Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time savers and security blankets

There are so many terrific writing blogs out there, it makes my head spin. Really. There's just so much to take in, sometimes. But every now and then I come across a tip or trick that has really made my life easier. Here are the three that I use on a daily basis.

Document map. If you are writing something lengthy (like, say, a novel, or an in-depth non-fiction book), and you write using Word, document map is your friend. I learned about this from Casey McCormick's blog, Literary Rambles.

Highlight the item you want to map, right click and select paragraph. In the upper right corner, change Outline Level from Body Text to Level 1. Voila! If you don't see the document map (table of contents to the left of your document), go to View > Document Map. Saves an untold amount of time in not searching for that thing you wrote... you know... back in that scene... the one that was, like... three scenes ago? Yep. I've probably saved hours with this one.

Dropbox. How often do you back up your files? How do you do it? Save to the computer, plus a memory stick or external hard drive? Burn to a CD that you carry with you everywhere you go? I do some of those, but I no longer have to worry about having my backups in the same place because I also use Dropbox.

Dropbox stores your documents (in a secure format) on a cloud (computer cloud, not the fluffy white kind). You can set up Dropbox on any number of computers, so that you can access your work from anywhere. And the kicker? It automatically syncs what's on the cloud with what's on your computer when you boot up. It also saves older versions in case you need to back-track. So you always have the version you need, wherever you might be. If you are interested in Dropbox, send me an email (anpstevens [at] gmail). If I 'refer' you, we both get extra storage space.*

Unison. Unison is free software that synchronizes your files between two drives (e.g., your hard drive and a memory stick, external hard drive, or remote site). It checks the files on both sources and compares them. This is really helpful if you're inconsistent about where you save your work, in which case you don't want to copy everything from one drive to the other and risk losing recent work.

When Unison is ready to sync, you can see exactly which files have changed, and the arrows make it clear which file is the newer version. You have complete control over whether or not Unison changes anything (you can skip a file or revert to the older version during a synchronization event) before you allow it to proceed, and it syncs in both directions. You can download Unison here.

* This is not a paid endorsement for any of these things, nor am I telling you about Dropbox because I want more storage space. I just think it's an incredibly handy way to back things up and have them accessible from anywhere.

What are your favorite writing tricks?


  1. My computer decided to crash or get a virus or something and passed that along to my flash drive. I had a hard copy of my book printed out (except for the most recent 100 or so pages -- I didn't have a printer on hand that week). Anyway, the only thing that saved me was that I had been emailing chapters to my friend and mom to read as I completed them. So, I just had to go through my email, copy and paste.

  2. Great info! Thanks so much for sharing it!!

  3. Thanks for the tips. It was hard enough to lose a few pages of edits. If I lost a novel...ag!

  4. This was really helpful. I might consider Dropbox. I keep an external hard drive (Passport) velcroed to the back of my laptop mainly because I had a tower that fell and erased 1 year of my life. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for the tips on using Document Map. I've been using it to go to a specific chapter during editing, but I like the idea of marking something I want to come back to.

  6. I am paranoid about losing stuff I must admit. I have an auto-backup to our main server at home, and also keep my little USB in my handbag wherever I go, just in case my house burns to the ground while I'm at the shops. Stranger things have happened...

    Haven't tried Document Map before, will give it a go.

    Thanks for the tips and ideas - and enjoy your visit with family!

  7. Quinn: That sounds SO scary! At least you had the emails to save you.

    PK: You're welcome!

    Marieke: Thanks.

    JE: You're welcome.

    Patricia: What a nightmare. Dropbox is a nice safety net.

    Andrea: It's great if there are sub-chapters that you want to mark, as well.

    Adina: You're welcome. And thanks! :)