A few weeks ago, I read Elizabeth Hawksley’s blog about the difficulties she had when first trying to turn one of her backlist into an ebook. She’d been filing her old manuscripts in chapters that she thought she could use. But the files turned out to include competing versions. She had real problems stitching together a continuous MS.
Elizabeth, you had all my sympathy.
Been there, done that.
Don’t have the t-shirt but probably should.
The old paper process and the filing we did
How many of us considered filing away a digital copy of the final printed MS with all the changes, including copy-edits? Few, I imagine.
When (I thought) would I ever need an exact digital copy of the story that had just gone into print? Never, of course (I thought).
I decided it was a complete waste of time and effort. So I didn’t do it for any other MSS.
My crystal ball failed me there, as you may have gathered.
A WIP filing system that works (for Joanna, at least)
A recent Zoom discussion with author mates showed me that different authors have different ways of keeping their wip files under control. And being able to sort out the jigsaw pieces if the author has to go back to them, maybe years later.
You have probably heard an author say, “I know I saved that bit I deleted from my old wip. I want to use it again, but I can’t find it.” Or: “I’ve got several versions of chapter 5 and I can’t find the one I want, though I know it’s in there somewhere.”
I suffered from that too.
So, some years ago, I worked out a filing system to avoid those problems. I’ve been applying it ever since, and I promise that it works.
The Joanna wip filing system could help you, too, so that you can find what you want. If you think my system might be useful, feel free to adopt it. There’s no charge. (Though if you’d like to buy one of my books as a thank-you, I won’t be complaining…)
How to set up the Joanna wip filing system : the rule of ones
Rule 1: Create a new folder when starting a new story.
It may seem like overkill if I’m only jotting down ideas, but honestly it’s not. The folder may eventually include lots of other files relating to the story, like character studies, timelines and so on. At the start, the folder may look a little thin as you can see from a recent screenshot of my current wip folder (below), called “02 Sleuths1”.
Yes, it’s the first of a crime series, as you may have guessed. 😉
(Ignore the 02 in the folder name. It’s part of my numbering system for works in progress.)
Rule 2: Create a sub-folder for older versions within the story folder.
I call it earlier versions and it sits within the main folder (eg in 02 Sleuths1). It’s the only other thing showing in the screenshot above. The sharp-eyed among you will note that the sub-folder was updated one minute after I saved the main file. (And yes, I was writing at one in the morning. Anyone else an owl?)
Rule 3: One, and only one, working file for the wip.
I use one file from start to finish. As an example, the working file for the first of my crime series is the sleuths1.docx file shown above. That single file with the same working title will keep being updated until the wip is finished.
Rule 4: One continuous working file for the wip.
I do not have separate files for chapters. I’ve heard too many stories about the sort of confusion that approach can lead to. (Elizabeth’s blog included scary examples.)
My continuous file may be disjointed, with fragments of chapters or scenes, but the latest version is all in one single place. For example, that 12th May version of sleuths1.docx contained a completed chapter 1, a disjointed and incomplete chapter 2 including notes to self about what else needed to go in, no chapter 3, but a partial chapter 4. I’ll fill in the holes and smooth the joins on future writing days. It may seem messy, but there’s no problem of potential duplicates or competing versions.
How to use the Joanna wip filing system when you write
- Save the main wip file at the end of each writing session.
In my case, that updates Sleuths1.docx (for example).
- Immediately do a Save As in the earlier versions folder with a name that starts with the save date.
So that might be 191027 Gabe.docx, for example, as in the screenshot below from the sub-folder of my Christmas novella.
- Quit Word.
That way there is no risk of starting the next day in the wrong file.
- Next day, I open Word with my main wip file by double-clicking on it.
No need to wonder which file I’m working on. There is only one in the folder. Currently, it’s sleuths1.docx.
- At the end of the day, I do steps 1-3 again. Simples, no?
Does it work? How?
How and why does it work? Because the most recent version of my wip is always the only one in the main folder. And because I can always go back and find exactly where I’d got to at the end of a particular day’s writing session. Every day’s complete wip-to-date is in that dated file I created with Save As after I’d saved the main file.
For example, there may be six different versions of chapter 5 spread across different dates. I can pull them all out and compare them. When I’ve found the one I want, I can copy the section of the file that I want — never work on an old original; always work on a copy — paste it into today’s open wip file and tiffle to my heart’s content. And at the end of the day, I’ll save the main wip file and a dated copy as per steps 1-3 above. So my main file will have whatever bits of the old chapter 5 have survived my day’s work. And, crucially, all the old versions of chapter 5 will be in their dated files, unchanged, for future reference.
Other wip-saving tips
These are things you probably do already. But just in case, here they are again…
Tip 1: Set Word to Save an Autorecover copy very regularly.
Mine is set to save every 3 minutes. So I can never lose more than 3 minutes of material. Maybe it won’t happen in your neck of the woods but, where I live, we often get power spikes and my desktop computer dies on me without warning. Or maybe I have fat finger syndrome and delete whole paragraphs when I didn’t mean to. It happens.
Autorecover will usually get me out of that kind of hole.
Tip 2: Set Word to always save a Backup copy.
Sometimes that’s been a lifesaver when I’ve pressed Ctrl+S at the wrong moment: for example, when I’ve just cut a chunk of text I intend to paste elsewhere using Ctrl+V.
Tip 3: Using that yy/mm/dd form of the date at the start of the file name ensures that files always sort themselves into date order (as in the screenshot above).
Using the normal day/month/year form causes problems because the computer will sort using the day of the month. All files from, say, 27th of any month and year will be grouped together. Difficult to be sure you are finding the one you really need. So I do recommend using the year/month/day format. It may not be intuitive for us but it’s what computers understand.
Tip 4: Make files in earlier versions Read-Only if you’re worried you might overwrite something you shouldn’t, perhaps when you’re looking for that elusive chapter 5. (Check Help on your particular system, Mac or PC, for how to make files read-only. Or Word Help.) This is belt-and-braces stuff but at least it guarantees you’ll be warned when you try to save over that previous file you shouldn’t be changing.
However many files I may save in earlier versions, there is still only one wip file in the main folder. As I said before 😉 I always use only one continuous working wip file.
Over to you…
Feel free to disagree. You may have a different system that works for you. But if you’ve had problems with lost material in the past, you might find the Joanna wip filing system works for you, too. If you do have a go, please let me know how you get on.
And if you have any questions, just ask.
Happy wip filing and keep safe everyone