A Never Ending Dilemma
Authoring strategies include more than conceptualizing, writing, publishing, and promoting your creative ideas. Being an effective writer demands honed organizational skills as well superb wordsmithing! If you’ve ever lost a file, you may question the promises of the computer revolution.
Are you old enough to remember life before computers? I actually know some people who have only discovered the wonderful world of electronics in the last five years. In each case, the revelation of Life Electronic was triggered by a pressing need to communicate with a person or organization that could not be accessed regularly by telephone or postal service.
Once you have joined the electronic age, there are many challenges to be faced. Some parallel those prior to the microcomputer. The issue I’m addressing today is preventing the loss of files. Electronic files that is. If you have never encountered this dilemma, please let me know how you’ve been so fortunate. Each time I think I’ve solved the problem, a couple of years pass in relative peace. Then I commit some new error and again face the potential loss of valuable information.
Let’s begin our discussion with a basic question: To avoid losing information, how many files should I keep? Unfortunately, there’s no single answer that will meet the needs of every person in every situation. Some authors I know keep every electronic file they have ever created, as well as their hardcopy edits. I cringe to think of the complex file naming they must employ. Unfortunately, such people have been known to compare my past editorial remarks regarding the same text. What they fail to realize is that just as their writing has evolved, so too have my knowledge and sense of style—as well as my awareness of developing trends in the world of publishing.
Another trigger for keeping multiple versions of copy is the fear of losing pleasing verbiage that has proven impractical for a project at hand. When I find a need to remove favored words and phrases from a major writing project, I simply create files of unused verbiage named to pinpoint the topic and source. One example is a narrative passage from Prospect For Murder that I converted to dialogue. The single archived file is named, WongP_orig_speech_re_family.
Knowing I might forget a particular name, I convert both electronic and printed files named for past clients and projects to topical files. This does NOT mean I keep everything I’ve ever created. My concern is to prevent unnecessary research and writing in the future. If I’ve addressed a topic three times, I may save only the last piece, if the layout and text are the most interesting. This way I do not have to remember the client’s name, yet I can quickly access text by topic, such as the insurance industry, movies of the 1930s, or ocean liners plying the waters between Hawai`i and Asia. To decrease file size in my electronic archives, I remove logos and other artwork…after verifying the images are stored elsewhere.
As to forms of electronic backup, the technology is constantly changing and you will have to decide when to shift from one form to the next. I must confess I’ve still got floppy disks [diskettes] and zip disks. These disks are large enough to label with client or project names, yet small enough to store alphabetically in clear plastic containers for rapid access…another positive aspect to this old technology is the longevity of the disks, despite innumerable formats. I also have CDs, DVDs [more fragile], and Universal Serial Bus [USB] flash, pen and thumb drives, which I use for large folders and art files. Unfortunately, these drives are so small that they preclude easy labeling, but you can use colored markers to color code your choices of media to remember the general category of their contents…
In addition to being concerned about where you save your files, be cautious about how you save them. While compiling Under Sonoran Skies, Prose and Poetry from the High Desert, my co-authors and I encountered problems with disappearing edits during manuscript preparation until we learned the difference between the file commands, Save and Save As. When you specify “Save as,” you are creating a wholly new file, which usually precludes the possibility of multiple edits leading to a corrupted file. So,unless I am writing a single-use document, I now use Save As for every file I re-edit—art, data or text. [To maintain high resolution, technical experts suggest editing art images in Tagged Image File Format [TIFF] prior to saving them in whatever format you require for publication.]
Regardless of the number of electronic files you keep, you will need to create a file naming system that is consistent and memorable. Even though today’s technology allows long file names, minimizing the characters used simplifies future reference. Since Imaginings WordPower is a lot of characters, I simply use an “I” for the start of operational file names. Thereafter, I may abbreviate the minimal words used in a title, underscoring between words. I conclude the titling of files by dating them, with two-digits for the year, the month, and the day a file was created.
The resulting name for a business card might be “I_bus_card_150708.” To differentiate between files with similar names, I may insert “merged,” to note merged layers, “New” for a recent edit, or the name of the company that last printed it. Sometimes I also insert a Header in a document to mimic the source file’s name when I am setting up topical folders of samples of my work. That way I don’t have to wonder about the electronic file name for hard copies I’ve printed for my personal records. The only thing to remember is that you may need to temporarily delete the header if you are printing the document for public viewing or distribution….
I hope these measures—and your own modifications—will help you avoid corrupting or losing files. But what happens if you prematurely delete a file from a recycle bin? The problem is easily resolved if you have not emptied the bin. In such a situation, you can simply double click the bin, mark the file you wish to un-delete, and choose Restore to return it to its former location on the hard drive.
Unfortunately, restoring files that have been deleted from a recycle bin is not as simple or perfect a process. Again, you can choose to leave the bin overflowing with files; but if you need to restore one, you may find that recognizing the correct file is difficult if you do not have a recognizable file naming system. In the midst of short projects, I try to avoid emptying the recycle bin. But once I have completed a section or the entire project, I complete my housekeeping of files, emptying the recycle bin when I am confident that I have properly backed up every relevant file.
Recently I triggered the loss of a file for a potential sci-fi novel. I was lacking material for my writers’ salon, and had decided to share part of this story, which is a departure from recent work in the genre of mystery and suspense. I recall isolating the passage I wanted to use, and reformatting it to double line spacing to facilitate editing by my fellow authors. But when I returned to input the suggestions I had received, I could not find the file.
Knowing files can be mistakenly dragged into an incorrect folder, I systematically checked every subfolder within my creative writing folder. After that, I used the Search programs and files feature offered by MS Windows when you click on the Start button [usually in the lower left hand corner of your monitor screen]. When my inputting of several combinations of words failed to uncover the missing file, I downloaded a free program for recovery of files deleted from the Recycle Bin.
In retrospect, I probably should have paid for a more sophisticated program with additional features, because what I recovered was a mass of undated and unnamed files of multiple edits that had to be individually examined. This was a time consuming and frustrating activity. However, I not only retrieved the file I was seeking, but in reviewing other files, I gained ideas for blog posts and other writing projects. In short, the experience was the proverbial blessing in disguise…but this is not an activity I wish to repeat.
Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant
Operational tips to help writers are available in the following blogs:
Fear of Losing Files, July 2015
The Value of an Index, August 2015
Taming Clutter, April 2016
For further tips on branding, please visit my marketing website
Imaginings Wordpower and Design Consultation.
To learn more about the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including the new release, Murders of Conveyance, a few Island recipes and my other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.