise, your backup will just be a jumble of unorganized files. (Can you imagine the nightmare?)

Dropbox: Though I haven’t upgraded to the Pro or Business plans (yet), I understand that they do have an Extended History option that provides another, in-the-cloud backup option. Worth exploring, especially if you’re already a Dropbox fan. For now, I just manually add copies of critical documents to my free dropbox account as an extra bit of insurance.

Old-School – Email: In a pinch, I’ve also emailed copies of documents to alternate email accounts (like my Gmail account) in order to have another copy out there somewhere … just in case.


Whatever your method, all I’m saying is, get backing up, people. I know you think it’ll never happen to you, but that’s what my friends said, too. I’d hate to think of you crying over a deceased machine, bemoaning your lack of proper backup and inability to retrieve your novel-in-progress, poetry collection, essay archive, or whatever your writing treasures happen to be.

What I’m Writing:

grub street logoThis past Wednesday, I made my way into Boston for an evening workshop at the Grub Street writers’ center. The class was called Writing and Selling the Money-Making Essay, and it was taught by Calvin Hennick, a Boston-based journalist and essayist.

My inexperience with Boston traffic made me a few minutes late for class, but everyone made me welcome and I enjoyed being in the “real world” company of other writers. I had enrolled in the class with the hopes of learning whether it is possible to make “decent money” writing essays for various print and digital publications. The short answer: yes.

mediabistro logoThe most valuable tactical takeaway from the class was learning about Mediabistro, an online writers’ resource that refers to itself as “the pulse of media.” Their $55/year premium membership includes access to their extremely detailed “How to Pitch Guides” which includes a wealth of information (circulation, editorial style, story needs, pay rates, etc.) about all kinds of print and digital publications. I will definitely be signing up.

The class also taught me a little something about myself. I do not like in-class writing. My writing process, which has evolved over the years, typically requires both germination and fermentation periods. In other words, I’m not comfortable writing on command, at least not in a classroom setting. Is this a weakness? Maybe. Mr. Hennick half-jokingly referred to me as a “miscreant” because of my “writer’s block issue.” While I was momentarily abashed by his putting me on the hot seat, I’m just old enough now that I was able to let my discomfort slide off like water on a duck’s back.

I came away from the class inspired by the variety of publications that accept personal essays and the not-so-shabby pay rates that many of them offer. I was also happy to find that even this brief foray into a literary environment kickstarted my creativity. Based on our review of various magazines and the in-class writing prompts, I now have half a dozen ideas for essays. I’m kind of excited to try my hand at crafting and submitting some pieces.

What I’m Reading:

book yr in provenceAs I already mentioned, this has been an especially stressful week. At times like these, my reading choices lean towards selections that are calm, lightly humorous, and don’t require too much effort on my part. In this particular moment of chaos, I chose to return to an old favorite.

I can’t recall when I first read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, or why I picked it up in the first place. What I can recall is the sense of peace and comfort the book brought. Perhaps Mayle’s best-known novel, A Year in Provence is a funny and endearing romp through all that is quaint and quirky about life in Provence. From Amazon:

Peter Mayle and is wife had been to Provence as tourists. They had dreamed of one day trading the long, grey winters and damp summers of England for the blue skies and sunshine of the coast of southern France. And then they made it happen.

They moved into an old farmhouse at the foot of the Luberon mountains and embarked on a wonderful, if at times bewildering, new life. Among their experiences that first year: being inundated with builders and visitors, grappling with the native accent, taking part in goat races and supervising the planting of a new vineyard.

Now, Peter Mayle personally recounts the pleasures and frustrations of Provençal life– sharing in a way no one else can, the unique and endearing culture that is Provence.

For this reading, I chose the audio edition of the book, read beautifully by the author.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

Just in case you had a tough week, too …

pin hope strong

Here’s to hoping for the best (but preparing for the worst), trying new things (even if they scare you), and finding comfort where you may (even when times are tough). Happy reading. Happy writing. See you on the other side! 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

26 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – A Writer’s Technical Nightmare Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

  1. I’m very paranoid about backing up. I’m the kind to even hit the save button when working on anything (or playing a game) every 30 seconds, on auto pilot. I’ve lost enough data over the years the few times I was careless about back ups to be a back up addict now.

    I was able to read a bit this week which was lovely. Since last weekend, I finished Waking Up Dead by Margo Bond Collins and Star Wars: Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry. I started Star Wars: Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn two days ago.

    Save for blogging, writing has fallen to the side way, but since I4m mostly taking this month off to recharge the muses, that’s fine.

    Have a good weekend and upcoming week!

    • I’m also very paranoid about lost data and have my autosave settings set to a ridiculous frequency. 😉 My Mac version of Word isn’t very robust and starts to crack under the pressure of heavy editing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to force quite the darn thing and then backtrack on my work. Crazy making.

      Glad you’ve been getting some nice reading in. I love that. Hoping for a bit of it this afternoon, actually. Just need to get a few more things done first. Wish me luck!

    • I have a feeling it will be. We had a tremendous thunderstorm here last night – complete with multiple microbursts that took down dozens of trees around town. The air is completely different now (much cooler and drier), and I think it all bodes well for a change of energy. Hooray!

  2. Silly question, but did you check the battery on the wireless trackpad?
    I use the cloud and also memory sticks for backing up, they have plenty enough room for document files and are small and handy. Only drawback is they can get lost if not careful! 🙂

    • Not a silly question at all! I did check the batteries and I rebooted everything and reinstalled the OS and all that other good stuff. Then, of course, when I reached the Genius Bar, the darn thing worked perfectly. Though the “genius” admitted she didn’t know what the actual cause was, she thinks it may have had something to do with a memory issue. She suggested more frequent shut downs. (I often just put my computer “to sleep” at the end of the day rather than doing a full shutdown.) I’m just relieved we’re back up and running!

  3. I do a simple backup. Stick a blank CD-ROM or DVD in the optical drive, and copy every thing out to the optical drive. Arrange my file directories with all the stuff I’m working on under a single big directory so I just copy the one big directory and avoid copying the operating system files, the applications, and other stuff that doesn’t want backing up. Label the diskette with the date and “backup”.
    I make it a point to power down the computer every night when I go to bed. Powering up next morning will fix a number of weird, cannot duplicate malfunction kinds of errors. This goes way back to the bad old days of PDP-11s where a reboot would often fix what ailed it. Plus Internet malware is unable to infect a machine when it’s powered down.

    • TKS for sharing your tips, David. I will definitely be powering down at the end of each day from now on. Seems that computers need their (real) sleep as much as we do! 😉

    • Exactly. That’s part of the reason I love Carbonite so much. It’s backing up all the time, even when I’m not thinking about it. 🙂

  4. Hi Jamie,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments to my comment! You inspire me to really put the “social” in social media. Though I don’t bounce you back, I am appreciative. 🙂

    This post was helpful in a scary way. I am making the sign of the cross while also throwing salt over my left shoulder. I hope I don’t have to learn to back-up by experience. Will definitely (maybe) take action immediately (as soon as I can figure out when)!! So happy you are back in business—none the worse for wear, I hope. Yeah—when Macs are taken to the Genuis Bar they immediately behave well!! I know.

    Speaking of immediately, I did immediately download the audiobook from my library of Peter Mayle’s book, “The Corsican Caper.” Your recommendation was checked out. But, will place a hold on it. I, too, can use a fun read.

    This is one of my favorite quotes. Pull it out as needed:
    “If you are tired, keep going; if you are scared, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going.”
    Harriet Tubman

    “Keep Going,” Jamie

    • Hello, Hilda. 🙂
      Thank you for being here, and for your compliment about putting the “social” back in social media. That makes me happy.

      I do hope you decide to take action about your back up. Though the sign of the cross and salt over your left shoulder are some comfort, I think a good technology solution might also be in order. 😉 For ease of use, I love Carbonite. I find my new hard drive very reassuring, but it took me ages to get off my duff and go buy that thing. Carbonite was a couple of clicks and I was set.

      I saw “The Corsican Caper” on Mayle’s site and it sounds fabulous. I may save that for winter reading so I can pretend to be in warmer climes while the snow is falling outside my window.

      And, finally, what a wonderful quote. I can see why it’s one of your favorites. Perfect for today and for any day. Many thanks.

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  6. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Conflicted. Torn between duty and dreams. Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write - Write to Live

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