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Storing files/chapters for a novel/research - advice needed

edited August 2016 in - Writing Problems
I haven't posted on here for a long time but I am hoping for some advice. I am sorry if that seems a bit cheeky but I have only had limited energy so certain forums have been neglected although I have still kept up with a few of your through facebook. Having been quite unwell plus having family issues to deal with my writing has been sporadic. I have several projects that I really want to finish but I have it all in such a muddle that I need a better way of storing it all.
I am even at the stage of thinking of stripping everything out of the computer onto hard-drives etc and then starting a storage system from scratch.
I am wondering how everybody else does this please?
Do you have a separate document for each chapter?
How do you store your research?

I seem to have so many versions of everything (kindle versions and what I have uploaded to createspace). Do you keep all your previous drafts?
Where do you now find it best to back-up? - Email to yourself? External hard-drive or pen drives? I have not looked yet at options such as the cloud etc but I suspect that this may be something that more people are using now.

I would appreciate any practical advice to help me get myself organised so I can finish these projects.
Many thanks


  • I think of my store as a filing cabinet, with drawers for, eg, each book i write. In that drawer might be alternatted versions of the book, research notes, any cut chapters etc in differrnt folders.
    i only have a separate doc for each chapter while i work on it.
    i makd daily copies to pen drives, updating yesterday's work, then occasional copy of everything to large capacity pen drive.
    have not investigated the vloud yet due to being old and suspicious of new technology!
  • For my longer projects, the working copy goes onto a memory stick, and as each chapter of the draft is complete I print it out, stick it in a plastic sleeve and then keep them together with treasury tags (those green cords with a horizontal metal end piece).

    Some of my research notes stay on the memory stick but I print out those I type up. Related images are pinned to a cork board beside my desk until the draft is completed, then they're taken down and stored with the draft and notes, until I next need them.

    All paper copies, images, jottings, go in a labelled lidded A4 size box.
  • On computer I have a folder for the Novel Title, and then folders within for, say, research, drafts, etc. I always renumber a draft with each edit, prefacing with the date in reverse order i.e., 160829. That way they are stored chronologically. (I do the same with correspondence also) I'm in favour of Flash Drive/Pen Drive storage, a small one for each project. Seems cumbersome, but each to their own. Having a Microsoft account I have cloud storage. Like many, I'm not too trusting of shifting my material where it can be readily accessed. It might be safe - and 'might' is the operative word!
  • I keep each 'project' in it's own folder. If it's something particularly precious I e-mail it to myself - carefully titled and dated so that I can find it again easily. I also copy important folders to an external hard drive. The secret is to make sure each and every document and folder is meticulously labelled and dated.
    I was automatically given Cloud account when I bought my latest laptop - however I didn't use it when I realised that the account incurred an annual fee... what if I failed to pay up - would I lose everything stored in the Cloud? Absolutely against being held to ransom in perpetuity over my own work!
  • I keep different drafts as I'm working, but once a project is complete I delete all but the final one - avoids accidentally using a part finished version anywhere.

    I back up to two different hard drives and keep them in different places.
  • Thanks for the information, I appreciate it.

    For new projects it will be much easier to have an idea of how I am working/storing my WIP. Unfortunately I have all these copies saved and no idea which version is which, copies that are duplicated as I have copied/backed up when I have changed computer (plus I was working on several different computer/laptops) and I have mad a big mess of it.

    It is frustrating as I want to restart, or rather finally finish, the first draft and instead of writing I am looking in horror at all these files. I did consider printing them all off but as the files have anywhere between 5k and 30k in each one that didn't seem to be an easy option.

    Hopefully this will be a lesson to me and everyone else to be organised from the start.
    Thanks for the advice. :)
  • edited August 2016
    I'm going through all my memory sticks sorting out where duplicate copies have been done. Then labelling the ones not already labelled.
  • If it's any help ginab - I've found that the urge to "sort" is actually myself putting stuff between The End and me reaching it. It usually strikes around about the difficult edit stage, or the problematic chapter.

    Instead of organising everything that has gone before, just sort how you want it to be going forward. If you need to find something from 'before' it'll get put in the right box, folder, drive.

    Finish the draft :D
  • I don't like sounding like a broken record, but every time one of these kind of questions crops up, the first thing I think is, "Why don't they just use Scrivener?". It sounds like a lot of the writers who've replied already are using a system similar to the one Scrivener employs, but they're using separate files and a generally more complex workflow.

    Scrivener treats each book (or story, or essay, or whatever) as a 'project'. When you open a project you immediately have access to everything - all the chapters you've written, all your research notes, web links, images, whatever you want, really. But you only work on a section at a time, and a section is as big or small as you want it to be. I have it so my chapters are broken down into scenes, and I write and edit those individually.

    Where it becomes really useful is that because the whole project is there, it's very easy to check back (or forward) in the book to make sure your descriptions are consistent, or whether events you've described happen in the right order. All of this without having to open other documents. Plus everything gets saved at once, and you can set it up to automatically save a back-up copy to a different location (I have mine saved to Dropbox)

    As with anything, Scrivener's not a solve-all solution for everyone, and a lot of people shy away from changing the way they work because of the time it takes to get up to speed on something new. But it works well for a significant number of people, and if you were thinking of starting from scratch, Ginab, it might be worth looking into. (You can import the writing you've already done into a new project, so you wouldn't actually be starting from a blank page).
  • I don't like sounding like a broken record, but every time one of these kind of questions crops up, the first thing I think is, "Why don't they just use Scrivener?".
    It bears repeating, Dan. I know you suggested it to me and whilst I decided the type of book I'm writing didn't warrant the learning curve, it definitely sounds like something that would be beneficial for Ginab.
  • *record scratch*

    I keep forgetting Scrivener exists, and whenever I remember I can't afford the bugger so it gives me time to forget again...so keep reminding!!
  • I've been sitting on the fence over Scrivener. I've read threads on this site, checked the Scrivener site and still procrastinate. I'm still using an old version of Write it Now (about 8 years old) and recognise the benefits a new package has. When I read the unbiased (presumably he's not a major shareholder) I become even more keen to explore further.
  • I was sceptical too, to be honest - it seemed like a big hassle to learn something new and I didn't see any particular problems with using Word (or something similar). And there aren't, in fairness - a typical word processor does a perfectly good job. In fact, if you don't do much research before you start writing, there's not a big difference for writing the first draft and if you're used to Word then the risk of frustration due to buttons being in different places and functions working in slightly different ways is high.

    When it comes to editing, though, it's a different story. It's great to be able to substitute whole chunks of text, or move them around (useful for non-linear structures, flashbacks, etc). Plus it's useful to use the 'corkboard' function as a way of getting a quick overview of your whole book (also a handy way of helping to structure your synopsis).

    Anyway, I'm not on commission, just somebody who's got a lot out of the software even though I probably only use half of the features it offers (probably less than that, actually).
  • If you're cheeky them so am I. When I get time to come on the forums I always find myself asking for advice. I find myself on forums off and on for years and don't always get to know people but I try to attend more frequently now I've limited my forums
  • Scrivener is the first thing that came to my mind too in this scenario. I love it BUT I have been moving away from it - rather reluctantly. I've recently been using a different laptop for my writing which would require a Windows version of Scrivener (rather than the Mac version I've already purchased). Not only is this going to be an additional cost but the windows version isn't as smooth to use as the Mac one.

    So.... I'm debating moving over to Word and One Note (mainly because I really don't want to pay out for a second Scrivener).

    It's worth considering the potential additional cost if you are likely to change from Mac to Windows etc. One license is good for use on more than one computer but only if they both use the same OS.

    Other than that, if I am honest with myself - Scrivener is bloody brilliant and I may still pay for a second version...
  • Thank you all for your advice and comments. I have heard but not looked into Scrivener. I have been using Word which I am fairly comfortable with but I will certainly have a look.

    The advice (can't remember who said it) about just getting on and finishing the draft is an accurate one. I think I have been focusing on the facts that I know parts of the story have changed and it needs to be rewritten. I keep losing sight of the point that this is the first draft only and it will have to be rewritten anyway.

    I am also guilty of spending large portions of time where I am not very active on this forum but will try to contribute more. Thanks again.
  • I have everything stored, depending on the project, on my software program, whether it be WriteItNow or Movie Outline
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