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Writing Basics: Save Your Work–then save again

9 January, 2008

In recent weeks, many bloggers have been offering writing resolutions for 2008. I’d like to suggest two more, both to do with securing your work.

It’s irritating to hunt for an earlier draft, only to find that it no longer exists because you’ve rewritten it. Worse, you can lose everything you’ve written. Computers can crash, die, or get stolen. Your computer, disks and paper files can be destroyed by fire, burst pipes, or any number of natural disasters. People have told me about destroying their only disk copy when they spilt coffee on it, having their computer zapped by a lightning strike or power surge, or accidentally erasing their work.

You may think this kind of problem won’t happen to you–until it does. Two simple housekeeping resolutions about your electronic material:

1) Back up and keep copies of your work, both on your computer and off-site.

2) Save all your drafts.

1. Back up and keep copies of your work, both on your computer and off-site.

When I was writing my doctoral thesis, if I had somehow lost even one chapter, let alone the whole thesis, I would have faced weeks of re-analysing data and rewriting. To reduce the chance of a disaster wrecking my writing schedule, I kept 4 copies of work in progress:

  1. A current working file (plus previous drafts) on my notebook’s hard drive.
  2. A recent copy on the hard drive of a separate computer.
  3. Another copy on a CD, locked in a filing cabinet in my home office.
  4. Another CD copy in a locked filing cabinet off-site.

Having multiple backups meant that I had a fall back, even if my hard drive packed it in. How much better than being left to click the heels of my red slippers three times and wishing with all my heart that my disappeared files would magically rematerialise!

2. Save all your drafts.

Why keep your previous drafts?

  • If you decide your latest changes don’t work, you can easily return to your earlier version without wasting time unpicking your revisions.
  • When you re-read your drafts, you can see how you’ve ‘grown’ your story from your first attempt to your final, polished piece.
  • If you become famous, you’ll make many academics and post-grads very happy that they have earlier versions of your masterpieces to study!

Make keeping all your drafts a habit. Some software programs for writing have the ability to make automatic backups. The Aelf’s Bloggery lists some drafting software, and I think one, Richard Salbury’s Rough Draft 3.0, saves each draft. I can’t offer advice because currently I’m happy using Microsoft Word.

Here’s how I save successive drafts in Word.

Let’s say that it is 9 January and I am starting a story called Murder at the Billabong (MATB).

  • First I create a new folder to hold all my drafts of this story. I name it MATB and put it on my desktop for easy access.
  • I open Microsoft Word then immediately save this new file and name it. Rather than numbering drafts consecutively, I use dates to identify each draft. My new file becomes MurBil 9Jan08.

If I were to work on the story again on 13 January, I would first make a copy of my Murbil9Jan08 file and paste it into the same folder (MATB). Then I would change the name of the copied file to identify it as a separate draft. E.g.: Murbill13Jan08.

Other pointers about saving work:

  • Do not wait to save at the end of working on a draft for 3 hours. When you’re tired, it’s much too easy to click the wrong choice when the prompt comes up: ‘Do you want to save the changes?’
  • Let Word recover your material if there’s a power failure. Go to the TOOLS menu (at top of Word toolbar). Choose OPTIONS then the SAVE tab.
    Select these two options:

    Always Create Backup Copy.
    Word does not make a backup of all previous drafts. But if you tick the box, it will save whatever is the most recent draft before your present one.Save AutoRecover Information Every ….(set for every 1 or 2 minutes).

If anyone has useful tips about backing up or storing written material, please let me know.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 January, 2008 6:04 am

    Naturally after hitting save, I usually go back to spellcheck 😉


  2. 21 January, 2008 6:03 am

    I have a very lazy backup method, I confess. Even after working in IT for thirteen years and telling people off for not making sufficient backups, I still managed to lose years of data in a hard drive death.

    Now when I have something to back up purely remporarily I email it to myself. I have several email addresses, all of which host my email on the server rather than me downloading it, so my document then exists on three different servers which are all reliably backed up by their own administrators, as well as my local copy.

    Naturally when it comes to older (i.e. archiveable) material solid state is the way to go, but don’t rely on cheap, bulk-bought CDs: It’s not unusual for the metal layer to break up over the years in the budget ones.

    Finally, learn the keyboard shortcuts for “save” in every application that you regularly use. Word, for example, has two: You can CTRL-S at any time to save, or you can ALT-F, S to do the same. I prefer ALT-F, S because my thumb’s nearer the ALT key than it is to CTRL, so it’s become a fast and almost subconscious habit these days.

    In fact, I’m already getting antsy that I haven’t saved this comment yet, so I’ll do that right now 😀

    Thanks for the excellent tip about sever-hosted emails as separate backup storage places. What a great idea, particularly for people who are travelling and have less secure backup than they would at home. And yes, I too use CTRL-S all the time. I made it an automatic part of my keyboarding after I lost some first-draft prose. It’s never the same, trying to resurrect what you reeled off in a flash of inspiration. And after reminding me about the very real threat of ‘hard drive death’, I’m backing up everything again–IMMEDIATELY! Marsha
    PS–I’ve enjoyed looking through your forum site:


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