Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering and Keeping Track of the Crazy

For those observing the solemn 9/11/2001 anniversary, have a look at this. 12 minutes of video, narrated by Tom Hanks. It's something I never knew - BoatLift, which evacuated people from the seawalls and piers of Lower Manhattan. It's boats and boaters. Helping people. That's near and dear to my heart.
WARNING: May be trigger-y!

Keeping track of the crazy. 
Former SQL Database Administrator and Developer here. So you'd imagine that I have a bullet-proof structured system for data input and retrieval. Indexed. Primary keys. I never lose anything.
Somehow, there's a stigma attached to bring techie solutions into creative endeavors. Maybe because databases are their own rabbit hole that can and will suck your writing time right out of you. However. There are a few useful lessons that came from the database trenches. They do actually dictate how I maintain series data.
1. Never build a database when a flat file will do - this has nothing to do with how much data you have to store and everything to do with how you access that data. Spreadsheets and most text files are searchable, so unless you need to connect data across files or across series, you aren't likely to need the kind of storage and search functionality a database offers. DISCLOSURE: My series bibles are in Excel.
2. One copy is no copy - unless you're saving your files to a striped, mirrored hard drive array, you are one truly crappy day away from having no books, no series bibles, and no hope of escaping a nervous breakdown. Case in point: day before my very first phone call with the lovely lady who would become my editor, this guy decided to reformat my hard drive. 
A rare photo of computer literate cat doing literate things at the computer keyboard.
Gods love modern technology, modern cloud storage solutions make it so you don't have to turn your garage into a refrigerated server farm in order to protect your work. I use Dropbox, but it could be any cloud based storage. These services offer version control as well as remote access to your data and a modicum of protection from catastrophic hardware (or feline) disaster. HOWEVER. In no way is this an adequate substitute for a solid backup plan. It can be a part of a backup and recovery plan, but a backup service that does automated, time-stamped snapshots of your hard drive reduces your chances of crying, face down, in a bottle of vodka. It isn't ideal, I admit. My back up plan isn't as robust as it should be. Because I work between two computers, they operate as backups of one another. It's great. Until the boat sinks. So this is a case of please don't do as I do. I aspire to having a better back up solution in place. Working on the details.
3. Structure your files - If you organize your file tree, half of your organizational work is done for you. I prefer to keep all of my writing related files under one home file folder. This is for ease of back up. I can designate one target file folder and know that all of the subfolders (which encompass every single WIP ever) will be backed up. It also makes it far easier to move vital data from one machine to another when the inevitable happens and you have to replace a machine. Having to hunt through every last file folder to make sure I have every story tidbit makes me cranky. Did it once. Learned my lesson. It's simple stuff. A typical WIP file structure will have couple of elements. I name the file folder whatever the working title is going to be. There's a history subfolder and  business subfolder. If the WIP is a series, the file is named for the series. Each book within the series gets its own working title subfolder, then history and business (for each book). The Excel spreadsheet that holds the series bible goes into the file folder for the entire series, as do any other tidbits of data accumulated for the series.
This is all pretty basic stuff. The true issue is this: It doesn't matter how brilliant your organization is. If you don't consistently and methodically keep your data entry up to the minute, all the structures and naming conventions in the world will not help you. A series bible that is just a bunch of stuff dumping into a document but that's updated every second a new THING turns up in your series is vastly superior to the elegant database that only gets updated once in a great while - usually after you've forgotten half of what you'd meant to record.


  1. Had never heard anything much about the boat lift on 9/11...thanks for sharing that today.

    1. I hadn't either. Thought it was cool in that wish it had never been necessary sort of way.