Rewriting, Revising, and…Ridiculous File System Naming Conventions?

Right now, I have open on my computer a document with the filename, ‘Walk_Away_v8-4.docx’. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the manuscript’s working title is ‘Walk Away’. But what about all that other gobbledygook?

I’m so glad you asked.

Once upon a time, I kept one file for every manuscript I was working on. Simple, elegant. No problem, right?

And then I started editing. Worse, as I became more and more sophisticated (and less naïve about the perfection of my beautiful beautiful words!), I started re-writing. Taking out whole paragraphs, scenes, hell, chapters. Maybe even the better part of the first third of a book, and then doing it over again to better capture what I was trying to say or to pursue a new direction.

Only, deleting all those words gave me hives. What if my new direction ended up being the wrong direction? What if I realized only much later that the original version was a million times better? I’d spent so much time on those words! I couldn’t just get rid of them!

And so began my completely obsessive system of keeping a million different versions of every manuscript, and numbering them to try and keep track.

Basically, every manuscript has a working title, followed by an underscore, the letter ‘v’ for ‘version’, and then two numbers separated by a dash. The first number keeps track of major revisions, such as a total re-envisioning of my hero, a new approach to a significant turning point, or a line edit of the entire manuscript. Basically, things that affect the entire story. The second number is for small changes within that larger revision. Say, punching up a single scene or realizing my previous night’s wine-fueled ramblings were less coherent than I might have hoped and maybe I should give them another shot. Things like that.

Which brings me back to the fact that I’m currently working on ‘Walk_Away_v8-4.docx’. Parse those numbers with me one more time. They mean I’m now on my eighth major iteration of this bad boy, and the fourth minor one inside of that. My folder full of saved files for this manuscript alone contains thirty-three files.

Clearly, the path to completion has not been smooth on this one.

But that’s okay. When I first considered writing a blog post on the admittedly dry-as-dust topic of version numbers and file archiving, I questioned my motivation. And my sanity. But then I decided it was something worth sharing, because these obsessive, absurd, ridiculous version number are the very thing that has saved my sanity through this bear of a manuscript.

Quite simply, I have felt free to attempt deeper, more extensive, more radical rewrites on this book in no small part because I felt completely confident that I could change my mind at any time. If I stepped back at the end and decided it had all been a waste and my first or third or seventh draft was way better, I could find that version. I could find that version within a version. It was all still there, both on my hard drive and backed up to a secure server and on a flash drive. It was all still accessible. Nothing was lost. Not even my poor, fragile, not-quite-right mind.

How do you keep your sanity when you’re doing rewrites? Does a multiple-failsafe file organization system help you sleep better at night? And what’s the worst experience you’ve ever had trying to bring an unruly story concept to life?

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