6 Practical Computer Tips for Writers
Oh, the joys of working with a computer…
Last week, I was reminded just how frustrating working with computers can be. So, naturally I got the idea to share with you some practical computer tips for writers. If you’re a writer and you find yourself wanting to pull your hair out because your computer is such a jerk, then here are some practical tips to help you out…
1. Save Often!
Saving our writing files is one area where it’s okay to be a little obsessive.
Imagine you’re in the zone. The writing is flowing, the scene is heating up (maybe it’s an intense fight scene), and you’re pleased with the words that are coming out. But then as you type your thousandth word, your computer crashes. You gasp. Your heart races as you sit frozen in your chair, unable to take a breath for fear it’ll confirm that you’ve lost it all. Your eyes dart nervously across the blank screen. You’re not sure what to do. Finally, when your computer restarts and you open the document, your heart sinks because it’s gone. All the words you just wrote are gone.
I’m sure we’ve all lost our writing work at some point in our career. Don’t rely on your word processor’s auto-save feature. Often, hit the save button yourself. And always save your work before attempting to close the file.
One little thing I discovered last week was that Word doesn’t actually auto-save for us. All it does is save backup auto-recovery files in a temporary folder. So, it’s possible that you could still lose your work if you’re not hitting that save button on your own. There are, however, macros you can set up that will allow Microsoft Word to auto-save your document – if you’re interested, check out A Real AutoSave by WordTips.
2. Keep Backups
It never hurts to have backup copies of important writing documents, like the first draft of the manuscript you just finished. And if never hurts to have backups of your backups. You can use USB jump drives, your email, or the cloud.
Just be aware of your risks with whichever method you choose. And always use the “Safely remove hardware” feature on your computer to help avoid corrupting your files or the entire USB drive. (*cue fear of losing your writing files all at once*)
3. Use Caution!
Before you download anything, make sure the file comes from a trustworthy source. Not all downloads you find on the internet are safe. Make sure you have antivirus software installed, scan your computer often, and for the love of safe computing, don’t open any program you’re not sure about. Opening the program, even just to see what it is, could activate it and turn out to be a royal pain to remove (I’m speaking from personal experience).
4. Keep Track of Updates
Your computer should keep track of its update history, but in the event that it doesn’t (or for whatever reason you’re unable to access the list), it’s a good idea to keep track of it yourself. Especially if you’re running an older operating system.
I learned this the hard way last Thursday. My mini Acer installed updates for Microsoft Office a week and a half ago and all was well until I opened Outlook to email myself backup copies of my writing files. It’s possible that software updates can wreak havoc on a computer, and I was hoping all I had to do was remove the latest updates and I’d be good to go. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. There were no dates indicating when the updates were installed and without access to the list (I’m not even sure where my computer keeps one), I was left with a long list of updates with no idea which ones were installed last. I assumed the ones listed at the bottom were the latest, but I’d never bet my life on it. (Update: the list of MS Office updates in my computer's Add or Remove Programs window do not, in fact, appear in order. Now we know for sure. ;))
I spent all day Thursday trying to get my computer fixed. I’m not a computer expert, but I know enough to get myself around. Just not this time… Frustrating! And I’m not even sure what was wrong with it.
So, to save yourself a major headache, just grab a sheet of paper and jot down each update number along with the installation date. Just in case… you never know when you’ll need it.
5. Enable System Restore
For safety’s sake, make sure your computer’s system restore feature is enabled. That way, if you installed any programs or updates that are causing problems with your system, you can (hopefully) restore your computer to a date prior to the installation.
In some cases, you’ll need to handle the system restore in safe mode. And there is a possibility that the system restore will not work. If it’s not working for you, you may need to find a computer expert who can help you.
If you use a computer that runs on an older operating system (i.e., Vista or XP), it’s probably time to upgrade. At least if you want to keep from pulling your hair out.
Unfortunately, Microsoft and just about everyone else has stopped offering support for older operating systems. I have two computers that work perfectly for what I need except for internet research and other internet activities. My desktop computer is actually pretty quick for being 10 years old, but because it’s Windows Vista, I can no longer view most websites. Which means I have to use my husband’s laptop every time I want online. I’m not ready to make the official upgrade yet, but at least I’ve learned not to mess with internet-related tasks on my older computers (it only causes a major headache).
If you can use your “ancient computer” for the majority of tasks and head to the library for the others, that’s great! Do what works until you’re able and/or willing to make the switch.
I hope these tips help! Working with computers can get frustrating, but reducing your risk of losing important words and files helps ease the frustration! 😉