Version Control

I’m a bit of a packrat. I tend to imbue everyday objects with far more meaning than they probably warrant. I hold onto ticket stubs from concerts and movies, cards I receive on birthdays and other holidays, rocks I find on hikes… And don’t get me started on books – I like to think it’s my responsibility to “save” books from bargain bins, garage sales, Book Crossing waypoints…um, yeah.

And then there’s my writing. I do a lot of my writing by hand, so I hold onto all the notebooks filled with my crabbed penmanship. Stacks of them. Then I usually print out hard copies for editing, and I keep those too. I haven’t quite figured out a good system for organizing them, but now is the time since my husband are moving into our first home next week. His solution would be to get rid of them all, but I simply can’t. What if my laptop dies or is stolen? What if my files are corrupted by an evil virus, and the printouts are the only record of my genius – ahem – stories?

Speaking of electronic files, my writing folder is called “Works in Progress”:

Looks nice and neat, right? But don’t be fooled. Within this folder, entropy is winning out despite my efforts to instill order. “Misc Writing Ideas” is just a catchall for every project not big enough to deserve its own folder. Um, that’s actually not true either – there are some projects far enough along that need their own folder but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Right now, the folder has everything from snippets and abandoned story ideas to “finished” stories. Needless to say it can get a bit scary in there.

Then there’s the “Medieval Book” folder – that’s where my historical romance novel lives in all its various permutations. In other words, there are a lot of files in there. Since I’ve been working on this particular project for so long, my file naming conventions have changed over time, which doesn’t help matters. In addition to at least 10 versions of the full manuscript and an untold number of early partials, I also have a half-dozen documents that are just different versions of Chapter One since it took so many iterations to get my opening right. Not to mention all the primary sources and research tidbits I’ve collected over the years.

Now that I’ve entered a few contests and sent out a couple of queries, there’s even more files to contend with. I have a 4-page and a 2-page synopsis, and I’ll need to come up with a one pager at some point as well. There’s a handful of query letters all addressed and tailored for different purposes. I have a bunch of different writing samples too – the first 10 pages, the first chapter, the first 20 pages, the first 30 pages, and the first 50 pages – all of which were required for various submission guidelines for agents and contests.

Since I’m just at the start of my agent search, I need to come up with a better way to keep my submission materials organized. It doesn’t help that I keep refining my story. But for me, it took getting to the agent search phase for this project to realize I’m never going to get to a point where I will be done – there’s no definitive version of my story and probably won’t be until it finds its way into print (fingers crossed). As Oscar Wilde said:

“Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned.”

But for now, I keep everything. I’m so terrified that I’ll delete something or make a change in one version of the file only to realize later I want to restore the original wording. Then the difficulty lies in navigating all the old files I’m too stubborn to delete and try to locate the half-remembered phrasing I want to reincorporate. The old wording is rarely merits all this trouble, but I can’t let go of the possibility that one time it will be worth it.

Back when I had a day job, our office would have long meetings about file naming conventions, file folder organization (physical and electronic), and how to perform edits on a document with multiple authors. Those tedious, nitpicky conversations would drive me up the wall. But now that it’s my files, my writing, I want to get it right.

How do you keep your files, be they electronic or physical, organized? What helps you keep different versions of your work straight?

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3 thoughts on “Version Control

  1. Amy says:

    I keep a jump drive (16GB) on my keychain, and all of my writings are stored on it. And because I am paranoid about losing the jump drive, I have everything saved on my computer. And because I'm paranoid of my computer crashing, I have printed everything out (well, almost everything) and stored it in folders in my desk.

    And because I'm afraid of my house burning down…haha…j/k.

  2. Laura Marcella says:

    I know exactly what you mean! I keep all of my writings, too. I recently sorted through all my folders where I kept snippets of writing (I write by hand, too!) and sorted and articles from newspapers or magazines that sparked an idea. I shredded some funny, awful stuff! Some of it was hilarious to read and really awful and there was no point keeping it, so I shredded those. What I kept I have organized in a filing system: ideas for short stories, adult novels, children's novels, etc. Now I write down my ideas in a notebook; it's much neater and more organized!

    I transfer my writings to the computer, which are saved on two flashdrives and an external hard drive. And I keep those in a fireproof safe! I live in an apartment building, and you don't know how careful others are! So if there's an emergency, my writings are safe, and I don't have to worry about choosing between saving my laptop or saving my husband, LOL!

  3. Paulo Campos says:

    Like Amy and Laura, I worry about loosing stuff all the time. A high school trauma: I slipped up and lost 200 pages of a novel because I hadn't saved a backup.

    I back everything up on both work and home computers. Gmail offers such ample storage and since it just takes a few minutes to e-mail my work from one computer to the other, I keep all my work on Gmail as well.

    An added benefit is that I can access drafts from anywhere.

    My file names are a bit chaotic (I add the date I saved the draft to the file name so), but having them in three places gives me peace of mind.

    Thanks for an interesting post and comments.

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