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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

 

We’ve all heard the age old trope, “Back up your work.” This has been repeated as long as computers existed in the writers’ world.

It’s so easy to say, “Yeah, I know.” It’s just as easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Especially with today’s beyond busy lifestyles.

We all get it. We’ve all been there, busy as all heck. As a writer, you are probably juggling the “paying job”, school, family, kids, pets, friends, other activities, and all (or many of) the things that make your house function day to day (you know, the dreaded laundry list of cleaning, cooking, shopping, and other chores). And all this is in addition to trying to put that precious time into writing, editing, revising, more revising, schmoozing, and promoting yourself.

Nothing brings home that reminder to back up your work like having a sudden unexpected computer emergency.

 

 

 

I have been dealing with this for the past weeks. I even have a dedicated external hard drive that exists for just that very purpose – to back up my work. It used to be a dual purpose drive, until one of my kids decided to ‘borrow’ it and dropped it. Everything on the drive was irretrievably lost, but luckily the important stuff, writerly stuff and family photos, were only backed up on it and not the only copy.

So, I bought a new external hard drive and declared it a, “Keep your hands off my frigging hard drive this is for writing and photos backup only!” drive. I dutifully backed up all my important stuff.

Once. Like a year ago. (Or was it longer?) Okay, it was definitely longer.

 

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Flash forward to yesterweek, when my laptop decided to die an unplanned and untimely death. I faced the loss of more than a year of my life. Three books that I completely redid, spiffing them up better than before, after getting my rights back, plus the completion of the fourth in the series. Three other books finished and published since I backed up, and another book on the verge of publication.  Plus the hours spent on other writing projects and my writing bookkeeping files, among so much more.

At least it was better than completely and totally losing everything, my entire writing library and my self. I still had the older stuff from when I backed up, however long ago that was.

I was lucky this time. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last time I am caught unprepared and un-backed up. Once again, my work was saved. My awesome fantastic can fix and make anything better mechanic (yeah, I know, that is not a professional computer person) came to my rescue and was able to retrieve all my files. It looks like it wasn’t the laptop hard drive that quit, thank goodness. The bad news is the laptop itself is un-repairable.

Once again, I have everything backed up. I swore to back up every day. I’ll probably push for backing up every week once I am back up and fully functional again, and hopefully between life and everything I can keep to that.

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

And so, I will leave you with this extremely very don’t lose yourself and everything you are by losing all your writing files important piece of advice: BACK UP YOUR WORK! REGULARLY! PLEASE.

Not just once. One backup copy is great. Two is better. Best, is to have those all important backup, backup’s backup, and your backup’s backup’s backup. But, what if your house burns down? An offsite backup is good too and maybe another, and … okay, we might be going overboard now, maybe.

 

 

 

But there are alternatives. There are the now getting bigger and better thumb drives. But in my world those are much too easily lost. External hard drives are bigger and harder to lose.

How regularly you back up your work depends on how much time you put into writing. If you do a spattering of words here or there, you probably don’t need to back it up so often.  However, if you write daily or near to daily, I would recommend a weekly backup. Or more. More is better. If you just put in hours writing voraciously, I would suggest backing up at the end of your writing session. Trust me on that.

 

Now, let’s talk backup drives.

There are basically two classifications of hard drives:

HDD: Hard Disk Drive: These drives have more capacity and are cheaper. They are basically a bunch of magnetic discs spinning like a CD with a head that reads and writes data on the magnetic surface of the disks. They are slower and require the head to be reset to a new location every time you want to read or write data. If you drop these they are probably now a paperweight! Moving parts = it breaks if it is jarred too hard or dropped, particularly when the head is not parked off the disc. Think of a vinyl record needle skipping across, only it’s a much more fragile CD disk instead of a more durable vinyl record.

SSD: Solid State Drives: These are probably your better option for a hard drive. Too bad you will probably only find it as an option for an internal drive, but I do strongly recommend it if you are working on a laptop. Data is stored in memory (flash) chips, so there are no moving parts to damage. They also cost more and are faster, but don’t come in the capacities of HDDs.

However, backing up means external backup drives.

There are two main types of external hard drives:

Both are based on SATA drives (the most common connectors used in laptops) and external drives are of the HDD type.

2.5″ magnetic drives: These are smaller drives powered by the port they are connected to, so they are more portable external hard drives. They mostly connect using USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) or USB 3.0 (5 Gbps)

3.5″ drives: These are a larger version of the 2.5”, but require their own power supply. So, instead of being powered through the USB plugged into your computer, there is a second power cord.

While the 2.5″ is more convenient, portable, and easily stored, the 3.5″ is typically more heavy duty and reliable, and tends to be faster because of the dedicated power supply. If you could find an SSD external hard drive, you would be golden! JUST DON’T DROP IT! (Like I said, paperweight. Just ask my kid.)

But now if you want a backup to your backup, something protected from break-in thefts, fire, you name it, you are looking at offsite storage. While you could keep a backup drive at a friend’s or relative’s house, it’s not very convenient for doing those regular back ups.

Luckily for us writers, there is a Cloud for that.

There are options that are free, available for minimal costs, and the pricier options, all depending what meets your needs. Once I am fully up and running again, I will definitely be looking into the cloud backup option in addition to my external hard drive backup. The downside to backing up on the Cloud is it requires internet to access it.

Here is PC Mag’s list of The Best Cloud Storage and File-Sharing Services for 2019:
https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/306323/the-best-cloud-storage-providers-and-file-syncing-services

Some of you probably use an online writing platform, so you don’t have the fear of losing everything when and if your computer or other device decides to die an untimely and unplanned death.

Even users of online writing programs and platforms need to back up their writing files somewhere else in addition to having it there. I have seen people in writing groups online desperately seeking ways to retrieve lost files when something went wrong on those sites and their writing project was lost.

So, no matter how or where you write, back up your files. Back up your back up. And, maybe even back up that too. You will thank yourself some day, probably.

 

 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

The search for a new laptop is entirely another thing. 

I researched any and every use I could possibly use it for and the recommended specs, which is quit different from the minimum specs.  Minimum specs are the minimum it needs to function, and that’s about all you will get. It will function. Barely.  The “recommended specs” is what it needs to function properly and usably. And then I looked for something a little better than that for a cheap price because I’m a writer and I’m broke.

DO NOT buy the first “affordable” computer you find that meets your specs. No. Nope. Bad idea.

DO thoroughly seek out reviews on the computer you are considering purchasing and ask questions. Like, “What is an ‘unfriendly keyboard’?” I saw that on a review and it sent a chill down my back even a Stephen King novel cannot elicit.

Further reviews on that particular item included a lot of complaints like, “I have to use Cortana to do anything because the keyboard is crap!” A laptop with a useless glitchy non-responsive keyboard. For a writer. The thought is more terrifying than any story I can write.

Another laptop that had a mix of both a lot of glowing reviews and bad reviews included a few reviews warning that they were offering a FREE $100 headset to anyone who gives them a glowing five-star review. I ignored every single good review after that and read only the bad ones. And they were bad. And a lot.

We finally found one that ran me $1121 CAD after taxes with free shipping to the store. The only bad reviews were the pad on the laptop not working. I don’t use the pad. I don’t like the pad. That I can live with. It’s only been a few days, but so far the pad works. Hopefully it keeps working for those rare moments my mouse dies an untimely and unplanned death, leaving me mouse-less and forced to use that horrid pad.

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Photo by Trần Toàn on Unsplash

Photo by Trần Toàn on Unsplash

Have you opened that Microsoft Word document to start editing or writing to find to your horror that you are staring at those ugly glaring little red squiggles bringing to your attention two words strung together missing the space between?

Then the horror deepens when you realize the document is littered with them. You think, “What the Hell?! That wasn’t there before.”

You second guess yourself. “That wasn’t like that before, right?”

You wonder if you missed it. But how? And so many?

No, you aren’t losing your mind, and yes, maybe Word is gaslighting you.

It is real. It’s a thing. You are not trapped in The Twighlight Zone or in a Tales from the Dark Side.

If you are like me and running ancient software, you will occasionally run into issues caused by the age of your program. Sometimes these problems come up only when you have to reinstall them.

Due to an unforeseen computer problem, I had to reinstall my Microsoft Office. I’m running 2007. Sometimes I’m on another machine running Word 2010.

I now find myself regularly coming up against this problem: When I open a Word document last saved in one version in the other, Word is losing spaces in the translation from one Word version to the other. A lot of spaces.

This is a huge formatting and editing headache when you are getting an entire novel ready for publication.

After some research I learned the issue is a known glitch in Word 2007 and specific to the conversion between 2007 and 2010 versions.

The good news is Microsoft developed a fix for it and it was likely fixed in a patch to Word 2007 years ago.

Now here is the bad news: I found the Office fix, installing the patch, but it won’t work.

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/2633585/spaces-are-missing-between-some-words-when-you-open-a-word-2010-docume

The problem with this fix is that Microsoft is no longer supporting Word 2007, so the patch is no longer available.

Since installing the patch is no longer possible, that leaves other workarounds involving either getting creative or spending money.

1) The Money Fix: Throw money at your computer. Literally. No? Okay, figuratively.

You can uninstall Office and purchase a bare bones one device only Word, Excel, and PowerPoint only Office package with no service available for the one time purchase price of $169 CAD.

Alternatively, you can get more with a monthly subscription for $8 per month ($79/year) or even more for $11 per month ($109/year)

*prices at the time of the article

https://products.office.com/en-ca/buy/office

While I’m not a “starving artist”, I am an author and I am broke. So, I’m going to look at what is behind door number 2.

2) The Creative Fix:

Workaround 1: Before saving that Word document you can do a “replace all” to replace all single spaces with double spaces. After opening the document in the other Word program repeat the replace all changing all double spaces with single spaces. This is clunky and impractical, but a workaround. You will have to do it every time you will be working on or sending to someone using a machine with the other Word version. And, there is no guarantee it won’t occasionally drop a double spaced double-space.

Note: to make this work I had to show all paragraph marks and other hidden formatting symbols before doing the replace all.

Workaround 2: Both Word 2007 and 2010 saves files as a .docx document. So it’s not as simple as looking at the extension on the file name.

I will note here that the curious thing is the issue with Word dropping spaces does not happen with every document I have. It seems random and yet specific to certain documents. This led me to this fix.

I tried saving as .doc

Instead of just saving as “Word Document” (.docx extension), I selected save as “Word 97-2003 Document” (.doc extension)

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/deployoffice/compat/office-file-format-reference

While this is not a perfect workaround, and it will show “[Compatibility Mode]” at the top of your document, it fixes the problem for now until I can afford to update my Office program to the current decade.

I’m pretty sure when I tested this theory Word knew what I was doing, because when I opened the document (.docx) last saved in Word 2010 in Word 2007, EVERY SINGLE SPACE WAS GONE. Not just random spaces, every one.

The Word 97-2003 document (.doc) on the other hand was just fine.

Go technology!

Dialogue can be a tricky beast. Knowing how to punctuate it can leave a writer scratching their head and second guessing themselves.

Here is a helpful post link for punctuating dialogue.

http://theeditorsblog.net/2010/12/08/punctuation-in-dialogue/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/06/23/charlesdickens-outraged-cheap-parodies-made-victorian-publisher/

https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/6/24/18715584/amazon-counterfeit-book-problem-nyt-project-zero

<SKIP THE VERBIAGE CHATTER AND GET TO BUSINESS>

As a writer, one of the tools in your self-promotion arsenal is newsletters.  I’m late on the ball on this one, mainly because of that fear I will make an idiot of myself. No one will want to read it. No one will even sign up and I’ll be sending it only to myself, or maybe to two or three people who will never even read it. If they do read it, they will think it is completely lame and stupid, rubbish. And, I’ll probably never manage to even send one out often enough for my existence to not be completely forgotten because I will never be able to think of anything to say.

Writers can be full of self-doubts.

One of the most popular mass mailers for producing newsletters is MailChimp. Whatever mailer you use it is a must to get it linked to everything you can so that potential readers discovering you can sign up for your newsletter and grow that base. Growing your newsletter base can grow your fan base and vice versa.

Blogging is another important tool, but that’s for another post. One of the most popular and easy to use blog sites is WordPress.

The bonus of them both is that if you are barely scraping by, money challenged, cheap, or simply trying to keep your author costs down because ideally your money in will some day be more than your money out, they both have a FREE VERSION available.

Here’s the crux of the problem.  MailChimp seems to be designed to work with WordPress plugins.  WordPress plugins come with the PAID upgraded versions of WordPress, not the free version.

You are supposed to be able to make it work using HTML code in a widget.  If you don’t know what a widget is, it is those menu items you can click on along the side of a blog.

MailChimp even provides you with the HTML code to copy and paste into the widget.  Now apparently everyone I could find blogging about how to do it found it a very simple matter of copy and pasting it into the text tab of a text widget and viola it works perfectly.

THIS WAS NOT MY EXPERIENCE. No. Nope. Oh for the love of everything horror in this world it was so not my experience.

Instead of something resembling this:

I got this (my author fan blog page background is black):

And, to top it off, you cannot actually enter an email address anywhere to sign up for the newsletter.

I tried deleting the extra verbiage that is clearly coming through as text supposed to be on the screen.  You can select that easily by clicking on the visual tab in the text widget.  But then I got this:

It looks better except that broken image thing, and there is still no way to actually enter an email address to sign up for the newsletter.

Clearly there is something in the simply copy and paste HTML code MailChimp provides that is meant to be removed, revised, or both. It doesn’t spell it out and neither did any blog post I could find about it. The closest I got was one describing how to do a make it yourself custom button instead. That has to be created in another program. They recommended one requiring a monthly subscription. I stopped reading there.

So, to fix the MailChimp signup in WordPress in free versions issue, I realized I have to learn a little about how to code HTML. Ugh.

Let’s get this straight; I am not a website designer or developer. Nope.  I am just a writer who would rather be writing than trying to figure this stuff out and don’t have the $$$ to hire a professional to do it for me.

Wait, I do have a fourteen year old . . . . .  No, I’m probably wiser to figure this out for when there are no fourteen year old  and friends around to ask them to do it for me.

Okay, let’s get to business.

Understanding HTML (a little) for the writer who knows nothing about coding freaking HTML:

DISCLAIMER: AS I SAID ABOVE I AM NOT A WEBSITE DESIGNER OR DEVELOPER. I AM GOING INTO THIS WITH AN EXTREMELY LOW KNOWLEDGE OF CODING HTML AND AM ACTUALLY TYPING THIS BLOG POST AS I DISCOVER AND LEARN IT FOR MYSELF TO HOPEFULLY HELP OTHER UNKNOWLEGEABLE WRITERS NOT SPEND A SLEEPLESS NIGHT IRRITATED THEY COULD NOT MAKE THE MAILCHIMP SIGN UP WORK ON THEIR FREE WORDPRESS BLOG. There, I said it.

Hell, I will probably have to go back to this blog post myself every time I have to monkey around with HTML coding. (Get it? Monkey around? MailChimp? Yeah, I’m bad with jokes. I’m not a comedy writer, I write dark fiction.)

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language.

This is the code that makes mumbo jumbo meaningless seeming letters and symbols look like this:

(This is an HTML widget on my Blogspot blog that I have neglected for far far far too long. And it WORKS! It’s a button with HTML code copy/paste provided by Facebook.)

Here are a few point-form basics from this blog (I’m basically saying what they said in different words). This blog was very helpful:

https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-steps-understanding-basic-html-code/

Tags (see step one of the above article):

  • Tells it what the words in the document are supposed to look like. I.e.) bold text, underlined text, you get the idea.
  • Comes in pairs (usually) with the affected text inside
  • This example comes directly from the above article:
    • <strong> This is some bold text</strong>.
  • Take away from this:
    • <strong> is the opening tag.
    • </strong> is the closing tag (the / tells the interweb world this is a closing tag)

Empty Elements = Tags without a pair (see step one of the above article):

<p>This is a second<br>paragraph split between two lines.</p>

    • <br> is a line break. This is a formatting instruction that may or may not have a closing tag <br /> because it is not essential (notice this time the closing indicator / is after the code with a space between them).
  • Take away from this:
    • Formatting instructions like line breaks <br> do not necessarily need to have closure in their world because they are not affecting specified text that you have to mark the start and end of.

Making your Document Look Right (see step two of the above article):

  • You need certain tag codes to make your HTML document look pretty and not like my attempt at the start of this article to install a MailChimp signup into my WordPress blog.
  • Start and end codes to every HTML document (so it knows it is an HTML document):
    • Open tag: <!DOCTYPE html>
    • Close tag: </html>
    • Put these at the very start and end of the entire whole document.
  • Head <head> section:
    • Information including page title and scripts running on the page.
    • The author of the article above says this <head> comes after the initial <html> tag, but above says you close the document with </html>
    • I think they mean you put the <head> after the <!DOCTYPE html>
  • Body <body> = the body of the text.
    • This sounds easy enough. This is the text the viewer of your blog will actually see.
  • In the <body> of the text, you can make it look like you do by changing fonts, bolds, underlines, etc cetera in Microsoft Word, but by embedding code in the HTML like the bold text example earlier.
  • Hitting the “Enter” button on your keyboard to break up your HTML code may help you see the elements of your code in blocks that are easier for you to understand, but it will have no effect on what actually comes through on the visual on your blog. You have to insert a code for that.
  • This example is a screenshot copied directly from the above article:

= Defines a section of the document

<h2>   </h2>       = A header tag. Like Microsoft Word headers, the lower the header number the higher the header importance.

<p>   </p>            = Paragraph break. Browsers automatically put spaces before and after.

Images, aka you need pictures:

  • Image tag: <img>
  • Alt text = alternative text: The text that appears with the image
  • Src attribute = source: Tells it where the image is loading from (i.e. https location like your WordPress blog uploaded pictures)
  • Width and height: the size of your picture in the blog screen (number of pixels)
  • This example is copied directly from the above article (step 4):

<img src=”https://img.drphil.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/DrPhil-1280x720px-Shareimage.jpg&#8221; alt=”Dr. Phil” width=”1280″ height=”720″>

  • You see from this the source file is pulling this image file DrPhil-1280x720px-Shareimage.jpg from this spot: https://img.drphil.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/
  • Text with the image (alt) is: Phil (alt=”Dr. Phil”)
  • Image with is: 1280 (width=”1280″)
  • Image height is: 720 (height=”720″)

Links, aka links make blog posts more fun and you need to direct your readers to your sources of information (aka validation):

<a href=”https://www.google.com/&#8221; title=”Click here to search the web”>Visit Google</a>

    • <a> = open tag for the link. Note the link and its attribute and element are inserted before the end > (before “Visit Google”).
    • Href = the link. Here the link is https://www.google.com/
    • Title = words that show up when you hover over the link. Here the hover text is Click here to search the web
    • “Visit Google” would be the text that appears in your blog post article that is hyperlinked to the https link (see “17 Simple HTML Code Examples You Can Learn in 10 Minutes” below as an example). As you know, that usually automatically shows up as blue underlined text by default when you hyperlink in WordPress or Microsoft Word (like the hyperlinked example below).

Here is a link to 17 Simple HTML Code Examples You Can Learn in 10 Minutes

(this is linked to in the blog article I used for this. I didn’t get fancy trying to HTML code it. The title element aka words when you hover are the default when I hyperlinked it in Microsoft Word.).

Now here is the bad news.

Apparently, according to this article I got all this from, knowing HTML is not enough in today’s more advanced internet. Poop.

Now you have to know CCS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript.

CCS language describes how you HTML text should look. It’s the code inside the HTML code. I.e.) how your class attributes are coded to look within the HTML. (That is still kind of Greek to me).

JavaScript is what makes the webpage (or blog page) respond to the readers actions “without loading a new page every time”.

I.e.) JavaScript gives you that warning message without reloading a new page, flips through images, or asks the user/reader for input.

I am not even going to try to go into CCS and JavaScript right now.  I just want to make that freaking MailChimp signup work on my free WordPress blog.

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