Don’t trust technology.
If you are writing a book, you should never use one working copy of your manuscript file.
Computer files can suffer from all sorts of problems such as file corruption, accidental deletions, or worse, viruses.
Many writers start writing a book using Microsoft Word or a similar word processor.
Every day they add more text to the manuscript and think that by regularly hitting ‘Save‘ everything is safe. Wrong. Very wrong.
When you write a book, placing your trust in only one working copy of your manuscript on the internal storage of your computer is inviting disaster.
Apart from file system issues, there are also other nasty possibilities.
You might accidentally overwrite, copy, move or delete files, your hard drive could crash, a system update could fail, or someone might even steal your computer.
For all these reasons, an author needs to know how to be an excellent file manager to safeguard all the work involved in writing a long document for a book.
To keep your manuscript safe, take the following simple file management steps to make sure you will never lose all your hard work.
1. Save one master file and individual chapter files
When you start writing a new book, set up a new folder in your file manager.
Then from Word, save a new master file and chapter files to the folder. Use ‘Save As‘ to create all the new files.
Now you can work on writing each chapter in its own individual Word file. This is a good writing habit to get into to avoid problems with large files.
Even if the worst happens and a file gets corrupted, it will only affect one chapter file and not the whole manuscript.
When you have finished each chapter, copy and paste the chapter into the master manuscript.
2. Save a copy of your folder and files somewhere else.
Never trust your computer or laptop.
There are many options to safeguard your creative work and book files and directories.
You can use a thumb drive or SD card.
Or use a free version of cloud drive services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or iCloud Drive on a Mac.
Cloud storage takes very little time to set up, and most work with all types of files.
You can either upload and copy your folder to one of these or in some cases; you can set up automatic synchronizing.
3. Keep a versions file of your main manuscript
An extra line of protection is to create a new folder in your file management app and save a timeline of versions of your main manuscript document. Adding a date to the end of the file name helps you keep track.
You only need to do this once a week perhaps, but it is a perfect backup system if you are methodical, or pedantic like me.
You can use any naming system you prefer. As an extra precaution, you can also use underscores in filenames as in the example files above.
Filenames without spaces are a little less likely to corrupt, or so I believe.
Again, save your revision files to an external location as an extra backup.
4. Be systematic as you write your book
When you write, use your individual chapter files and be sure to copy your new work to your chosen external backup location at the end of your writing session or day.
On completion of each chapter, do a copy and paste it into your main manuscript.
Then do a ‘Save As‘ for a new dated revision to your revision folder.
Using ‘Save As‘ instead of ‘Save‘ is the best way to protect your versions as it creates a new file, but your main manuscript file will remain intact and unchanged.
If you need to send files to an editor or proofreader, again, do a ‘save as’ and rename the file to suit and save to another new folder.
You should never move files, transfer files, or share files without creating a new version with ‘Save As‘.
Is there a better way?
Microsoft Word is really not the best program for writing a book.
There are many free and inexpensive book writing software programs that do a much better job.
Not only for writing your book but also for managing and safeguarding your valuable files.
You can check our list of free book writing programs that are better suited to writing a novel.
If you are looking for the best solution, you might want to consider Scrivener. It is by far the most popular book writing software for writers.
There is nothing worse for a writer than losing all their work due to a file browsing or computer problem. Don’t take any chances with all your weeks and months of hard work.
It is vital that you should take the time to learn how to be a good file manager with File Explorer in Windows or Finder in Mac to protect your work.
You don’t need to be as pedantic as I am. But you should definitely review how you save, protect, and back up your manuscript files.
At the very least, have copies saved externally. However, setting up a simple system as I have outlined above does not take much time at all.
If you manage your files correctly, you will be secure in the knowledge that whatever goes wrong, your manuscript will always be safe and secure.
If you have already started writing your manuscript, you can take these precautions by copying out your chapters into new files and start a new revisions file for your manuscript.
It will only take half an hour to set up the files and folders to be secure. If you do, you will avoid any possible heartaches in the future when it comes time to publish a book.