Picture this…you open up your WIPs folder and find an older story, one you’d love to work in again. You’re excited, right? Can’t wait to work on it. Then you see…another document with the same title. What? Which one is the most recent? You look at the date on the document and you see one is more recent, so that’s the right one, right?
Or is it? In your older version, you have a lot more words, but the newer version has sharper content. You notice the changes at the end, but do you work with the one you like more? Or the one you have more words on? What if there are other differences?
You have three choices: 1. go line by line with the versions side by side, 2. walk away (don’t do this one!), or 3. say the Hell with it and pick one.
What if you have three versions? Or four?
What if you have beta readers who do edits and send them back to you? Do you change the name of the beta versions before you save them to your hard drive? What about the date? I mean, if you open up the beta document and put a space in the thing, you’ve “modified it” so the date changes (autosave is a great thing, but…).
Classic rookie mistake. Combing through my cobweb-filled WIPs folder showed me this problem. I thought I’d overcome it by now, but…well…I wouldn’t be making this post if I didn’t come across a more recent version of it.
How do you keep this from happening?
For our example, let’s use my current WIP title: Voodoo Carnival.
I have a folder in my writing documents entitled Voodoo Carnival.
My working document name is:
Call it what you want, but this works for me.
Now, save this document to the same name throughout your 1st draft’s writing. Easy so far right?
What if you send it to someone to read? Let’s say I wasn’t sure if this plot direction works, and really wanted a read-through by my trusted critique partner (CP), Cynnara Tregarth. I would save my current WIP then do a “save as” and change the document name to:
I have the title, the draft number, the person it went to and the date I sent it. This is important. Trust me.
So Cynnara does a quick read-through and documents some places where I’d veered off track. She sends it back, and most times it will be the EXACT SAME TITLE as when you sent it. Other times it’ll be a different title based on how it was saved by your crit partner of beta reader. Hang with me a second, I’ll show you how to fix that.
You get the document back and you do a download and “save as”.
note: keep it in email. Uploading over IM or Facebook leaves you no paper trail in case you lose a version along the way
When I save it, I go to the Voodoo Carnival wip folder and select the version I’d sent to Cynnara originally (“VoodooCarnival_1stDraft_Cyn_30Jul2013”). When it pops up with the old title, make this change:
During this time, it would be best if you didn’t continue writing on your original 1st draft copy, but let’s say you do. Now what? Take your working 1st draft and put it side by side with your CP’s edits/comments. Make changes to your working copy (NOT the one they sent back to you). Then…once those changes are made, either delete everything but your working copy or set up a new folder called CP Feedback and dump those docs in there.
Out of sight=No mistakes later
There are some who say it’s easier to merge documents! Easier? Maybe if you have four or five changes, notes, etc. When you’re talking about a 24k, 55k, or 94k book, it’s a little more complicated. Approve every change. Don’t make the mistake of just accepting them all. You have NO idea what formatting nightmares, plot holes, or random stuff you’ve added. Reading through the WIP will be required either way, so save yourself some heartache. Is my way the best out there? Probably not. Is it effective? Hell yes!
Let’s say you’ve finished your draft. Your critique partners have given you their notes and you’ve made changes. Save the document as:
It’s now got the timeline (Post CP) and the date it was completed. Now, if you’ve got Beta Readers you’ll send the POST CP copy to them. When you get it back and you make whatever changes, you’ll change the version to:
You’ll then do a final read through and edit. Save the document as whatever it’s supposed to be for submission. Then, for freak’s sake, take all the other documents you have and put them in your archive folder or delete them. You have one copy. Just the one.
Remember: Out of sight=No mistakes later
Now, to answer some questions I received earlier on the difference between Critique Partners and Beta Readers.
Critique Partner: A person who edits and critiques your work for continuity (time line, prop checks, plot line stability, etc). Gives in depth notes. Use only those you trust. In movies this would be your script supervisor or “continuity person”.
Beta Reader: A person who reads through the book for readability and page-turn quality. In movies this would be the test audience for the film. Use only those you trust.
In your writing life, it’s possible to have a hybrid of the two. If your assistant can do both, it’s VERY important for you to tell them “please look for x, x, and x during the read-through.” Once the changes are made, give it back to them and say something like “Now read it as a normal reader and see how it goes.” If you attempt to combine the two, it’ll stress your partner as they have to use two different parts of the brain to do both.
What do you do with your works in progress? Let us know in comments.