Please Help Organize My Computer Files

Filing cabinet

You know my promise of late? The one that said I would take my pointy, right-sided brain firmly in hand, and retrain it to play nicely with my left? Hahahahaha! 

Yes, peeps, that’s code for “I need your help”. (Either that, or a wife — which is possible in this country, you know. Same-sex marriages have been legal in Canada for over two years. Interestingly, we haven’t become Sodom and Gomorrah North, though I’ll concede we’re in early days of the experiment). 

But I digress. The clue I’m in trouble? This sticky note, pasted electronically to my monitor, courtesy of my children and the new Windows 7:

  Sticky NoteThis wouldn’t be such a big deal, except they’ve only reminded me of their requests about five times. Each. 🙁

But kids are one thing. I can handle them.

What I’m actually worried about is that lack of organization extending itself to my precious Word files. I can see the warning signs already. Two days ago I overwrote a document I’d taken five hours to write, replacing it with the earlier version. The only thing that saved me is that I had a backup stored on a flash drive. I do NOT want to go through that stress again. (I have regular nightmares about overwriting my work.)

So will you share your computer-file organizational tips with me? Specifically, I’d love a way to make a succinct file name that could tell me the following at a glance:

1. Manuscript name (because I’m working on three novels, my crit partner’s stuff, blog posts and other writing detritus)
2. Date issued
3. Which portion of the manuscript is being sent/received – this will generally comprise a chapter, although not always
4. The version of the manuscript being sent/received

This latter one is critical. You see, I’m sending a chapter’s-worth of pages to my two crit partners every week, and receiving theirs in exchange.  Sometimes my pages are returned to me electronically, with comments included. Each week, then, it’s possible for me to have four versions of my own work:

1. The original
2. The original, with comments from Donna
3. The original, with comments from Dawn
4. The revised edition, taking into account their feedback

I am sure there is a simple nomenclature that will accomplish my goals, but I haven’t got it. Anyone here have suggestions? How do you organize your writing? And while we’re at it, have you ever overwritten or misplaced a file because of organizational issues?


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12 thoughts on “Please Help Organize My Computer Files

  1. Here’s how you might organize your hard drive (some of which you may already have in place):

    * Make a folder on your computer for each project. Call them something that makes sense to you. Maybe a unique word from each novel’s title for those folders, and one called simply “blog”.
    * Make a subfolder within each project folder for returned critiques. i.e. one called “Donna critiques” and one called “Dawn critiques”
    * When your crit partners email back edited versions, save them in those subfolders. (That habit will keep you from over-writing the original file.)

    Now for nomenclature. You’ve actually already thought this out pretty thoroughly. Let’s say novel #1 has the word “javelin” in the title. You’re saving today’s work, which encompasses Chapter 9, revision #3.


    I’m a PC person, so if you’re on a Mac that might differ slightly. And if you are a PC person, do you remember when each file name could only be eight characters, plus the .doc?

    You could always, also, be super paranoid/prepared and back everything up every day. Save a copy in Google Docs, or email a copy to your webmail account or save it to a designated “writing” flash drive.

    Hope this helps and isn’t too simplistic for what you need!!

  2. Laura, you are a genius. This will show my ignorance, but do you know I didn’t know I could have a subfolder? How have I missed this?

    That’s perfect. I already have a file for each project, and one for each of my crit partners’ projects, but I went amiss when I overwrote a critiqued file with the original. If I create an inbasket sub-file, as it were, for their pages, and an outbasket sub-file, that will solve that particular dilemma. Thank you!

    Now I just need to keep the nomenclature consistent and it should be a breeze.

    And yes, I’m a PC girl and I do remember those days. 🙂

    As for the backup, I think my mainframe is okay. My husband has it backup to an external hard drive every day. Do you think that’s sufficient? (I worry a little about the e-mail being hacked. What are your thoughts about the likelihood of that?)

    I do need to work on a solution to the laptop, though. It’s deliberately not Internet-enabled (no self-control), so I save to a flash and then to my mainframe. BUT, that relies on me remembering, and is less consistent.

    Thanks for your advice on this! If you’re ever in my neck of the woods, I’ll buy you a coffee/tea/smoothie to express my thanks.

    1. So glad to have helped!! I saw your tweet and the left side of my brain told me to click over here. 🙂

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about the likelihood of email being hacked. It sounds like you’ve got a good regular backup system in place. I guess the only concern would be if you (heaven forbid) had water damage or a fire that damaged both the computer and the external drive and didn’t have any off-site backup. I signed up for Flickr Pro as an off-site backup for my photos (after having lots of computer issues earlier this year)!

      OK, I’ll stop blathering!

      a/k/a Bookworm on Twitter

      1. You didn’t blather at all, Laura. You’ve been very helpful. I’ll keep my eyes open for you on Twitter. I’m – duh! – @Tartitude there. You have a great handle, by the way. 🙂

  3. Hope101,

    I agree with Laura’s suggestions and have a series of folders and subfolders to keep me somewhat organized. I then, nightly, throw it on a back up drive, not because I’m paranoid, but because I need to transport the files with me everywhere – in case I have access to computer and think “Oh, I could be writing.” Granted, this is rare, but still.

    The only addition I would make, is that I designate a master file for each project. Ie: Absolution MASTER. I keep most of my revisions and the easiest way for me to procrastinate is to re-read the whole book to date to make sure I’m working on the right file. Pathetic, I know.

    But, I keep a folder called master files, and only make changes to the documents within that file. Saves me from tags like Absolution09 and Absolution2009 – which, until recently, I did have.

    And yes…I have overwritten files – an entire book once, which I will never get back.

    Happy organizing.

    1. Ouch about the overwrite! Ouch. 🙁

      I think I do the same thing as you, Dawn. Every few days — or week, depending on my progress — I copy the entire manuscript and give it a new file name with the date. Is that what you mean?

      That’s the document I go to when I pull out pieces to send for critiquing. I do it that way because I often end up changing chapter break locations.

    1. Hey, Bane. We were overlapping in our post.

      Okay, I’m not a complete nerd, but thus far, I love Windows 7. My favorite features:

      I can keep multiple tabs in Explorer open, and if I hover the mouse over the E at the bottom of the screen, I can preview the window before I have to commit to it.

      It has stickies (as above) I can put on my screensaver page.

      The snipping tool – You can basically choose anything on the computer screen to make into an image. That’s without any need to copy it into Paint, etc.

      The whole setup seems much more intuitive to me. It’s very easy to change the browser toolbar, for instance.

      Honestly, I haven’t been so happy with a computer since my husband first took our bookkeeping out of scribblers and put it into Access.

  4. My eyes are rolling in the back of my head! I try and try to organize. Once I think I’ve got it, then I’m frantically looking for a WIP’s chapter 6 or OMG! Where did I put the chapter my CP just reviewed? No, no it’s a nightmare!

    And what’s this about overwriting? *gasp* Noooo! It can’t happen…can it?

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