Yesterday, as I was heading to the coffee shop to do some writing, I passed a woman walking a golden lab.  When they reached the street corner, the woman asked her dog to sit, and when he did, she gave him a pat.  “Good boy, Zoloft!”  I couldn’t help but smile.  A dog named for an anti-depressant… brilliant!  After all, what better way to brighten your day than with a canine thereapy?

Last week left me feeling like I needed a little Zoloft—preferably of the canine, not the chemical variety.  (Unfortunately, my dog Barley is not nearly so nice a walker as Zoloft.  Barley thinks it is imperative that he chase—or strain mightily against leash in an attempt to chase—every squirrel that he sees.)  I was planning to write about sequels for last week’s blog.  I wanted to discuss the importance of planning ahead, of thinking of what comes next even before you finish your first novel.  However, before I got around to writing my blog, events intervened to change its course.  Ironically, it all happened because I failed to plan ahead…

The Thursday before last was a beautiful day here in DC.  The sky was clear, the weather warm, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.  I woke up early and strolled over to my favorite coffee shop, Peregrine.  I got a delicious latté and sat down, ready to put in a great day’s work.  I pulled out my computer, plugged it in, and hit the start button.  The computer turned on, began to hum, and then… nothing.  The screen was black.

My chest tightened.  A knot formed in my stomach.  I took a deep breath and fought down rising panic.  I turned my computer off, then on again.  Still only a blank screen.  In normal circumstance, this is the point when I would have started cursing.  But I like Peregrine and wanted to come back, so I held my tongue.  I took a sip of coffee and forced myself to breathe.  I found myself wondering: when was the last time that I had backed up my files?  Two weeks ago?  Two months ago?  I had written hundreds of pages of notes and two chapters of the history book I’m working on since then.  I took a deep breath and tried turning on my computer one more time.  No dice.  This is when it would have been nice to have Zoloft (the dog) around.

I was facing a disaster of truly epic proportions.  (Well, not really, but that’s how it felt at the time.)  I’m not very sentimental about possessions.  Every time I move, I throw out most of what I own.  But my computer is different.  I spend most of my day with it.  My entire career is on it: notes on hundreds of books; outlines of dozens of stories; drafts of books.  Last month, the fire alarm went off in my building.  I took three things: my wallet, my passport… and my laptop.

I—like most people, it seems—have become ridiculously dependent on my computer.  I use it to find out how to get where I’m going, to keep in touch with my friends, to get my work done, to organize my pictures and music, to keep my schedule, to order everything from books to furniture to food.  I don’t have a television, so I even watch all my movies on my computer.  All in all, I spend a rather disturbing amount of time with it.

So last week was nice in a way, because I was forced to take a break from my computer.  It was very old-school.  I looked up movie times in the newspaper.  I consulted a map.  I even wrote with pen and paper!  And luckily, all was not lost.  I was able to recover the files off my computer.  I installed a new hard drive and voilà, my computer was a good as new.  Actually, it worked a little better than new.  A crisis was averted, and I was left with a new determination to break the chains that tied me to my computer (after I finish this blog, of course) and also to start backing up my files more regularly.  Because if I can’t have Zoloft, then I had better have backup.

Next week, I’ll get to Sequels (on planning ahead).  Until then, I encourage you all to step away from your computer for a moment… but only after you back up your files!