If you’ve never experienced the horror of a computer screen turning stark blue and displaying garbled characters while you are working on it, then lucky you. My advice is to never take things for granted. Computers have a nasty habit of hiding their internal illnesses until it’s too late, by telling you one thing when they mean another, or by playing tricks on your mind.
If, however, you have experienced this scenario, you won’t need me to remind you of the blood curdling scream that came from your throat, or the moment of rapid pleading with a metal box, or the red mist of anger that followed very soon after. You’ll already know what it’s like to have your PC, something you came to think of as a friend, get up and desert you just like that.
It’s every writer’s worst nightmare.
But it is avoidable. Here are a few tips to help keep your PC in tip-top shape, and to spot those all important warning signs that not everything is as it should be.
Only Install What You Need
Don’t install software you will probably never use. It only takes up room, and makes unnecessary entries into the computer’s registry, which over time, slows it down considerably.
When you do install software, always keep a copy of the installation executable, and always keep this updated at regular intervals. If you ever find you have to start again and rebuild your PC, or even get a new one, you will be able to get back to where you were relatively easily.
Make a regular point of going through the installed programs list in the Control Panel and removing what you rarely use.
Hard Drive Maintenance
Your PC comes with a disk defragmenter and surface scanner – use them regularly.
The disk defragmenter will reorganize the data on your hard drive, to ensure faulty sectors are either repaired or removed. This process also optimizes your system to run software faster.
The surface scanner checks for physical errors that can then be repaired, or give you warning that something more serious might be on the cards, and that action should be taken.
Keep Your Anti-Virus Software Updated
There’s a multitude of subscription and free anti-virus software products on the market, so the modern freelance writer can have no reason for not having some form or protection on his PC.
Scan For Malware And Adware Regularly
Along with anti virus software, these utilities keep your system free from the full spectrum of ware’isms, to the risk of data theft. There are several free products available in the Internet that do this job wonderfully, which no serious freelance writer should be without.
Remove All Crap
CCleaner is a highly recommended tool to remove the crap that builds up in a PC over time. It quickly and easily rids your machine of unwanted cookies, temporary files, logs, and installation garbage, clearing up space, and ensuring integrity.
CCleaner is also excellent at keeping your system registry in tip-top shape, by scanning for obsolete entries, missing links and files, and removing them after taking a backup.
Keep Regular Backups
Perhaps the most important thing a writer can, and should, do regularly. If you take nothing else from this article, you should at least take heed of this section, the importance of which cannot be stressed enough.
Should you lose your PC to internal failure, you can always buy another one. But if that failure means the loss of the directory called “All My Writing,” and you have taken no backups, your life is over.
There’s no excuse for not backing up regularly. Once per month is not enough – it should be done at least once per week minimum, and daily if you have works in progress.
Whether you back the whole lot up onto a DVD in one go, or do it file by file because your system still uses 4.5” floppy disks – DO IT! You will never forgive yourself if the worst happens.
Watch for Warning Signs
PCs often give off subtle warnings that a failure is impending, so it would be useful to be able to recognize them. Should you spot any of the following, take immediate backups of everything, and start running checks.
At Boot Up
– Watch for any difference in the start-up messages as your PC boots up, such as hardware not being located, registry information missing, control, or system file errors, etc.
– Listen for strange noises coming from the hard drive as it gets going. Squeaks, groans, or moans can indicate something is wrong.
– Keep an eye on the boot-up time. Is it getting slower or does it appear to be struggling? If so, do a back up and run your checks.
While In Use
– Have you noticed applications taking a while to load up, or when in use, are they running slower, hanging for no reason, or closing down unexpectedly? Don’t leave it until it dies before doing something about it.
– Does your hard drive go through periods of seemingly intense use when nothing is happening? Watch the CPU and make sure it’s not being over-used – a larger issue could be unfolding.
– Does the machine take a while to shut down?
– Does it hang while closing down, leaving you to pull the plug to shut it down for the night?
– Are there any spurious messages on the screen?
Any of these things could indicate there is a problem. The rule of thumb if you spot a potential problem is to take a backup, then get it checked out.
When To Do All Of This
Daily – Incremental backups on all WIPs, checks on PC running stability.
Weekly – AV quick scan, ad/malware quick scan, crap clean, full backup of all data.
Monthly – AV deep scan, ad/malware deep scan, full backup of the entire system (data and applications).
Staying on top of your PC’s integrity can save a freelance writer much embarrassment, time, and money – even his career. Don’t be a fool and fall into the “it will never happen to me” trap, because when you start thinking like that, the chances are you’re next.