The Author’s Toolbox: Version Control #amwriting

The new year has arrived, and we are getting back to work on our NaNoWriMo manuscripts. Over the next few months, we will generate many new files that pertain to this work. I meet many authors who don’t know how to properly save files. Unfortunately, they often lose or save over the top of important documents.

tree_of_filing_LIRFIn an instant, an entire manuscript is gone, wiping away hundreds of hours of work on their labor of love.

Hardware disasters or computer failures are unavoidable and always take us by surprise. That is why we must have a consistent system for saving and backing up the files in each project. If the computer dies, your files won’t be lost forever. You will have a backup.

Naming files consistently is a skill most people never had a reason to learn. They have no concept of how easily something that should have been simple can veer out of control.

Fortunately, I worked as a bookkeeper and office manager for many years. I was responsible for naming and saving my employers’ files in a consistent and manageable way.

I generate work in a variety of subgenres. Each project is intended for submission to different places, so I have a large number of files in my writing folder.

This is where a logical system of version control comes in handy.

“Version control” is a system that records changes to a file or set of files over time so that you can recall specific versions later. The worst thing that can happen to an author is accidentally saving an old file over the top of your new file or deleting the file entirely.

First, you must save regularly. I use a file hosting service called Dropbox. I have a lot of images on file, so I pay for an expanded version, but they do have a free version that offers you as much storage as a thumb drive. I like using a cloud-based file hosting service because it can’t be lost or misplaced. My files are always accessible even when working offline, so if the power goes out, I can access my work for as long as my computer’s battery holds out.

I work out of Dropbox, so when I save and close a document, my work is automatically saved and backed up to the cloud.

You can use any storage system for your backup—Google Drive, OneDrive, or a standard portable USB flash drive. But today, we are discussing how to name your files so they are consistent and easy to identify.

You can make many different configurations for your filing system. Your decision as to what works best for you should ultimately be based on what you’re filing, how many files you have and how many sub-categories (subfolders) your system needs to be broken down into.

Detailed below is the system I use for saving my writing files.

version_control_3A filing system is quite simple, rather like a tree from the ground up. For most documents, my system is a standard office-type system that consists of:

DIRECTORY> FOLDERS> SUB-FOLDERS> DOCUMENTS

My first draft of any manuscript will be given a Master File with a working title, a handle to carry it by, such as Ivan’s Story.

Within that master file, I have every version of the original manuscript and subfolders to contain the old versions and any research that pertains to that manuscript. One of my current works in progress is on version 18. It may never see publication.

Every version of that novel has some good things that I had to set aside for the sake of the story arc, but I never delete old files. You never know when you will need something you have already written. So, when I go back to work on that novel, I will have every version of it available in the HA_old_files subfolder because the file name of the current manuscript in the master file shows what version we are looking at:  HA_version_18 (Heaven’s Altar version 18).

I make a separate subfolder for my work when it’s in the editing process. That subfolder contains two subfolders, one for the chapters the editor sends me in their raw state with all her comments, and one for the finished work with the completed revisions. My editor copies and saves each individual chapter to a separate new document, giving them a specific name, such as RoA_edit1_IL_01-10-22. (Ruins of Abeyon, Irene Luvaul edit 1, January 10, 2022.)

She does this because she edits one or two chapters a day and sends it to me that evening. I make the revisions she has suggested and save the chapter into a new file, such as RoA_chapter_1_cjj_revised_jan-11-22. (Ruins of Abeyon, chapter 1, Connie J. Jasperson, revised January 11, 2022.)

We don’t lose the order of chapters because we have a reliable system for naming files, and we ALWAYS use it.

One thing to be aware of is to save it as an actual Word DOCUMENT and not a Template. If you save it as a template, you will get a warning the document is read-only, and it won’t let you save it.  That is quite frustrating but is simple to resolve. Just make sure you are clicking on .docx instead of template.

Libraries’ is the screen that opens when you click “Save As” and is 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.  These pictures, above and below, are of File Explorer libraries.

version_control_4Name your files consistently and save each version in a separate folder within the master folder. Below is the master file for Valley of Sorrows.

version_control_5You may 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.

These tragedies are not caused by your word processing program, so don’t blame your computer. They are caused either by you not knowing how to prevent them from happening or inattentiveness when saving files.

But now you know how to avoid the heartache of version control disasters.

12 Comments

Filed under writing

12 responses to “The Author’s Toolbox: Version Control #amwriting

  1. Gosh, you are also a professional office clerk. Lol Sorry, and many thanks for the great advice. Versioning is always a topic for me, but honestly with my writings i trust in the file attached meta data, provided by the text processor. Indeed, Connie, your system is great, and i will try to do it the same way. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very important and helpful share on saving files, naming, storing and retrieving.

    Liked by 1 person

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