Version Control, or The Name of the Beast

Anne_Anderson05 - Beauty sat down to dinner with the Beast illustration PDArt - Wikimedia CommonsThis is the 1st post in the series “WORD—A Shifty Beast,” focusing on helping authors of both fiction and non-fiction get the most out of using Microsoft Word, if that is your chosen word-processing program.

I use MS Word as my word-processing program. It is a reasonably priced thing, although if I could afford to buy a different program I would use  Corel WordPerfect. It is much easier to find the hinky formatting errors in your manuscript with WP, but that is a blog post for another day.

Microsoft WORD is a versatile program and has many wonderful tricks for writing letters, making awesome presentations and pretty brochures. It is good in a business setting.

However, for the author, Word is a shifty beast at best. One must learn how to make it work, and there is a learning curve. Just like every other product out there, WORD is the creation of many layers. It has had many incarnations, and some were more successful than others, and there are inherent flaws in the design. All that aside, of all the versions of WORD I have used, I like the 2007 – 2010 version best.

Most authors are using some form of WORD, whether it is the free version, or the inexpensive student version I use.  I’ve had to do a lot of desktop support for various clients via chat and cell-phone lately, so today we begin a series on using MS WORD as your word-processing program.

When we first begin to write seriously we learn how critical it is to have proper naming of our files to ensure version control.  The most recent file will usually be the best edited unless you have accidentally saved an earlier version over it.

Oh, the Agony….  Experience is a hard teacher.

ALWAYS use a separate file-folder for each version, and ALWAYS use consistent file labeling practices to avoid this tragedy!

You would be amazed at how many authors I meet who don’t know how to properly save files, and the reason they don’t know is they have never worked as an office manager using WORD, so they have no concept of how easily something that should have been simple can veer out of control.

I am a structural editor, and as such I deal with a lot of different authors and am responsible for saving their files in a consistent and manageable way. I spent many years as an office manager for a charter-bus company, and here is where my hard-earned knowledge of how to use my word-processing program comes in:

  1. I create a master folder for each individual author in my CJJASP Editing folder. That folder is inside the CJJasperson Writing folder in my dropbox account, which is what I write from at all times.
  2. I never use the documents library on my computer for saving anything important. I use dropbox because my work is always saved into the cloud and I can access it from a computer at the public library if my computer is toast for any reason. My work is also always available on my desktop if the internet is down so I can save it to a thumb drive, and when internet access is reestablished, the files I have changed will be saved automatically. GoogleDocs is also free, and many people use it successfully.

Dropbox is free, gives you as much storage as a thumb drive and is always accessible.

DB screenshot

I have an icon on my desktop that takes me directly to a standard library of files (menu) when I click on it. But I can access this menu on the main website from any computer by going to dropbox dot com and entering my email and password. Yes, it is password protected, and a good 6 to 8 combination of letters and numbers is best.

  1. I use a specific sort of naming system. For any new master-folder, the file-name will ALWAYS be:  Book_ AuthorName_script.doc .   This is the main file folder for this book and this author! every thing pertaining to this book will be in this file in sub-folders.

There will be at least two sub-folders in this file, and there may be up to eight. (One for each step of the editing process.) Version control is critical, so proper naming of the files is absolutely essential.

First: The original raw manuscript in its entirety is saved in this folder. Lets use Joan Hazel’s wonderful book, Burdens of a Saint for example:  I will name it this way:

Burdens of a Saint-JHazel-script  (It will look like Book_ AuthorName_script.doc)

Word will automatically add the .doc as the extension.

There will be 2 folders for every step of the process this manuscript goes through with me: One folder will contain files from the author’s desk to me, and the other will be from my desk to the author.

  1. Inside of the master file is a folder labeled:  1st Round Edits JH (Book initials>version>author initials)

I will copy and save each individual chapter to a new document, and I will give them a specific name. Yes, I am separating each chapter out of the whole ms, but we will not lose their order because we have a reliable system for naming files and will ALWAYS use it!

save as screen shot

First of all, be sure to save it as an actual Word DOCUMENT and not a Template.  If you save it as a template, you will keep getting a warning the document is read only and it won’t let you save it.

I will do each chapter one at a time, saving them and closing them out. Any time I am confused as to what chapter I am supposed to be on, I look at the library of files to see what I have already saved, and go the next chapter.  (Libraries are the menus you get when open “Save As” and are where you go to manage your documents, music, pictures, and other files. You can browse your files the same way you would in a folder, or you can view your files arranged by properties like date, type, and author.  The picture below is of a Windows Explorer library.)

As I save each chapter, they will automatically sort themselves into the proper order as long as you name them this way:

Book title initials>Chapter # > author initials  –  it will look like this:

BOAS chapt 1 JH submitted.doc 

This  tells me: it is chapter 1 of Burdens of a Saint, by author Joan Hazel, and is the raw unedited version. This is important to save it this way, in case we need to refer back to it. This file will remain unaltered.

Each consecutive raw chapter will be named in this way and the list will look like this:

Folder shot

Inside  BOAS beta 1st Round Edits JH,  I create a second folder, this one labeled: 1st Round Edits CJJASP complete. It will be at the top of the list and will look like this:

These are the first edits of the individual chapters, with my comments and suggestions in the right-hand column, and are what I send to the author for their consideration. These I will name like this:

BOAS beta chapt 1 cjjasp edit 1.doc   Again, each consecutive chapter will be named in this way, and the library will look the same as the one in the image above.

  1. The Author will make the changes or not as they see fit, and will send me each corrected chapter back.  When those chapters come back to me, that is the beginning of round 2.  The files will be named with the number 2.

BOAS 2nd Round Edits JH  (sub-folder name for files submitted by author)

BOAS chapt 1 JH rnd 2.doc   (document name for each document in the folder)

BOAS chapt 2 JH rnd 2.doc   (see the pattern here?)

2nd Round Edits CJJASP complete (folder name for files edited 2nd round)

BOAS chapt 1 cjjasp 2nd rnd edit.doc (and so on)

You, as an author, will create many versions of your manuscript. YOU MUST manage your versions with meticulous care, or you will lose files, have to rewrite sections you just wrote (and which were brilliant) or any number of horrible, irritating situations will arise.

These situations were not caused by your word processing program, so don’t blame Bill Gates.  They were caused by you not knowing how to prevent them from happening.

But that’s not a problem now, right?


Filed under Books, Fantasy, Literature, Uncategorized, writer, writing

4 responses to “Version Control, or The Name of the Beast

  1. Wow, you really went to town on this badboy!
    I usually just beast-slap that Word until it obeys me and call it a day.
    (I save ever incremental version of everything I write and once in a while I return to an earlier version to snatch a sentence or paragraph for use in the later version.)


  2. I will confess…I am a slob when it comes to this.