Records management for writers

It begins with a word document, and it grows. The canny writer backs it up somewhere, on a memory stick or by emailing it to their own webmail. Then they work on it a bit more and repeat the process. There comes a day when the title ‘Random first draft’ no longer seems appropriate. You’ve decided on a title. The title is My Novel. You now have a great and growing word document called My Novel. There is a copy saved on your PC, one on your USB, one in your hotmail, one on the laptop you imagine you will use to write in cafes, stylishly sipping black coffee while people appreciate that A Writer is at work here. You do most of your writing on the PC though, because when you bring your netbook to the right kind of cafes, they have the bloody internet free of charge and you end up looking at facebook instead.

After an unintended break of three months, you feel a surge of creative energy. You are ready to work on your novel again. Absence will surely have made the heart grow fonder. You take it out and immediate and necessary changes spring off the neglected pages. You make these changes. You rename it ‘My Novel2’ so you won’t mix it up with your previous vision.

As you read over your corrections, something seems to be wrong. Your new lines are not yet familiar enough to sound like crap, but some of the older ones are. They’re familiar in a deeply wrong sort of way, because you remember the 4am drunkenly frantic editing session when you deleted them all and put something brilliant in their place. Something that neatly aligned two themes, captured the trajectory of that much-neglected secondary character’s arc and was couched in sentences that you were pleased with.

It’s not there.

You search for My Novel. There are eighteen different documents. Some are My Novel_1, some are My Novel(a). There’s also ‘My Nomel1’ which evades your search but which you spot on your desktop. You arrange them in the order they were last updated. Nothing was last updated the night of the Christmas party.

It doesn’t really make any sense.

You remember that you worked on it a lot over Christmas, but that was on your laptop. Maybe the version with the perfect paragraph is on your laptop. There are eight versions on your laptop. One has the paragraph you’d been looking for but it’s missing everything you wrote in January.

As you read through the 31 different drafts of the first version of your novel, attempting to find recently updated lines you know you remember writing, and cross-referencing the four different opening paragraphs you have no memory of writing at all, you go cross-eyed and lose hope. Your only comfort is that even Jonathon Franzen’s had his problems with version control. Then the answer comes to you.

It’s very simple.

My-Novel-3.

Problem solved.

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