How to Manage Your Drafts

Happy Friday, everyone!

Receiving suggestions and mark-ups from editors and friends is one of the most highly-anticipated – if not exciting – things about the entire editorial process, as a writer. It also stands to reason that eventually, no matter what kind of documents you work with, your harddrive or filing cabinet is going to fill up with bushels of drafts. Which is great, because you want to keep old drafts – what if you lose a current one? What if you change your mind and want to go back to the approach you took last month on that chapter? Trust me, it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

But even for the most organized among us, keeping track of which is what – and thus avoiding redundant work – can prove tricky. Here’s some tips!

  1. Filing system? What filing system? – If this is you, this is the first thing you need to tackle. Regardless of whether your documents are digital or physical, where you keep them is of utmost importance. For one thing, all the time you normally spend looking for something can be better-spent working on that something. Separate things into categories – don’t put your vacation photos in the same box as your resume, or those documents you need for your job in the same one as that novel you’re working on. From there, organization can be done in a number of ways depending on the category you’re working with. For example, photos or tax documents are be best organized by date, while files belonging to different clients may be best-placed in files with the client’s name. Under the main file heading of one of my novels, I have sub-files for notes and old drafts while the current work-in-progress draft stands alone. The crucial part is that folder and file names are recognizable to you.
  2. Speaking of names, keep them concise and informative. If you’re working with a series of files all related to one another, decide on a naming convention and stick to it. For example, when I’m editing a series of instructor handouts that are all science labs for a particular module, I’ll use something like: ‘Course Abbreviation, Unit Number, Module: Individual Topic’. And please don’t stick with the automatic first-line file name Word auto-populates for you when you save a file for the first time. If you have a version that’s geared more toward your field of IT, compared to your other version that’s geared more toward teaching, you may want to name them ‘Resume – IT’ and ‘Resume – Teaching’ to distinguish between the two and avoid an embarrassing mix-up. Same goes for different drafts of the same document.
  3. When saving a file, determine the difference between significant and minor changes (and thereby whether you need just the ‘Save’ button or the ‘Save As’ button). This will help you keep file numbers to a minimum. If you’re merely correcting a typo or two, that’s minor – you want to keep that change in subsequent versions of that document. If you get rid of an entire character from a scene, or abridge an article for magazine publication, that’s major. A good rule of thumb is to save something separately (and name accordingly) if you’re not sure about the changes, or otherwise don’t want them to be permanent. I also advise doing this with cosmetic changes (such as font) with professional documents, and documents that aren’t your own – it’s always a good idea to keep a copy of the unchanged original.

Oops! I have five documents that all pretty much have the same name! How can I tell the difference and which do I keep?

Fear not. There’s a couple of tricks you can use, and they involve letting Microsoft’s file viewer do the work. First of all, the file viewer enables you to sort files according to ‘Date modified’ – the one with the most recent date is, naturally, the one you worked on last. It’ll also display the file size – the larger the file size, the longer the contents in all likelihood. Rename as soon as you determine the difference – remember you’ll need to exit the file then rename it in the folder itself, rather than doing a ‘Save As’. If it helps you to put ‘last edited’ dates or ‘Longer Version’ in the file name, go for it! Also note that Word has the handy little feature of document auto-recovery if you forget to save and your computer shuts down (though it is by no means a replacement for diligence).

If you typically work in auto-save programs such as GoogleDocs, you may run into a problem with keeping old versions. You’ll either need to physically copy the entire document into a new one in order to have it then auto-save itself as a new version, or you can switch the ‘Editing’ mode to ‘Suggesting’ mode on yourself, so that changes aren’t made permanent until you tell them to be. If you prefer, you can use this tactic in Word with its ‘Track Changes’ feature in addition to saving separately. I’ll be talking about in-document change-tracking in more detail another time.

Remember that keeping yourself organized is key to keeping professional. I’d love to hear some of the techniques you’ve found that work for you! Questions, too, are always welcome.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

When Editing is Bad

Happy Friday, everyone!

As all you poets are no doubt aware, tomorrow begins 2017’s Poem-a-Day April! As it says on the box, the goal is to write a poem a day for the entirety of April, which  – even as a poet who’s semi-successfully managed it a couple of times – I have to admit is pretty daunting. Not only am I writing this in solidarity and as a salute, but also as a chance to point out when editing can sometimes be a hindrance.

If you’re not a perfectionist, in a way I envy you. The fact of the matter is that sometimes – no matter what you’re writing – you can become preoccupied with making your first draft perfect on the first try. This can lead to a lot of false starts, over-writing, a sudden block partway through, or worse – never starting. If this happens enough it can even have longer-lasting effects on your overall confidence. All of these are killer if you have deadlines of any kind.

So say it with me: “It’s okay if it’s not perfect on the first try. Or the second, or the third, or…”

Say this, too: “What matters is that there’s something on the page. I can work with that ‘something’. I can’t work with ‘nothing’.”

Always keep those two things in mind, because I promise, you will get stuck otherwise. It happens to folks who have just started writing, and to folks who have been writing professionally their whole lives. You will get stuck on worrying whether you’ve got the right word, that you’ll forget all the others you were going to write after it. You’ll take a break to figure out the right metaphor or a good name, and you’ll get distracted for the next two days. You’ll pause to fact-check and end up down the rabbit-hole of the Internet.

Here are a few tactics to help you curb the tendency to become distracted by editing:

  1. Know there’s something you’re going to have to go back and change or check? Put in a placeholder or highlight it. One method I’ve heard of is the ‘ELEPHANT’ method, where if you can’t think of a word right then and there, just type ‘ELEPHANT’ and keep going – when you’re done drafting, you can search for all instances of ‘ELEPHANT’ and replace them when your mind is clearer. This helps you keep your flow.
  2. Set realistic deadlines if they help you, or remove them if they don’t. If you do choose to have deadlines, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them. For example, you can start with something small like ‘write a poem before you have your second cup of coffee’ – it’s a deadline with a built-in reward. The idea is that when your brain grows accustomed to achieving small goals, it’s in a better position to achieve slightly larger goals, and so on.
  3. A friend of mine hand-writes her work and covers her prior lines with a sheet of paper to stop herself looking back and thus getting distracted by editing. You can feasibly do this with window-resizing on a computer, too.
  4. Devote specific times to writing, and specific times to editing, e.g. – ‘during the week I’ll write, but Saturdays I’ll edit’, or ‘I’m not going to look at these poems again until May, when Poem-a-Day April is over’. Knowing you’ve allotted time in advance can help put your mind at ease, as it’s no longer worried about missing the opportunity and feels bolstered by your organization skills.
  5. Remind yourself that beyond a simple spelling/grammar check, you can always leave the editing to – guess who! – your editor. That’s why this tag-team exists in the first place! Knowing someone else has your back can be instrumental to your process.

Although editing is still part of the creative process – and some would argue that it’s the most rewarding part – they are different modes of thinking and sometimes jostle for elbow room, to the detriment of each other. The fact remains that you cannot edit what isn’t there, therefore you should prioritize creation in the initial stages.

What are some of the hurdles you’ve encountered? Any other tactics for overcoming them that you’ve found useful?

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

P.S. – Good luck, poets! I’ll be writing alongside you this season.