Turning the calendar to a new year is always an opportunity to establish new and improved organizing systems of all kinds. Over the years, I’ve developed a few of my own, from celebrating Boxing Day by boxing up the year’s receipts to cleaning up my computer by archiving old files on a thumb drive.
I find the systems I have for December into January are easy compared to the filing that must be done day-to-day during the year. And as anyone who has spent any amount of time hunting through a hard drive looking for a misplaced document knows, not being able to find an earlier draft of an article can be a real time sink. So this is what I do:
First of all, I use folders: For this blog, I have a folder marked NHWN Blog. In it, I have sub-folders, one for each year I’ve been contributing (since 2011!). That’s where I park each post as I write it, creating a sub-sub folder if I write several drafts.
I always write several drafts.
And this is how I tell them apart:
I give each draft a title followed by the date. I use the title both in the header on the document and as a file name. The first draft for this post, for instance, is Organizing Principles NHWN2015_0104.
Placing the title and date in the header is especially helpful when I print a draft to work with hard copy.
When I return to a draft and make changes, I change the date. If it’s still the same day, I add a letter after the date. (The second draft of this piece includes a title change: Organizing Systems NHWN2015_0104A) When I’m sending drafts to an editor or client, I often add a time tag to the date, so we both know which is the most recent draft. With drafts zipping back and forth through cyberspace, date and time tags literally keep us on the same page.
Whenever I make substantial changes to a document, I use the “Save As” function. This way, I have preserved my earlier work, in case I do want to return to something I’ve cut. This system also makes cutting less painful: The deadwood is gone from the current version, but it’s not in the trash, and I can always go back and consult what I’ve written and tossed. (The third draft of this post is the last: Organizing Systems NHWN2015_0104B)
While I often write a couple of drafts of a post, I write countless drafts of my fiction, and keeping each draft is quite helpful during the initial stages of discovery – when I’m learning about my characters and what they have to say. I probably cut out at least as much as I save in the course of a novel, maybe more. In fact, I’m wondering if I cut the wrong sections of Ellen, and I’m comforted to know that I can sift through the outtakes and see if there are gems I need to reinstate when I’m ready to return to that novel.
I make no claims that this is a perfect system, but it’s an organic one I’ve developed over time, and it works for me.
What systems have you developed?