Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Organizing Electronic Files

From our first post, Blythe Gifford asked this question: "How can I best organize my electronic files surrounding a manuscript? Versions, partial scenes, and all those pesky things!"

The first rule in saving your files of any type is to be consistent. This applies to file and folder names as well as contents. So when you start work on a manuscript, you will want to create a master folder for this project. For purposes of this article, let's use "Gone With the Wind" as the working title. This will be the name of your main folder.

Within this folder will be subfolders for the different areas of work, such as Blythe mentioned above. But to keep file names simple, we'll go with initials. We'll start all our subfolders with "GWTW_," then add the contents of that folder. So for your characterization notes, your folder would be named "GWTW_characters".

Here are some subfolders you will want to create: Research, chapters, partial scenes, submissions, contest entries, plotting, book signings, marketing, etc. Most of these will be consistent between manuscripts. But you may need to add new folders for special projects.

Within each subfolder will be files and possibly more folders. For example, your submissions subfolder will only have one file containing a list of all submissions related to the project. But your characters subfolder will have a separate folder for each character--"GWTW_characters_Rhett", "GWTW_characters_Scarlett," etc. Then within each character's folder will be their characterization chart, family tree, and any research related to that character such as photos you scanned.

Your characters, once created, will not change. Chapter as you write them, though, will have several versions. Save a copy of each version as you create it. Always save earlier versions of your work separately--do not save over them. You might need to refer back to them some day.

To follow our example, say you have two separate versions of chapter three. The first folder will be named "GWTW_Chapter3_v1_mmyy." You could use either the date or version number alone, but having the two together will make it easier to find files when they are listed alphabetically in your folder. The second version would be named "GWTW_Chapter3_v2_mmyy."

For miscellaneous notes and scenes, create a general folder (GWTW_Misc) for saving these files. Be specific in naming your files. If you attach these files to a specific chapter at some point, then move these files to the appropriate chapter folder.

Again, the key is to be consistent. Whatever string you use for naming your files, use that same naming system for all your works in progress.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is to back up everything! Use an online backup service such as Carbonite for ongoing security. In addition, back up your files to a flash drive or external hard drive once a week or month. For maximum security, copy your files to a flash drive and give it to a friend or family member for safe-keeping. It never hurts to be too careful.


  1. Thanks, Michelle. It's the "consistent" title thing that is my problem! I do email each day's work to my yahoo address in addition to backing up. Once, it saved my bacon when my lalptop died!

  2. That's a great solution for backing up, Blythe. And it's free! Thank you for sharing.