What does your writing folder look like?

By ‘writing folder’, I mean whatever you use to organize your writing.  It can be paper books or pads, typed pages, old floppy discs, iomega zip discs, cd’s, dvd’s – even tape recordings.

(I use these as examples because the photo shows all the ways I have kept track of my writing throughout the years.  You can actually plot the path of information technology as you go through my old archives of stuff.  At one point, I even had a fancy, dedicated word processor – it was essentially a type writer with a hard drive.  You could type to the drive, saving your work, then print it out later – convenient at the time.)

I bring this up now because I find myself facing a computer with issues.

My beloved 24 inch iMac has one of two possible problems – either the graphics card has gone bad and needs to be replaced, or the logic board has gone bad and needs to be replaced.  Either one will be a pain and a money drain as they are not things easily replaced, usually meaning that you have to go somewhere and pay someone to do the repairs for you.

Windows folks out there will be cackling about now because slapping a new graphics card into a PC is a relatively simple and inexpensive procedure, on a Mac, not so much.

Have your moment, Windows folks.  It’s ok.  I know, I know.  Get it out of your system like that virus you downloaded when you looked something up on the web last night…

So, this got me to thinking about backups and data and all that stuff that goes with the modern convenience of the computer age.

I use 3 computers – mostly 2, but I’ll explain that.

I have my 24 inch iMac on the desk in the basement office.  This is the machine I use for all my podcasting, any photoshop or indesign work I need to do, etc and so on.  Occasionally I will also use it for writing, but for the most part I use my laptop for that these days.  I also keep all of my photos, music, website stuff, etc, on the 24 inch iMac.

Upstairs in my room, I have the 20 inch iMac G5 – this is the precursor to the Intel Macs everyone uses today.  The difference is really a hardware thing – with the switch to the Intel Dual Core Processors, more software that is developed for Windows machines, can be ported to the Mac.  There’s still work involved, but, for example, you can now run Windows on a Mac, which really opens up every pieces of software developed for Windows to be available for your Mac.  Obviously, this is an older machine – it has a copy of my music on it and every photo I took prior to getting the 24 inch iMac, plus legacy files from websites, freelance projects and a copy of my Writing Folder with everything I’d written since switching to Word in the late 90’s.

Lastly, I have my MacBook Pro – purchased specifically to be my mobile writing station.  I wanted a laptop that wasn’t a Windows box because that was the last string tied to me by Microsoft in my personal life – the Windows Laptop I used for writing.

Now, I’ve had the 20 inch the longest and I’ve run out of space on it before, so at some point I went out and bought a 250 mb external drive that I used to move a lot of files off the hd.  This was before timemachine so I also created a disc image of my Mac and stored it on the drive for backup purposes.  Color that drive full.  So I then went and bought a 500mb drive, which I filled up too so I bought another one, and filled that up.

Then I tried a consolidation project.

Are you groaning yet?

Yes – I tried to consolidate everything onto one drive.  Worked for the most part too, but then I was afraid to wipe the other drives because what if I’d missed something?!  So I put them away where they’d be save and just used the 500 mb drive.

Along comes the 24 inch iMac.  I decided it would be my new main computer, but I’d need to move files over.  Okay, so now I have two sets of files again.  And I needed a back up drive for it, so I used the other 500mb external, wiping it (that was painful) and, again, doing manual backups.  So I went along that path for a while, knowing that I now had two sets of files, one essentially static while the other was constantly changing – I could live with that, I told myself.

Then came a couple upgrades to the Mac OS where I backed up the 24, wiped the HD, installed the new OS and all the software and essentially started clean before moving files back from the external drive.  Along comes TimeMachine, Mac’s built in backup software so I buy a terrabyte drive (which I needed anyway cause I was running out of space again) and set it up to be the TimeMachine backup drive which does backups every day without my having to think about it.

Then I buy the laptop.  Okay, so, brain, think about this – how are you going to work the writing folder now?


I used to have a folder in my Documents called ‘Books and Writing Folder’.  Inside that was a folder for each project I was working on.  Then, I added new folders like ‘Writing 2007’, ‘Writing 2008’, ‘Writing 2009’, etc outside that folder that actually contained a copy of the ‘Books and Writing Folder’ inside of them.  Later, I consolidated older folders back into the ‘Books and Writing Folder’ under their project titles.

Lost yet?

I also started creating new folders for projects that I wanted to work on that were outside the Writing folder so I could start fresh.  Obviously, this became a mess.

With the laptop, I created a new folder called ‘Writing 2011’ and I only put in that folder the things I intend to work on.  I also made that folder part of my Drop Box account.

Drop Box is an online storage service – you’ve heard about ‘the cloud’?  Well – they’re part of ‘the cloud’.  The power for me is twofold:

One – my writing folder is always backed up whether I hook the laptop up to an external drive or not (which I also do now).

Two – my files are accessible to me from any computer I setup with my Drop Box account.

SO, if I’m working on the laptop and I want to go downstairs, I can.  I just hit save, then walk down to the basement.  It takes a minute or two depending on the size of the file, but usually by the time I hit the basement, the 24 inch iMac has the most recent version of the file sitting in the Drop Box Folder and I can just open it up and continue writing in the peace and quiet of the basement.

Blue checkboxes mean a file is still updating, green means you're good to go

This doesn’t solve all of my problems – there’s versioning, for example, but it does get me to a better place than I’ve been in the past when I would move files between computers either through the network in my home or by using USB thumb drives…

But one of my biggest fears is that I will lose something important that I have poured my heart and soul into – some story, some version of a book – something I have written.  Now, I don’t think that will happen.  It HAS happened in the past.  For example – anything written on that stand alone word processor that I had?  If I didn’t print it out, it’s gone.  That machine had it’s own language for formatting a disc that neither Windows or Mac can read…  🙁

As for versioning…  Versioning deserves it’s own post…



  • FARfetched Posted February 22, 2011 1:35 pm

    Somewhere in my junk pile, I have an old Ratshack laptop… Tandy 800? Funky old thing, it used a RAMdisk (not flash storage, a freeking RAMdisk) to store files. I lost a short story or two when the holdup battery died, but I remember them pretty well & plan to rewrite them sooner or later. It could read and write DOS-formatted floppies, at very low density (360K).

    Dropbox is a good solution… so is Google Apps. Both require a network connection, although I like Dropbox having automatic local storage just in case the DSL box decides to go bye-bye.

    I’ve been using Time Machine (also on a 1TB outboard drive) for backing up my MacBook, but I should probably have another way of accessing my writing. I suppose, if really needed, I could drag the old beige G3 out of storage.

    Versioning… Time Machine does versioning of a sort. At work, I write documentation in markup (plain text files) so I use CVS for versioning. Personally, I’d say technical writing needs versioning more than creative writing, as requirements can change and change back over the course of a project. Sure, versioning could be fun to see how a story has evolved over time — but I think if you’ve hosed up a rewrite so bad that you have to revert, you might have larger problems. 😛

    • Patrick Hester Posted February 22, 2011 1:46 pm

      Re: Versioning (and I plan to write something up on this later)

      Scenario: You write a story, you submit it. Someone says ‘yes’ but can you make a couple of changes?

      Do you – open up the file, make the changes and hit save?

      Do you – copy the file with a new name, then make the changes?

      What if you make the changes to the original file, submit, more change requests, make em, submit, back and forth – then the person says, “Ah, well – it’s cool but I don’t think it’ll work right now.”

      Now you’ve made all those changes for that particular editors taste and taken your story away from the original.

      See where I’m going with this?

      So, yeah – versioning…


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