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SOUTHERN MAGIC: Tips & Tools of the Trade


By JoAnn Weatherly

Letís face it. Thereís not a single author out there who writes because she loves to organize computer files, back up hard drives and install software. But in the 21st century, such things are crucial to a writerís success. So just how do the pros deal with these all-too-tedious tasks? Recently some of Southern Magicís published authors shared their tried-and-true methods with me.

THE TOOLS: To record their stories, almost all authors today use some type of computer -- whether it sits on a desk or in your lap -- and a word processing software program. Granted, thatís not a news flash. But the variety of computers available can be just a little intimidating. Linda Howard (Pocket) uses two desktop computers as well as a laptop. Some authors, such as Deborah Matthews (Kensington Precious Gems Historical, Zebra) and Gayle Wilson (Harlequin Historical and Intrigue), use electronic notebooks or similar portable word processing equipment.

Regarding software, Southern Magic published authors are pretty well split down the middle between Microsoft Word and WordPerfect. Lyn Stone (Harlequin Historicals, Silhouette Intimate Moments) says "I have used Microsoft Word, but prefer WordPerfect because is seems simpler to me. The number of lines per page is easier to manipulate in WordPerfect and I like 25 lines per page. This is how publishers count instead of using the computer word count.

On the other hand, Mary Snyder (Career Press) uses Word 2000 because this is the industry standard. I have used Word since 6.0, which I think dates back to early civilization . . .

DRUDGERY VS. DISASTER: Saving files and backing up is scut work, yes, but absolutely necessary in a cyber-world full of viruses, hard-drive crashes and corrupted files, not to mention the real-world threats of plain olí theft and fire. Many writers take advantage of the auto-save features available in most word processing programs. Sherry Sands (Kensington Precious Gems) backs up every two pages and prints out a hard copy at the end of each day. Bonnie Gardner (Harlequin American, Silhouette Intimate Moments; also writing as Bonnie Purcell for Kensington Precious Gems), Debra Webb (Kensington Precious Gems, Harlequin Intrigue and American) and Catherine Mann (Silhouette Intimate Moments) back up their works-in-progress daily. Catherine then backs up to a zip drive weekly and copies to a CD when she completes the manuscript. Allison Knight (Starlight Writers Publications, Kensington Precious Gems, Zebra) also backs up to a CD when her book is finished.

"I use two backup disks," says Bonnie, "and alternate in case one of the disks fails. That way, I only lose one dayís work." Bonnie also depends on a backup power source in case the electricity goes out while sheís working.

Methods of dealing with real-world disaster fears vary from author to author. "You never want to think about disasters, and I donít on a daily basis," says Gayle Wilson. "However, I have started carrying the current work-in-progress with me on a disk when we go out of town. I know people who e-mail backup copies of each chapter to their moms or critique partners.Ē

Mary Snyder sends files to a close friend who also writes. "She doesnít actually open the files; she just holds them on her hard drive.Ē In violent-weather-prone north Alabama, Lyn Stone takes tornado warnings seriously and keeps her backup floppy handy in case she has to evacuate the house. CHAPTERS AND FOLDERS: Whatís the best way to organize a manuscript? (Remember, weíre discussing the un-glam here -- Iím not talking about plot.) The method most Southern Magic published authors use is to create a folder for each book and keep the chapters within the folders as separate documents. However, Bonnie Gardner and Catherine Mann prefer that each of their manuscripts be contained in single documents. ďI tend to rewrite and revise and move chapters and scenes around and having to open and close different documents for different chapters seems to be more trouble than itís worth,Ē says Bonnie. ďI do save the final document on disk as separate chapters to turn in, but I do that when Iím finished.Ē The bottom line? Stay organized. Save and back up often. Print hard copies. A simple strategy, but with lots of room for customizing to fit your own particular needs. And, perhaps most important, these steps could spare you untold misery if a virus shows up in your e-mailbox. Or a love-lorn thief, anxious to see your next book before it hits the stores, shows up at your backdoor. Taken from Southern Magic Newsletter: Magic Moments - Volume 2 - Issue 5 - May 1999