Before You Write


Someone should benefit from my twenty-plus years of doing everything the hard way.

Way back when I started writing novel-length fiction I’ll be the first to admit I had no idea what I was doing.  I flew by the seat of my pants and learned as I went.  And I was in the remedial class from the beginning.  No one was slower than I was to figure out what made a manuscript work.  I wrote and wrote and wrote and before I knew it I had several complete but unsellable manuscripts.  Lucky for me, I didn’t care about selling.

Fast forward to today.  I sold one of those unsellables entitled A Month From Miami a couple of years ago.  I recently signed a contract for its sequel, A Forever Kind of Guy.   Since I wrote the original manuscript for A Month From Miami in the late 1990’s, I decided I’d go back through all those finished but supposedly unsellable manuscripts and see what else I could blow the dust off, update and maybe sell.  My new editor recently requested a full manuscript for another updated oldie, entitled Scattered Moments.  Meanwhile, in the next month or so I’m looking to independently publish yet another one entitled Not Quite Heaven as an experiment.

But I digress.  What I have discovered along the way is how much easier my writing life would have been if I’d had any idea what I was doing.   As it is I have printed copies, copies on ZIP drives and CD’s and various other back-up discs, some on those little 3 x 3 floppy discs they don’t even use any more.  I’ve so many versions of the same manuscripts in print and in my computer or on discs, I can’t tell what the most recent version is.  I have the kind of boxes10reams of printer paper come in filled with various versions of one manuscript.  A couple of years ago I at least went through and put all of the versions of the same manuscript into one box and labeled it. 

To make matters worse, I didn’t date or number any of the back up discs or any of the printed versions.

Wait, it gets even worse.  When I first started writing, (after an incident where I deleted an entire manuscript from my computer while trying to back it up and had to re-enter it and then ran out of file space) (I told you I’d been writing for a long time), I started putting every chapter of a particular story in a file of its own.  I kept a handwritten list of each manuscript, the file name and number of each chapter.  Then when I revised, I’d piece it together.  You get the picture.  What I have is a big scrambled mess of old files and print copies to sort through if I ever want to reconstruct my old manuscripts into something I could work with.

At the risk of being redundant, DON’T DO THIS!

I like to think I’ve become smarter and better at organizing my work these days.  I’ve simplified it certainly, by keeping everything for a particular wip in one file and an entire manuscript in one document.  I back up on thumb drives now and I keep a separate thumb drive for the final completed versions. I date everything.

This is all well and good now.  But as I discovered this morning, now that I’m ready to work on another of those old manuscripts, I have my work cut out for me between the back ups, the old print versions, the unlabeled file system.  I have at least seven boxes of unsold manuscripts.  Except one of them is for Training Tommy, a book I sold ten years ago!  (Which begs the question why am I keeping this?)   Not included in this count are the boxes and file drawers of partials.  When a writer tells you she doesn’t need your story ideas, now you know why.

I’m not getting any younger and going through my massively faulty filing system is a huge time waster.  I wish I’d known then what I know now, but at least I have a legacy to leave:  I can tell all of you what not to do if you want to be efficient writers.



One Comment:

  1. Quite interesting. I’m just in the initial stages of serious writing but I can already see what you mean.

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