How I Write (These Days)

Let me take a moment to say what this post is not. It’s not a discussion of style or process. It’s not going to be a long navel-gazing about “where I get my ideas.” There are a lot of posts and books and things already out there for people interested in those topics and I guarantee they’re written better than what I could come up with here. Also, I think the topic is somewhat boring. Most writers love to talk about writing. Just pick your particular favorite writer and you’ll be able to answer those particular questions.

Instead, I’d like to talk about the actual physical mechanics, such as they are. Let’s talk about what I write with in terms of programs.

There are writers out there who write longhand. Some still work on typewriters. I actually do own a typewriter, although I’ve never used it for anything serious. I typed a story up on it once and then looked at the pages in my hand and wondered, shit, now what? Do I scan these into a PDF or something?

There are a lot of writing programs out there. Scrivener seems to have the most vocal disciples, although I’ve never used it and generally, the more vigorously someone evangelizes something, the less I want to try it. I’m a Microsoft Word user these days, although I didn’t get my start on Word.

My first computer was purchased in the halcyon days of 1998. Instead of getting the current version of Word, we ended up with something called “Student Writing Center.” It was an absolutely bare-bones program with very little in the way of frills or features, but I liked it ’cause it was all that I knew. I wrote my first manuscript on it, as well as the incomplete sequel I abandoned somewhere around 70,000 words. I’ve copied and uploaded those files from machine to machine over the years; even though they’re both “trunk novels,” I can’t let them go. And it’s not like they take up much storage space.

My first laptop was a Dell purchased in 2004 and somehow, I purchased WordPerfect instead of Word when I bought it. It took me years to realize that WordPerfect was created by a different company (Corel). I thought it was a Microsoft product and probably figured it was the “better” version of Word. It had “perfect” right there in the name, after all! Despite this, it wasn’t perfect. I wrote a lot of papers and short stories on WordPerfect and kept working on my novels, but I never finished anything big.

My next computer in 2009 was an HP desktop and I finally had my own version of Word. (2010, I believe). In fact, I still have this version of Word and it’s still my main writing platform the majority of the time. I’ve done the vast majority of six NaNoWriMo successes on this version of Word and this computer and I finished the manuscript that I’m currently trying to publish.

Finally, there’s my current laptop, also an HP, purchased last year along with Word 2013. Originally, I was really hesitant about buying Word (shit’s expensive, yo) and tried to use Google Docs or OpenOffice as my main writing platform for that machine. It never took, though. After so many years, I’m basically acclimatized and anything different distracts me too much for comfort. I’ll probably continue buying versions of Word until I’m in my grave and even my corpse will insist that my tombstone and funeral programs be typed up in Word (and probably using Calibri as the font).

The only major change in how I go about handling my work is where I save my master files of my manuscripts, which is what I call the version of the document that I actually work on. I’ve been perpetually terrified of having a hard drive failure or house fire destroy all of my work, so I’ve tried various things over the years. Originally I burned copies to CD, but this was such a slow process that I never kept them as up-to-date as they should have been. Eventually I switched to using USB thumb drives but this was also unsatisfying as I was afraid of losing the sticks or having them get destroyed in a fire.

My current system for backing up my work is one that I’m really happy with and it happened pretty much by accident. Early on, I started using Google Drive to make digital copies of my manuscript files. The problem was that I didn’t like writing in Google Docs but at that point, the only way to go from one machine to another and use Word was to download the file from Google Drive, work on it in Word, and then upload it back to the Drive.

This wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that I very quickly had dozens of copies of my files and had a very hard time remembering which ones were the “master” and which were back-ups or transfers. What I wanted was a single file that I could open with Word and access regardless of which machine I was using and still exists in the cloud to prevent data lose if my house burns down.

OneDrive ended up meeting all of these needs, so these days it’s my main platform, which is especially convenient since Word Online is actually pretty good. So now I have my main file in my OneDrive, which I can work on with both my desktop and my laptop (or even a borrowed computer if need be) and I don’t need to keep transferring or downloading files. Since I ride a motorcycle or a bicycle everywhere, carrying a laptop isn’t overwhelmingly convenient, so instead I can log onto a library computer on my lunch break and still have access to my master files. It’s improved my personal productivity tremendously by having those files so conveniently accessible, which I suppose is the whole idea of cloud storage in the first and which Google already did and would have worked for me anyway if I wasn’t so picky about the whole Google Docs thing. Anyway.

I keep backups of my files on both my desktop and my laptop in case Microsoft crashes, although I suspect if that ever happened, I’d probably have more to worry about than just my data. But I still like to be redundant.

So that’s my current approach to my precious writing files. For those nerds out there who are interested in this stuff that you read all the way to the end, what’s your approach to managing your files across multiple computers?

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