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What a Tool, part 1

November 4, 2011

When it comes to writing the choice of tools to use is wide and varied. No one approach is going to be right for everyone. We each approach the craft of writing with our own thoughts and notions, styles and working habits. The ‘What a Tool’ series of posts will look at the different tools I use as well as some of the commercial/free tools.

The kind of tool has to suit the user. Some folks are perfectly happy plugging away in Notepad or other basic text editor. And that will certainly get the job done. Other people like MS-Word, Word Perfect or Open Office Writer. We of course cannot forget pen and paper or typewriter. Though for the sake of this series I am going to stay with computer related tools.

In my own work habits I like to think that I am well-organized and put stories together from a veritable palette of tools. In truth, I am probably less organized and more pack ratish. Sticking random thoughts wherever I can in a desparate attempt not to lose that which I may consider an absolute gem of dialog, description or plot.

The first tool for discussion is the Computer Filesystem.

For writers who use their computers having a system in place to organize writing is pretty darn essential I think. I am somewhat paranoid about my aging computers, so to that end I try to make sure that I have copies of my work locally and off-site a.k.a. ‘In the Cloud’.

First let me address how I organize. It’s relatively simple. I use Windows 7, but you can apply this to WinXP, Ubuntu Linux, and other graphical OSs. The Documents folder (also called ‘My Documents’ ) is the top-level directory. Inside there I have a ‘Writing’ folder. Nestled down in that are my genre buckets: Science Fiction, Fantasy, General, Poetry etc… Then inside each of those are the individual projects, and lastly the documents themselves.

Now here is where I get into trouble. If I just left everything on the hard disk drive and pretended that disks never fail, all would be well. But we all know that drives go bad, files get corrupted. There are now many options for storing your data in the cloud. Which is to say on someone’s server. The benefits are: Backing up files, being able to retrieve the file from just about anywhere you have internet access, and in some cases like Google Docs and Windows Live: Version control/history of changes.

The down side is that you have to pay attention to keeping things in synch. It is quite easy for your files to differ from computer to computer and from computer to server. Then you may lose track of changes, overwrite newer files with old etc..

I have not figured out which service I like better yet. Microsoft Live works best in Windows 7. With their Live Mesh program and MS-Word 2010 you can keep your files locally mirrored to your files in the cloud. Which is great. And you get 25 gigabytes of storage. The one problem I have with Live Mesh is that I cannot log into the Live.com site and find the files being synched. Which is problematic for me.  On the other hand, the ease of use is terrific.

Google has a plugin that will synch your file with the Google Docs server. It will not synch a document you are editing in MS-Word 2010 that is being saved to the Live.com cloud though. It recognizes that the document is not on your hard drive and leaves it alone. There are some issues with keeping the file structure in place too. Google Docs so far has been dumping things into the same location regardless of where I store them locally. This may just be a setting issue.

The Ubuntu One system works well enough, and it has a Windows 7 compatible service. So Windows/Linux can update files in your local folders automatically. Bad news: Windows software is still very beta, storage is only 2 gig, but you can pay for more.

Frankly I like the notion of putting my documents into the Cloud for backup and retrieval from multiple locations. Keep in mind you will need an account for each of these services (Windows Live, Google Docs, Ubuntu One). Each service at its basic level is free. Make sure you read the terms of agreement before uploading anything.

I need to change the way I work to get better results. For instance, I need to make a commitment to one Cloud service and stick to it. Google Docs and Windows Live are the two serious contenders. Both have more storage than Ubuntu’s service, along with versioning/history of files. After deciding on a service I have to commit to writing and saving work to the local machine, allowing the associated applications to take care of synchronizing the files for me. I have gotten into the habit of loading a document directly from Windows Live into Word 2010. This keeps the file up-to-date on the server, but not locally.

One other method of storing files that is worth mentioning is memory card / memory stick. They are fairly inexpensive, easy to use (drag and drop!) Loss, damage and normal wear and tear are a concern. Also, they tend to be kept near the computer so in case of a major disaster both copies will be lost.(Fire, earthquake etc..)

This wraps up tool number one: File Storage. I tend to like storing a copy of my work in the Cloud, but I need to sort myself out so that I am not fragmenting my work over too many locations.

BTW: Still writing at least once a day!

Thanks for dropping in! Hope this post is of some use to you.

s.

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