Yes, we all begin in a rush of adrenaline and dreams, or maybe face down in a puddle of whiskey, but either way, there is a little bit of housekeeping that could save you a great deal of heartache and even expense — and I don’t just mean “back up your files”.
I write in Screenwriter on a Mac, but the principles are the same. On your Mac make several folders:
TITLE. Everything for your novel goes in this. If you don’t have a title, just put ‘First Novel’. I spend five years (with interruptions) writing a novel with no title. It was annoying. Finally it came out as ‘Dash & Laila’ named after the main characters.
TITLE (or working title) WORKING. This is the file you write in day-to-day. Each time you finish for the day, or whenever the police show up, you advance the name of your draft. “This Sucks 1.0”, “This Sucks 1.1”, This Sucks 1.2" etc. Each time you start working again, save the previous file into “This Sucks — OLD.”
So far we have “Title WORKING” and “Title OLD”. It’s critical that you follow your naming convention faithfully.
You may also need “Title SOURCE MATERIAL” whether it’s a short story you wrote or a news story or your ex’s diary you scanned — save it here.
Next we’ll make a new folder “Title CUT”. You won’t think this is important when you start down this sordid path, but it is. Now I don’t mean every edit you make needs to be saved, god help us. but when you cut big chunks of material or excise an entire character, this is the stuff you need to save. “Why? I’m cutting it?”
Well, first of all, you may change your mind. Secondly your editor or agent or publisher may change your mind for you. Thirdly, “CUT” gives you raw material to cannibalize later in your writing life. I am currently planning to migrate a character from Dash & Laila into a new book. Because they are for different markets I don’t think anyone will complain. As a bonus, you can put “CUT from 3.1”.
Okay. EDITS is when you get a PDF back from an editor all marked up with editorial notes and death threats that in Adobe Acrobat you accept or decline. Before you do ANY of that, put the intact file in EDIT. A copy of it will become your new WORKING. This gets incredibly important if you change editors and A has told you to focus on character FRED and editor B has told you to focus on BARNEY’s story and neither of the editors will take your calls.
Finally, and if you have followed the above faithfully you may not need this, but I am adding an OUT folder. This way you know which agent/editor/co-author has which draft. Beats searching through old e-mails.
Most of these folders/file paths you will rarely use. But when you need them, you need them, and usually quickly. The urgency of all of this doubles if you are working with another writer, especially if it’s on a screenplay, because in that situation you’ll have everyone and their dog chiming in. (Go with what the dog says.)
So there you are. Do the above or some variant thereof, back up your files to an external hard-drive or the cloud or wherever, and five novels from now you’ll be proud of how organized you were.
Now you will also need to keep track of contracts/correspondence/images/audio files/translations/etc., but today I’ve focused on the bare bones so you can get going. Good luck.