Ode To Notepad (or, A Story Of Versioning)

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2014 at 10:00 am

A while back I took a class in project management software, which sounds very boring. Software in general is kind of boring to me, though the class was decent. What I really found interesting was the crash course in actual project management that inevitably came along with it, which was a mixture of revelation and “do people really need to be told that?

It was especially relevant that we received a lecture on “versioning” about halfway through the morning. The lecturer recommended that every time you make significant edits to the software file, you should save a new version of the file. This does get a little ridiculous eventually, but it’s a sound technique and I realized I’ve never really talked about “versioning” stories and novels.

For short stories, mainly fanfic, I have a process that adjusts every few years depending on resources, but which has essentially stayed structurally stable since since the days of Windows 3.0 and the usenet. It’s the way I grew up writing because back then there were certain constraints surrounding internet posts, and only one program, one beautiful, tiny, universal program, could handle those constraints:


Thank Christ Microsoft hasn’t phased Notepad out because I’m not sure what I’d do. Back in the day, I programmed HTML in Notepad, but I also wrote fiction in Notepad because the usenet, where fanfic was mainly posted, couldn’t handle HTML. You indicated /italics/ and *bold* with symbols, and forget centering text or embedding images. You sometimes had a 72-character limit per line, and Notepad’s fixed-width font made that easy to determine.

So I got used to working with a very simple, very universal form of text. Especially since, at the time, Microsoft Word ate pretty significant processing power and tended to make itself lag, let alone any other program.

Once I’ve finished the initial notepad draft, the story goes to edits: usually into a googledocs file for my betas to discuss. Once that’s done, short stories get posted as permanently “published” works and rarely get edited unless there’s something offensive or drastically unclear or embarrassingly bad. (It happens.)

My novels undergo a more extensive process, which includes a lot of versions. This used to be just how I worked; now I do it intentionally, because versioning is awesome.

Since I write in a notepad file to start with and then usually post to LiveJournal for public reading (the Extribulum process), the formatting tags like italics and centered text are all in HTML. This is useful, since once I put it into a Word document for further editing I can select an entire novel at once, format it as twelve-point Garamond (my preferred typesetting font) and not have to worry I’ll lose italic formatting. Formatting tags are usually the last thing to go when I’m typesetting; after all, they’re very useful for locating where italic formatting is supposed to be.

The thing about editing, for most writers, is that it’s really, really hard to delete prose you like, even when you know you have to. It’s also hard to delete prose if you don’t like it but can’t remember if it might be relevant later in the story. The process I use helps me retain old copies; I can copy a novel from notepad to Googledocs, then tuck the original txt file away as version one. Googledocs is version two, and then Word is version 3 through version Whatever The Final Draft Ends Up Being. Between edits and typesetting, I’m usually publishing out to my readers something between version ten and version thirty.

Versioning helps because with all these old copies, neatly stored in small txt files or on GDrive, I can delete what I need to delete in the knowledge that my brilliance, however unnecessary, is still there somewhere. If I ever need it, it’s there, but it’s small and unobtrusive in the meantime.

This may seem obvious to some, but it took me a while to develop it. So now I pass it on to you.

As I copy this essay from my “WordPress essays” file into my WordPress Posting Page.


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