HOW I WRITE – Part II
Well, first, a brief digression in re logistics, to answer Midge’s question as to how I handle all the bits and pieces. It’s pretty simple, really, but it works.
Having started writing far back in the mists of time, when DOS-based programs only allowed one to have an eight-character filename (with a three-character extension), all my filenames are in this basic form: [bookname/number][year symbol].[date], wherein the date is the date upon which I began writing whatever file this is. E.g., were I to begin a new scene for AN ECHO IN THE BONE today, the file would be named JAMIE7&.39. (The abbreviation for each OUTLANDER novel is “JAMIE” [g], and ECHO is the 7th book in that series. “&” is the symbol I’ve chosen to represent 2008 (2007 was “@”), and today is March 9. Ergo—JAMIE7&.39.) (This, btw, is how I happen to know that I began to write OUTLANDER on March 6 of 1988; the oldest filename I’ve had is JAMIE!.36. And no, I don’t have this file available anymore; it’s undoubtedly backed up somewhere, but it’s on a 5.25″ floppy disk, which is for all intents and purposes unreadable. It wasn’t a scene that made it into the finished book; just a half-page or so of a young man arguing with his sister while she chopped vegetables—just a place to start, in other words. So I’ve been at this for twenty years—my, time flies when you’re having fun! [g])
OK, so we’ve got filenames. Now, I never leave the computer without backing up what I’m doing to an external medium—these days, that’s usually a USB jump-drive. NEVER. (And I keep whatever word processor I’m using set to do automatic backups every 90 seconds; I hate losing work). But once a week, I set aside an hour or so to do formal housekeeping. This involves:
1. Making a P-file. This is a “printfile”—just a dump of whatever new work I’ve done during the week. No formatting, no nothing—I just pull all new files (or old files that I’ve worked on during the week) into a single file and print it off (with the date at the top) and put this in my hard-copy dump. I’ve luckily needed a hardcopy backup only once or twice in the last twenty years—but nice to know it’s there. Any electronic medium can be corrupted in the blink of an eye and without warning.
2. Updating the MFILE. This is the Master File; I have one for each book (or novella) I’m working on. All this is, is a listing of filenames, with a few keywords following it, which will let me locate a specific file. Here’s a brief sample:
JAMIE#.42 – Death of Simon Fraser (Wheatfield)
JAMIE#A.42 – same as #.42 (compare)
JAMIE7#.413 – Clouds in the water – follows “Laoghaire”
JAMIE7#.414 – fragment at
JAMIE#X.D8 – beer for breakfast
JAMIE7@.410 - Son of a Witch/Sanctuary
JAMIE7@.54 – Simon Fraser’s death – Claire/Dr. Rawlings – Willie’s hat
JAMIE7@.511 – fragment/image – rhythms of sex
JAMIE7A.511 – peelie-wallie, fragment – acupuncture
JAMIE7@.512 – fragment/image – Jem and gem, means of navigation
JAMIE7@.514 – Roger and the chapel (goes w/ @.410)
JAMIE7@.517 – Roger’s faith (goes w/ @.410/@.514)
JAMIE7@.519 – Claire and Dr. Rawlings, injury to hand (
JAMIE7@.524 – fragment – Roger’s faith/father decision (goes w/ @.410)
JAMIE7@.527 – “I’ll just mind it more” fragment
JAMIE7@.528 – numbness – “Bruise me”
JAMIE7@.64 – Lizzie’s Love-Knot (chapter title only)
["fragment" means it's not a whole scene, but is a partial scene, or perhaps just a kernel or an image that I wanted to catch, but either didn't have time to develop, or it just didn't expand at the time. Additonal letters like "A" or "B" mean it's the second or third scene that I began on a given day (When I'm really rolling, I often have simultaneous things pop up), whereas an "X" means the scene exists under the original name, but something happened with the computer and it wouldn't let me save a later version under the same name (Word occasionally corrupts its filenames, or takes exception to the original file having been written in Word Perfect, and won't let me save unless I rename the file—so I use the original name with the addition of an "X".).]
That’s about it. You notice that a couple of files in this listing note that they “go with” one or more other files. When stuff starts sticking together—or when I’m on a roll and writing sequentially—I get files that I know are part of the same bigger chunk. Eventually, all the smaller files get attached to one of the filenames, and that grows into a large piece of 10,000 words or more. At that point, it becomes a “chunk” [g], and I’ll likely save it as “CHUNK 2 (rev) – GREAT DISMAL” (for instance). When I have five or six chunks, I can usually arrange them in rough chronological order, and at that point, will probably have a decent idea of the timeline underlying the book. Often—though not always, I’ll also see the “shape” of the book at this point.
I have to go and buy bagels for lunch, so will post this for now. With luck, I’ll be back later tonight to resume—if not, see you tomorrow!