Friday, June 03, 2011

Washing The Elephant

"Writing a book is like washing an elephant. There's no good place to begin or end and it's hard to keep track of what you've already covered." - Unknown

I've used Word Perfect since 1987, but the world seems to have left me behind. When I bought a new computer last year, I had it loaded with Microsoft Word. I began to learn it and then a friend told me about Open Office. I downloaded that and began to use it as well. Unfortunately, I didn't realize I was alternating between the two programs. They were both unfamiliar in similar ways and I accidentally saved two different versions of the memoir about my father with the same name, one in each program. Not realizing my error, I continued working in both documents, at times one, at times another, for about nine months before I realized my error. Luckily, those were some of the least productive writing months I'd had in years and so I didn't make many changes. The Word compare function tells me there are ONLY 1,724 differences between the two documents. Still.

Like many problems, this one shouldn't have happened. I'm rather compulsive about recording changes. I number the documents sequentially the same way we did when I was an attorney: Version 1. Version 1.1. Version 1.2, etc. Then I update a document called "Version List" in which I, allegedly, track the changes I've made. Notwithstanding all my tracking, I now have two documents which need to be combined. Did I mention that these are 82,000 word documents? That's approximately 260 double spaced pages. Sigh.

I'm still stewing about the most efficient way to solve this problem and, in the process, wasting valuable time. Bottom line, we all make mistakes. It's time for me to accept reality, compare each document with the version before it, and start cutting and pasting to make a brand new document. Can I see this as an opportunity? Can I wind up with a version better than any of the versions before? The only way to know is to do the work. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Have you ever blundered in your writing process and lived to tell about it? I'd love to hear how you handled it.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nita. I write screenplays with a writing partner who lives in Iowa, and with all the versions going back and forth between us, it's been the bane of our writing life together to track them. Somehow, we have been able to finish several screenplays and several treatments this way. So I sympathize. I also sympathize about WordPerfect. Wasn't that a wonderful program. I was "brought up" in WordPerfect in my "other life" in the insurance industry. I have hated MSWord from Day One. The only reason that program is out there and WordPerfect isn't is due to Bill Gates' wealth and influence. WordPerfect is FAR superior to work with, in my opinion. But Bill doesn't care about my opinion. He's now basking in all of his WordPerfect wealth. I can't tell you the number of times I curse at my computer when I'm using MSWord and thinking how much EASIER a particular function was in WordPerfect. Oh well.

Nita said...

Thanks for the empathy. I really miss WordPerfect. Glad to know I'm not alone in this quest for version tracking!

Faith Van Horne said...

Nita, I've also switched from Word to Open Office (I'd been using Works before, because that's what the computers I bought came loaded with). My favorite feature of Open Office: I can download it onto any computer I use or might buy in the future without 1)entering a 30-character long alphanumeric sequence; or 2) being a criminal.

I actually ran into a similar problem when I was revising my second novel. I didn't realize that I was working from an old version of my text. Luckily, I was able to find the most updated version and merge my changes with little difficulty. Good luck on your own work; sorry I can't offer any advice.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered Scrivener? I believe he broke down and created a version for Microsoft, Wendy

Nita said...

@Faith - Glad to hear you figured your situation out.

@Anonymous - I use yWriter which is very similar to Scrivener for most of the work, but I'm on version 13.1 and I'd switched over to Word Perfect around version 12 thinking it was nearly done. Ha!

B. WHITTINGTON said...

Had to tell you again how much I love the Washing the Elephant quote. It's the best yet when it comes to writing, esp a novel.
I share all your quotes with my Logan (OH) writing group.
They're always off the wall and way better than anything I find.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your writing knowledge. AND I've told you before I too love the teachings of Natalie Goldberg.
Blessings. Barb

B. WHITTINGTON said...

PS.
Duh, I finally figured out what you mean by Bum Glue. I'm slow.

Pen said...

Nita,
Well, there have been some "spa cleansing" moments in my life when our PC crashed and I lost writings. There have also been enlightening moments because of the change in technology such as knowing there are writings I saved on tiny square disks which will never see the light of a hard copy. Each time I have "lost" something I "find" that I probably didn't need it. I just have to believe that when I was writing the stuff it helped me deal with me. The action of writing is so therapeutic for me that I have to value the fact that when I wrote something it helped me at the time. If the text never reaches another person's eyes I have to believe that the purpose of those words was already met.
That said, I have to say your task at hand sounds daunting, but I know you are up to the challenge and I throughly believe your book will be better because of this experience.
Hugs,
Pen