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Confessions of a digital hoarder

Years ago I represented a memoir by a man writing about his mother who had a habit of stealing rocks from famous places around the world. Think Stonehenge. She was a compulsive collector of things, and might today be described as a hoarder. This is a topic of interest, as evidenced by a book Jane represented called The Secret Lives of Hoarders by Matt Paxton, as well as the successful TLC show Hoarding: Buried Alive.

I was intrigued by this recent piece in a Publisher’s Weekly blog by Barbara Vey that talks about digital hoarding. We are all immersed in technology, even those of us who fight against it, and it does threaten at times to take over our life (my client Dr. Larry Rosen talks about these things in his books like iDisorder about the “psychology of technology”).

Just last night, I was trying to share pictures from our vacation in Maine and was so frustrated that we have over 11,000 pictures on our new computer and no way to easily organize them. At last glance, I had over 50,000 e-mails in my in-box!

So, how do you writers handle digital storage when you’re writing? Do you save each draft of a novel, or just the current one? Do you organize by book so you have all your drafts and notes in one place? Do you back it up so you don’t risk deleting or losing your work? I imagine that this is a fear that keeps many writers up at night, the thought of losing your life’s work! And how does it all compare to the days of writing by hand? I recently talked about writers who still work that way, hard copies only, which can lead to a whole other kind of hoarding, not to mention all those trees that give their life for the paper trail.

Please do share your thoughts on digital hoarding, as well as any suggestions you have on  organizing your work electronically to avoid it. I, for one, could use some advice!

12 Responses to Confessions of a digital hoarder

  1. Joelle says:

    I think my mother is a digital hoarder because she keeps every podcast she ever downloads. I delete everything once I’m done.

    I actually used to delete all email except really important stuff (like from my agent or editor), but then my best friend died last year and I realized I didn’t have any emails from her. It made me very sad, so now I have a file folder for everyone and as soon as I answer the email, I move it to the file.

    As for writing, I make a new copy of my draft each day when I start work, and at the end of the day, I email it to my yahoo account. Once I’ve got about five to ten drafts in there, I delete all but the most recent. I still have all the drafts for each day for each book on my hard drive, but it hardly takes up any room at all.

    As for hard copies, once a book is done, I get rid of the edits from my editor. I reuse the paper to print whatever new WIP I’m working on. My mother says I have no sentiment, but I also have a very clean writing space. :-) I am more likely to err on the side of getting rid of things, which drives my husband crazy.

    Here’s a good example. I got a very nice review of my latest book in a national magazine. I wasn’t sure if they’d send me a copy or not, so I bought it at the bookstore. Then they sent me one. I said to my husband, “Oh, I guess I’ll just give this second one to the library.” He was aghast that I didn’t want to have TWO copies! And I was equally aghast that he expected me to store two.

  2. Gill Avila says:

    I just wonder what a modern writer’s heirs will do when they donate the writer’s work to a library of university. Will they hand over a stack of hard drives?

  3. Ang says:

    Well, an answer to your digital pictures problem might be an external hard drive, or portable flash drives. You can label the flash drives with “Maine: 2012″ or some descriptor. Also, sub-folders on the hard drive would help, too. It’s just the matter of taking the time to do it, which is the annoying aspect. You could ask someone computer savvy in your family, there’s usually a nerdy nephew in the family tree, to organize it for you. E-mail is much the same way. Sub-folders and Filtering is really the way to go. A lot of email programs, or web-based emails, will let you filter emails into certain sub-boxes/folders according to text in the subject or a particular address. Email programs, such as Outlook, have these things called “Rules,” which you set up and then it filters incoming mail to be “marked as read” or sent into a sub-folder. It’s really cool, but, again, requires a few minutes to activate. Set-up is easy, and usually the program will provide help with it. Or that nerdy nephew can help you.

    As for me, I keep almost all copies of everything I write, both on the hard drive and on a flash drive. I had a computer expire on me once and I about lost all my writing (but I have a nerdy brother who helped recover items on the hard drive), so backing up stories is important to me now. Because I heavily edit my manuscripts, taking out upwards of ten thousand words, I like to keep the original long versions just for posterity, in case there’s a scene that I really liked but, for whatever reason, I deemed unworthy to be in the “very edited” edition.

    My research is rather disorganized, still. Currently, I have a folder on my desk that’s filled with paper research. This is easier to browse through for one specific item while I’m writing, literally at the keyboard writing, than it is to browse through websites. I have a dedicated “Research” folder to hold all my web bookmarks. But it still feels a little haphazard. I think that’s just part and parcel to the digital era. You know that old adage about computers is true: They were supposed to simplify our lives, our work environments, but, in reality, they just create more work and more paper!

    Also, I love this agency’s blog. Every time I come here, someone’s written a very interesting entry!

  4. Bree says:

    I just backed up my comment here before pressing Post Comment and the captcha was incorrect, so I was sent back. Lo and behold my comment was gone! Not a great feature for a blog. I’m a backup freak anyway.

    I use external 1TB hard drives in a Thermalake BLACX dock to hoard all my own projects which are many, and my collections of music and so on. I’m currently editing a novel. The main working copy is on an external hard drive. I make a backup regularly, probably twice a day to a flashdrive which is always plugged into the system so it’s very easy. Every few days I back up to a server computer in the states. It’s also possible to use Google Cloud or some similar freebie to back things up and have the added feature of access through many devices.

  5. All of this. I have copies on my hard drive, external hard drive, flash drive, and sometimes my netbook. Each book gets its own folder and each draft its own file. It just keeps me organized and more secure.

    I noticed I already hoard free e-books and am making an effort to be more discerning. It doesn’t matter if I would never pick up the book in print, even if it were free. If it’s an ebook, I’ll often snag a copy and keep it on my desktop juuuuust in case it ever interests me. With email, I’m already pretty good at getting rid of things I don’t need as they come in (newsletters, etc.), so I just need to apply that philosophy elsewhere.

  6. Aonghus Fallon says:

    If I’m going to perform radical surgery on an ms, I’ll always make a copy of the original beforehand – this makes it easier to take risks with the story. I back up on an external hard-drive every few months. I keep my preliminary notes because it’s sometimes interesting to see how a particular issue was resolved. Also, notes can clarify a feature of a story which might not make sense on re-reading. For example, a minor character’s motivation.

    My biggest problem is getting rid of hardcopy files. I print stuff out every so often – scene outlines, occasionally an entire ms. I can’t imagine the binmen being interested in my literary endeavours but prefer not to just throw this stuff out. I bought a shredder but it can only manage around five pages at a time
    You’re not allowed light large fires outdoors in Ireland (helicopters fly overhead regularly) and I ended up stuffing a bunch of papers in a flowerpot and trying to set it alight. It wasn’t a success. Thick wads of foolscap are suprisingly hard to burn.

  7. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    As far as pictures on our computers, note the plural (my husband is a techie), we organize by trip or event and year. Its easy as long as wet them downloaded as soon as we get back.

    For back ups, we have a 2 terabit hard drive that we save just about everything to, not to mention the dozens of jump drives that litter our house. I have at least three in my netbook bag right now that are for specific works (homework from when I was in graduate school, psychological reports from my internship, and my manuscript). Personally, I find that organizing by jump drive works best for me. I just make sure each one is different, whether by style or color.

    Now my manuscript (or my “baby” as I often refer to it) is an entity unto itself. Of course, I have my working copy, which is ever changing, saved to my desktop. I also have a separate “Beta” copy so I play with font and spacing. I also it saved to two jump drives. One stays in my netbook bag and the other is in a zipper pocket in my purse; heaven forbid I be without it. I try to keep an up to date working copy on both. Then there are the hard copies, which I have three previous revisions of. I actually prefer to edit using hard copies when I can financially afford it. This is probably where I fall into the “hoarder” category. I like to be able to go back and see what I had before and the reasons I gave for changing, lest I make the same mistake again. Then there are my notebooks; pockets, lined paper, and pen/pencil hooked to the spiral binding. Yes, I still do a lot of writing by hand. Why? Because I do what I have to so I can write. I work part-time in a department store and, for some reason, my mangers frown on me taking my netbook to the floor and working at the counter. However, they don’t really say anything when its my notebook. If it helps me get a scene worked out, or even just jotting down an idea so I don’t forget, I will risk the carpal-tunnel.

  8. Everything for a book goes into a file (named after the book) on my computer — the book proposal, draft contracts, final contract, notes, digital research, outline, every draft, etc. I have not had pictures in there in the past, but I will be doing it with this book, which will have 70 pics. And in addition to having an external hard drive for backup, I also have Carbonite for off-site backup in case of fire, tornado, etc.

  9. Stacey says:

    Thanks to all of you for writing. There’s a lot of good info here. So much to consider. Who knew writing was such a technical thing? I guess it’s the world we live in. And there are great ways to save and store ideas. My problem is trying to manage them all!

  10. Pingback: A virtual mess: Are you a secret digital hoarder? « Notes Quotes 2020

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