Predicting the future of books

Over at the Rejecter’s blog she makes some interesting observations about the future of books. She says Print on Demand (POD) is the way of the future. She believes that Bookstores will still exist, but rather than warehousing immense numbers of books, the customer will buy the book and it will be printed in under…

The mechanics of writing: Backups, revisions and how many documents

I thought it might be a good time to talk about some of the housekeeping tasks associated with writing. The most important of these, of course, is backups.


I know people who never back up their work. It sets my teeth on edge when I talk to a novelist who has been working on their book for two years and find they have not backed the file up once in that time. Not so much because they haven’t backed it up, but because knowing that if they lose that one file they lose two years work.

I would be absolutely shattered.

I know that back-ups are boring, and take time out of writing, but consider what you might lose if you don’t have them.

You need to back-up to cover:

  • A corrupted file—what if your word processor crashes in the middle of typing and you can’t get the novel back?
  • Computer failure—your computer dies, or your hard drive crashes, or your computer-savvy son decides to reformat the disc for you, or your computer gets stolen
  • Human error—you accidentally delete the file.

In an ideal world I would also include more dramatic scenarios here, like your house burning down. If that happens, then the least of your worries will be the novel you spent two years slaving over (at least initially). Any good back-up recommendation should include considering this as well. However, here we will just consider computer failure or human error.

How we back up our novel

Here’s what we do. You may find it excessive, but it works for us.

We have a folder named for the novel. In this case, Barrain. Underneath this we have the latest draft. It’s a word document. The document is named for the novel and the draft. For example, Barrain_Draft3.doc.

In the Barrain directory we have a sub-directory called Backup. Each night before we open the document, we copy the current Barrain_Draft3.doc into the Backup directory. We then rename it to include today’s date at the start of the file name. For example, 20070222_Barrain_Draft3.doc. We write the date in YYYYMMDD format so that the files are ordered.

Note that I said we do this before we open the document. The problem with doing it from within the word processing program is that you must do a ‘save as’, save the file into the backup directory with the new name, then close the file, and open the original again.

If you are anything like me, you’ll forget to do the second part and start typing in the backup file. Then the next day, when you open the Barrain_Draft3.doc file, all yesterday’s work is missing.

It may seem excessive, but this way we have a complete version of every day’s work.

Once a week I copy the latest version over onto one of the other network PCs (one of the advantages of having a home network), and every couple of months I copy it onto a flash drive instead.

For some people, this might be overkill, and it probably is, but it works for us. Disc space is cheap compared to two years lost work.

Most important for us though, is that it’s a habit.

Develop a habit of making regular back-ups.

A writing course that impresses

I have mentioned before what I think about writing courses, and how my experience to date with universities hasn’t been much good. This year Sherylyn started a part-time writing course at the local TAFE. From what she has told me, it sounds pretty good. She chose three subjects: Writing and editing Photography for writers Web…

More on character names

I recently read Lynn Flewelling’s Tamir Triad (The Bone Doll’s Twin, Hidden Warrior and The Oracle’s Queen).

My absolute favourite character was Tharin, the protagonist’s (Tamir’s) father’s best friend. The man who looked after Tamir when she was a child, and stayed with her as she grew into adulthood.

Now, here is the silly thing. Even though I adored Tharin as a character, I couldn’t get his name straight for the first two and a half books.

Even as I sat down to write this blog I still had to stop and think. “Is it Tamil? No. Damir? No. Thamir? No, not that either. Damn, I have to go back to the book again to get his name. Tharin. That’s right, it was Tharin.”

This is my favourite character in a series I liked enough to read in one sitting.

He wasn’t a point-of-view character, but he was a major minor character. I should have been able to remember his name. Unfortunately, I got bogged down with all the names in the book with combinations of T, M, N and R in them (Tamir, Tobin, Tharin). They all blended together.

Fantasy and science fiction writers often come up with weird names to make the characters sound more exotic, but there are a lot of other things we do to names that confuse the reader too.

One thing you are often taught in the ‘how to write fantasy’ courses is to make names of people of the same race or tribe similar, to give a sense of history and place. Thus in Lord of the Rings you have Elrond, Glorfindel, Arwen and Galadriel, all elves, all with L, N and D sounds in their names.

Lynn Flewelling had a lot of characters whose name started with T or A.

In her defence, Ms Flewelling could well argue that Tharin wasn’t a major character. That the main characters were clearly delineated —Tamir/Tobin, Ki and Arkoniel. Can’t complain about names there.

Now, I don’t say that you should deliberately go out of your way to give your characters wildly different names just so the readers can tell them apart. There does have to be resonance with names, and a language and a people. And even though it does make the story more confusing to the reader, it’s not the worst naming sin of all.

One of the worst, in my opinion, is the word you use as a name that has a totally unrelated meaning, particularly when you know what that meaning is.