At the request of a friend, I’d like to describe a the system I use to keep track of what I’ve written. My methods are admittedly complex, technological and therefore not for everyone. I enjoyed the challenge of learning to use new tools, and that was the first step. Later, after using the tools for a while, I had to make some revisions. Now that I have a system that works for me, I thought to share what I’ve learned.

Getting Organized

If you have a lifetime of writings, it can get difficult to sort through it all, especially if its all on paper. Even if it isn’t all on paper, it might be in different folders, stored on different computers or hard drives or external drives, in different file formats, named with different conventions, stored in multiple drafts… If you have a collection of digital files of any size or importance, you also have these issues.

All that disorganization and complexity made it difficult for me to work. The final straw came when I heard about a submission opportunity two nights before the deadline. I had something I wanted to submit, but I couldn’t find it, when I did find it I wasn’t sure which copy was the “good” one and by the time I had all that figured out, it was too late to meet the deadline.

I did some cleanup:

  1. Copy all the files into one folder

  2. Make a backup of that folder, because big changes come next

  3. Ensure that there is only one, good copy of each work

  4. Convert all the writings’ files into to plain-text files

  5. Name each file consistently. I chose to use the title of the work as the filename, written in slug case.. So, for example the filename for “The Fascination of the Pool” would be fascination-pool.txt

Then I did some organizing:

Sort the files into major categories for each type of work. I find that this helps me to quickly find a retrieve what I need. At present I have a “writing” folder, and inside of that the directory structure looks something like this simplified example:

<code>.
├── _etc
├── _data
├── articles
|   ├── README.txt
|   └── example-article.txt
├── audio
├── blog
├── essay
├── hypertext
├── journal
├── letters
├── lyrics
├── performance
│   └── specific-performance
│       ├── README.txt
│       ├── specific-performance.txt
│       ├── flyer.jpg
│       └── specific-performance.wav
├── poetry
├── scripts
├── stories
└── zine
</code>

Move the “writing” directory into Dropbox or something similar, and now you’ve got a basic backup, and the files are available wherever you’ve got Internet access.

I’ve gone on to do even more elaborate things with my setup (it involves YAML metadata headers and Git), but I’ll cover that in another post.