Most writers use a computer of some sort these days, and the thing about computers is that they go wrong. It’s not an ‘if’, but a ‘when’. In my experience, it happens when you have a deadline for the same day or when you were just about to dash out of the door to start your holiday. Unless you’re working for a company or some sort of co-operative, chances are you are your own technician. So what can you do to minimise the pain?
Buy the best you can afford
It’s axiomatic that the better your equipment, the less likely it is to go wrong, or the longer it will take to do so. I know there are good inexpensive brands on the market, but it’s not just price that matters. What is best for you will depend on a number of factors. For example, if you are a travel writer who intends to venture into the rain forest to write a feature, you’re going to need something that can withstand that sort of climate and also have a long battery life. That will probably cost quite a bit of money. If, on the other hand, you’re main use for a computer will be to write a story for a magazine once a year, your requirements will be a lot different. If you buy a computer or laptop fit for the rain forest in order to write a story once a year, all you’ve done is wasted your money.
Therefore, what you should do is make a list of the ways you envisage using your equipment, and present the list to the shops you visit. Trawl several shops and find out what they recommend. Then you can check out the reviews of the stuff they suggest, and come to an informed decision.
I recommend buying new because then you will at least get a one year warranty. Even if you’re technically minded, and are capable of sorting out a serious problem like a hard disk failure, you need to consider whether or not that would be the best use of your time. In her book Discoverability, Kristine Kathryn Rusch suggests using the acronym WIBBOW to help you decide whether or not you should do something. It stands for: would I be better off writing?
Disclosure: That’s an affiliate link. I only recommend books that I have read, and think are good enough to recommend.
Upgrade your warranty
The standard warranty is a return-to-base one, i.e. if something goes wrong you return it to the suppliers, they fix it, and then send it back, all of which can take a week or even longer. Consider investing a bit of money and upgrading to an on-site warranty. As the name suggests, that means that someone will come along and sort it out where you live. It may still take a few days, but that’s better than weeks.
Buy a shop-supported brand
By that I mean buy a brand that has places you can go where someone will fix your computer while you wait. Apple do this, for example, so if you live near an Apple store it might be worth buying an Apple product if support is the only (remaining) deciding factor.
Buy a support contract
Another option is to take out a contract for technical support. I’ve always considered these a bit expensive. They’re like insurance or car breakdown services: they cost a lot, but can rescue you when something awful happens.
Save your work in the cloud
Saving your work to an online area like Dropbox or Google Drive won’t get your computer up and running — but it will enable you to carry on writing while your computer is being sorted out. If you think about it, unless you have some particular needs, probably any computer will work for you — it’s your written work that is critical. If you can borrow or hire a computer, or use a local library, you can still carry on writing even if your computer has been taken away for repair.
Back up your work
Whether or not you save your work online, and especially if you don’t, take frequent back-ups to an external hard drive or a USB stick (which isn’t as robust, but is better than nothing). Having an independent copy of your work means that if your computer is lost, stolen or damaged you can still work on your magnum opus.
Working on a different computer may not be ideal, but it’s better than twiddling your thumbs thinking about all the money you could be earning.