Confession Of A Pixelated Writer

by Janis Patterson

When I first started writing computers were the stuff of science fiction and cheesy space opera movies. If you wanted to write a book, you either wrote in painful longhand, talked into a recorder for someone else to transcribe or typed it yourself on a typewriter. Just to set the record straight I learned to type on a Smith Corona manual portable the summer before I entered the fourth grade and have regarded any kind of handwriting more than a simple signature as cruel and unusual punishment ever since!

Now, of course, like most everyone else I use a computer. It’s faster, it’s easier to edit (I remember in the old days when ‘cut and paste’ meant exactly that!), there’s no need for multiple filing cabinets to hold different versions of different manuscripts, you don’t have to go scrabbling for cheap or even pre-used paper to use for rough drafts, there’s no need to do a complete retype in order to have a clean copy… all in all better. A single thumb drive or dvd can hold every version and every note or bit of research on several novels. Several filing cabinets’ worth of data can be held in a small box on your desk.

So why isn’t my house neater?

I digress…

Since I still tend to mistrust technology, I not only keep dvds of my projects in my desk and in the safety deposit box, I also have them in cloud storage and… wait for it… in a paper copy. Yes, I know what I just said about paper, but this is different. I print out a copy of the final manuscript using both sides of the paper, the narrowest margins I can manage, single-spaced and in a tiny type – 8 or 9 point – not so large as to be bulky, but still able to be retyped if the unthinkable happens. This can reduce the biggest book to a manageable size. Then I drill the manuscript and put it in a 3 ring binder, along with a dvd (yes, that’s 3 copies per book on dvds), a photocopy of my contract (the original is in the safety deposit box as well as scanned to my computer), and any other ancillary things specific to the book. Usually I can get 3-4 novels or 6-8 novellas in a ring binder. It’s a lot smaller than a couple of file cabinets!

I have been writing for a long time, which means I have a lot of partials, multiple copies and extras of all kinds of manuscripts. My husband and I are living in the house where I grew up, and boxes of old manuscripts are still turning up in the garage and attic. I think they’re breeding.

Still, I hate to lose any of my work, even if it’s juvenile or unfinished or just plain unworkable, so I scan what I don’t already have copies of. Then, once assured that I do have a record or that the manuscript I just found is one of many duplicates, I split the pages in half and stack them up for notepaper.

For someone who hates to handwrite, I use a lot of notepaper. Have a quick idea for a cute or a scary scene? A great idea of a different way to do murder? A reminder of an appointment? An appealing name that may fit a character in a future project? Whatever? I scribble it down and affix it to a huge corkboard against the wall. When it starts to resemble some weird sort of scaled creature I do have to go through that board and pare it down. The paper recyclers just love it when that happens…

So, even though I am an admitted techno-naif with only the sketchiest kind of détente with technology, I have to admit that the computer has made this writer’s life much more simple. I have no choice but to do so. I sold all my filing cabinets.

9 thoughts on “Confession Of A Pixelated Writer

  1. Oh wow, you have a ton of backups for your stuff. I’m impressed…and a little frightened. 😉 I have lost some work over the years by only having it on a flash drive. So, maybe I should try some of your steps, but not all of them, LOL. Too much for me!

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  2. Good post, Janis! I also keep several copies of my books and I use notebooks and sticky notes all through the process of writing a book. For info, ideas, and plot points.

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  3. I felt good reading your post because everything you’ve said I agree with. I think we’re of the same generation. I don’t feel published unless my work is in print. I love writing on my computer, but I know it can disappear in a moment unless it’s backed up.

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  4. You are justified in not trusting technology and I definitely do not trust the cloud! When the Internet goes haywire (and it will) I don’t want my hard work lost up there on its own! I keep my manuscripts in plastic boxes, high above the floor. I’ve already made PDFs of all of them which are stored on my laptop as well as backed up onto thumb drives and external 1000Gigabite hard drives. My finished/published novels are digitally stored as well and the proof/ARC/gift copies are in sturdy bookcases. As you may have guessed, I have worked for and with a lot of lawyers.

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  5. Great post! I hate computers and anything related to technology. But, it’s a part of life now. When I’m much older, I’m going to throw it all out! I hope!

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  6. Computers do make writing easier, unless God forbid, they break down! I used to keep printed copies of my manuscripts, but now I email myself a copy anytime I work on a manuscript, or finish one, and also send a copy to Dropbox, and I also have Carbonite backing up my computer. Since I self-publish now, usually with Amazon, I also have a copy there. Still, for some odd reason, my desk is always filled with miscellaneous papers. I print out research info, even the names and descriptions of my characters to keep them straight in my head, and also scribble notes to remember stuff later that I need to include somewhere. As much as I try to be organized it doesn’t come easy to me.

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  7. Janis – You are the epitome of the backup acronym LOCKS – Lots Of Copies Kept Separately. For all you say you’re a tech naif, your set-up is actually very tech-savvy. I use a cloud syncing service, and also back up everything onto a removable hard drive. I also print out my manuscripts, mostly because I need to do a final edit on paper – I catch so many things that got past me on the digital version. However, there are those in the information technology and archives sector who believe that paper also has its place. It doesn’t need to be backed up. It lasts longer than DVDs, which do not last nearly as long as you would think. Plus paper doesn’t need to be upgraded/converted every time the software changes. With a good Optical Character Recognition software, you don’t need to re-type everything.

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