Save Yourself

My number-one rule for computers is

Save early, save often.

In case you didn’t know, “auto-save” too often results in “auto-lose.” I beg of you, please do not rely on your program’s auto-save “feature,” unless you really want to lose your work.

Almost every program uses Ctrl-S to save. If yours doesn’t, find out what the keystroke is and use it. A lot. Or find the little icon on the toolbar that saves the file, and click it every few minutes. I am not joking or exaggerating: save your work every few minutes. Computers are unpredictable and apt to get wonky at just the wrong moment.

Every so often, close your file entirely (just the file, not the program itself), go out into your file manager, select the file, copy it, and paste it. You can let the computer automagically assign a new name to the copy. Then open the original file back up and work some more.

file manager screenshot
Copies of this post in the editing stages

As you can see in the screenshot above, I made several copies while writing this post. (I do my personal writing in LibreOffice, which is why the file extensions are “odt.”)

If you don’t like the automagic names assigned by your file manager, you can use any naming convention you like. If you want consecutive numbers for each version, append “01” “02” “03” up to “09” then “10” “11” “12” and so on to the file name. Why “01” through “09”? Because if you ever sort your files by their names, “02” will be second in the list, instead of coming after “10” “11” “12” and other version numbers starting with “1” because of the zero-filling. If you want the date instead, then append it in the form of YYYYMMDD (or YYYYMMDDHHMM to include the time) to the file name, using “01” to “09” for January through September month numbers and “01” to “09” before the tenth of the month (and “01” to “09” for times before 10 am and “01” to “09” for minutes before ten past the hour). Again, zero-filling means that if you sort by file name, they’ll sort chronologically (or reverse chronologically) correctly.

It’s Especially Important in My Paid Job

When I’m editing or proofing a book in my professional life, I make a copy of the whole manuscript in the file manager when I finish each chapter. Yes, every single chapter. Occasionally I save copies of the whole manuscript several times in one chapter (if I had to correct a bunch of footnotes, for example).

Why? Because along with any other gifts and talents I may possess, I am exceptionally good at locking up a certain word processor, which shall remain nameless but whose initials are Microsoft Word. (And when I do, I usually think a bad word, and in some situations, I say it out loud. Sometimes I accompany the salty language with a particular hand gesture. Occasionally with both hands.)

If you have crafted an especially fine sentence, finally figured out that spreadsheet formula, perfectly laid out a slide in your presentation program, I BEG YOU,


and only THEN reopen your file and continue working. (I’m shouting in all caps because I really mean it.)

E-Mail the File to Yourself

I also e-mail critical files to myself periodically, but I don’t actually download them. Instead, I go to my webmail page and move the message with the attachment to a folder called “Backups” for easy offsite storage on my ISP’s server. (I suppose that’s what “the cloud” is for, as well as those paid services that run small programs to continuously make automatic backups. But read the next section, just in case those options don’t do what they’re supposed to.)

 Are You SURE That Feature Works Correctly?

Most of the programs that I use have options like “Save as” or even “Save a Copy” right there in the File menu. I have never used them, and I never will. Why? Because I used to be a computer programmer, and I sometimes (OK, often) didn’t think about things exactly the way my users did. How do I know that the fine folks who created my program made their “Save as” or “Save a Copy” do what *I* think it should do? Just in case they didn’t, I do the job myself.

It only takes me a few seconds to save the file, close it, switch to my always-open file manager, click on the file, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, and double-click the file (the original, not the copy I just made) to reopen it.*

Get into the “save early, save often” habit now, and save yourself bucketfuls of grief.


* In my file manager, Ctrl-C copies a file, and Ctrl-V pastes it. I’ve also set the option in my file manager to open a file when I double-click it. Your keystrokes and clicking technique may vary.

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