Thursday, July 10, 2008

Baby Got Backup

Every writer with an overabundance of mushy grey stuff in their head knows that the words they write are golden. Even the stuff that will eventually get the red pen is worth saving, because in the end, the mountain of success you're standing on is actually a big steaming pile of mistakes.

Since most writers have now forgone pen and paper for a screen and a keyboard, having a reliable file backup system is not only crucial, it's job security. Of course, you could just dump your docs onto an external drive every couple of days, but when you need to go back to find a passage you deleted three versions ago, you're stuck.

That's why a version control system is such a great idea for writers. Typically, version control systems have been the mainstay of software programmers because being able to track the modifications among many versions of a file makes collaborative development infinitely less stressful. But writers need a similar system. That scene you axed last week could find new life if it were simply moved to a different part of the story. But since you've deleted it, it's gone. And after a week's worth of banging out page after page, there's no way you could recreate it.

Luckily, Rachel Greenham has laid out a great file management tutorial for writers of any type and genre. It uses an open-source system called Subversion that tracks complete information about every version of a file, from the modification date to any changes from a previous version. You can even add comments to the version record, in case you want to tag it with an idea without having to write it in the actual file.

The tutorial is primarily written for Mac users, however similar solutions are available for you Windows users as well. Also, bear in mind that setting up this system requires you to let your geek flag fly, but're a writer. I'm sure you can figure it out!