So you finally finished writing your novel and then somehow accidentally dumped it? It happens. Luckily, when you delete a file from your computer’s trash bin, it’s actually just marked for deletion. That means it can be overwritten on your hard drive by other data, but there’s a good chance it’s still intact—for a while, anyway.

First, step away from the computer. The more you do after the file is deleted, the more likely your PC is to overwrite it. As long as it’s around, though, there are several software options you can use to scan for and recover it. For Windows users, the best bet is the simple Undelete Plus (free; On the Mac, there’s Data Rescue II ($100; If you’re looking for data from removable media such as your digital camera’s flash card and you don’t mind using tools with a higher geek quotient, try the free text-interface application PhotoRec (, which works on any platform.

If you’ve exhausted the DIY options or your computer has been damaged, you can hire professional data-recovery services for more heavy-duty retrieval. Just remember, depending on the quantity of data and other factors, they can cost a few thousand dollars. But if it helps to dig up that literary masterpiece you thought was gone forever, it’s a small price to pay.