The act of creation tends to be messy. It’s a rare thing when someone sits down to create something and actually does so without leaving scraps, shavings, and leftover parts strewn everywhere. Mark Twain’s desk is a great example. I wish my own was that tidy! By contrast, the stuff in my computer is very well organized. It has to be, or I’d never get anything done.
If you’re trying to write a memoir, your best bet is to do it with a computer. Paying someone to type your handwritten notes, or scan and correct your typewritten pages, is expensive and time consuming. Dreadfully so. Writing with the aid of a computer makes the entire process faster, easier and cheaper, even if you don’t know how to type. There are ways around that, too.
For now, let’s spend a little time on computer basics–how to organize the stuff you’ll need for the memoir you intend to write. I’ll keep this simple, because most folks don’t bother to do anything about file storage. The very thought of digital organization is too scary. In lieu of it, everything they save from email or the internet goes into a generic Download file; some (but not all) photos go into a generic Picture file, and just about everything else goes into something called the Document file, which–surprise, surprise–is also generic.
The problem is that once you’ve accumulated lots of stuff, finding what you need becomes difficult, if not impossible. Instead of looking through just the photos you need for your book, you have to wade through ALL the photos on your machine. The notes you wrote about Uncle Nimbus and the three-legged duck are hidden somewhere amid tons of tax records, reams of recipes, and scores of cat videos. Or worse. You can do better than that!
If you can devise a system for storing socks and underwear (in different drawers), you can organize the files you need on your computer. I’ll address both Macs and PCs; either will do the job. The issue isn’t the machine–it’s the operator. If you lose everything you’ve done on your computer, the cause is more likely to be human error than hardware failure. This is enough to scare some folks away. Don’t be one of them. You don’t have to be a computer whiz or technical expert. Just learn some of the basics, and you’ll be fine, and much more productive.
Depending on what sort of book you’re writing, you’ll need three or four places to stash your stuff during development. Most memoir writers I know get by splendidly with a file for text, a file for photos, and a file for everything else: notes, research, and miscellany. How you divvy up your stuff is up to you.
When you turn your computer on, and all the start-up processes are finally complete, you’ll be faced with a familiar screen called the “Desktop.” There will be some sort of background design or image–“wallpaper”–which you supplied or which was provided by the computer maker. Sprinkled on top of the wallpaper are a bunch of little pictures called “icons.” These gizmos indicate the function provided by the associated program. Clicking on one of them will start your word processor, another will take you to the internet, another might play music or launch a photo-editing program. You’ll also see a number of what appear to be file folders.
It’s the folders we’re interested in. Any folder icon you see on the Desktop is easy to get to. Just double-click one, and it will open. It works the same way on Macs and PCs. If you want to create a new folder, simply right click on the desktop–anywhere on the wallpaper that isn’t covered by an icon. Look for the option that says New, then select File Folder.
Go ahead and create a folder, then name it for your project’s text files. (The naming process varies slightly between different versions of the operating systems. Just take your time, and you’ll figure it out with little trouble.) Call it whatever you’d like.
Repeat the process as needed to create storage space for everything you intend to use or include in your project: photos, genealogical charts and data, other research, etc. We’ll talk about how to use these folders in Part 2 and how to move the files you already have into them.