Friday 29 May 2009

Where's it gone?

Sorry for the long silence - that's on account of it being my BIRTHDAY and my having much celebrating and party organising to do. OK, I didn't actually do much of the organising, but I did a lot of the stressing and worrying. And a good deal of the drinking and present opening. I especially liked that present you sent me - thank you. Oh, it wasn't you? Where's my present?

This post should be *totally unnecessary* - but sadly it isn't, as yet another of my friends has suffered computer trauma this week. Once you have started writing your book, and especially once you are legally obliged to deliver it, you need to *keep saving it* and *keep backing it up*. Not just at the end of the month, or when you think of it. Not even just every day. If you are working on it solidly, save it every few minutes and back it up every few hours. Don't depend on document recovery - that's just a bonus that will get you out of jail free sometimes.

I know, you've heard all this before. But it's easy to get blase about it - or even just to forget. If you lose your whole book a week before the deadline the publisher will have NO sympathy - you shouldn't have been so stupid. You are a professional, so act like one. Being a writer isn't all about putting squiggles on the page or screen, you know. It's about organising your work properly and being efficient. (And lots of other things, but those are two of the least attractive aspects and many of us like to forget or deny them - 'ooh, I'm a writer, look at me, I'm so ditzy and untechnological and I don't even take my pyjamas off'. I have nothing against working in pyjamas, by the way.)

So, while you're working on your book, save it often (every 20 mins is good). Save it with a new name frequently (at least every day). You need a system for this. Some people use the date - 'the ear-sprogglers of doom 1 jan 09', for instance. That doesn't actually show them in the right order in the folder, though, so you can easily end up working on the wrong one, especially after a bit of a break. I name them starting from z in reverse order: 'ear-sprogglers z', 'ear-sprogglers y' and so on. Then the first letter that shows up in the folder is the most recent version of the book. Always change the name if you move the file between computers so that you don't end up with two versions with the same name - sooner or later you will use the wrong one and have conflicting edits in both.

When you have finished your working session (or part way through, if you're working for a long time) you must *also* back up your work. This means putting it on another disk. You could save it somewhere else on your network if you have more than one computer, or you can save it on a memory stick. That's fine as long as your house isn't burgled or burned to the ground, and you don't leave the memory stick in your pocket when you put your jeans in the wash. So save it somewhere outside the house. The easiest way to do this is to store it online. Email it to an extra email account (such as GMail) where it will stay until you remove it. Don't email it to your normal email account if the email is deleted from the server after it's been sent on to you - your back up will be gone.

Some newish writers worry that if they store their work online, someone else might hack in and steal it. Dream on. Unpublished books are not such a rare and valuable commodity that hackers are out looking for them. How hard was it to sell your book? Why would someone else want to go through that? And the book isn't even finished! They'd still have to write it. And other writers (a) aren't much good at hacking and (b) don't want to steal someone else's ideas as they don't have time to work up their own ideas, never mind random other ones that float their way. Chill - no-one's out to get it.


  1. Great post. Great blog! I'm hoping to enter the arena of the published soon so I'll be back often.

    On the kia-ora thing - and it's terribly wrong that I remember this so well - but the quote is:

    'It's too orangey for crows - it's just for me and my dog.'

    'I'll be your dog'

    So, every writer needs a dog or every writer needs a crow that they can shout at for not being orangey enough... or something.


  2. I've discovered your blog thanks to a link from Nicola Morgan. Looking forward to exploring it. Many happy returns - you share your birthday with my dear wife!

  3. Happy Birthday! And I, too, have arrived via Nicola Morgan - and thanks for such brilliant descriptions of - among other things - the editorial process. It's hard to describe how it works (neither of you is always wrong, neither of you is always right) to anyone who hasn't undergone it, so thank you! Off to link from my blog.

  4. Thank you, Emma. And Happy Birthday to your wife, Daniel!

    Oh dear - thank you Rebecca. I suppose I should delete that tag, then. But I was sure there was an advert which ended with 'I'll be your crow.' Can't decide whether to spend an hour searching for it... hell no, it's too sunny. You have a good blog, too :-) And if you keep reading Nicola's excellent advice, you should stand a good chance of joining the 'published' club!

  5. Oh god. Now I feel guilty about not having backed stuff up for months. Mwwwaaaaahaaaah! I feel the mad gods of computer nightmare hovering over me. Quick, quick, off to the spare hard drive. Ta for reminding me, honeybun!

  6. Tsk tsk -- you should learn from us geeks and use a version control tool (all the old copies of your oeuvre saved -- you can wind back the clock at any time) and save it on someone else's computer system automatically. I'm writing an article for non-programmers so I'll post a link when it's web-published.

    However if you insist on using file names then try putting the date as YYYY_MM_DD_ at the front of the file name and it sorts. You can add a two digit umber for multiple versions during the day

  7. Excellent advice. If anyone wants a few suggestions for a bomb-proof back-up scheme, they might be interested in my blog post here.