An American Editor

May 15, 2019

On the Basics: Rethinking Saving Everything

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AAE Owner

For more years than I can count, I’ve saved everything related to my work: multiple paper copies of published articles and of pre-computer edited and proofread projects; electronic or digital copies from the days of 5 1/4-inch disks to 3.5 diskettes to Syquest and Zip disks to CDs; finished files on both my iMac desktop computer and MacBook Air laptop; cloud storage …

My theory was that we never know when a client might want to redo or update a project, and I wanted to be the freelancer whom my clients could rely on to have old copies of projects at hand, just in case.

I recently changed my mind about this approach. In preparing to move halfway across the country last fall, even though to a larger space, I found myself wanting to scale back on this extensive, bulky, obsessive wealth of backups. I had to empty out file drawers for the movers, and clear stuff off shelves and out of cubbyholes; the more I could get rid of, the more I could save on the move. A light bulb went off: It seems unlikely that anyone would want anything more than a year old, but even if they do, I could keep a paper copy of everything, so I’d be able to scan anything that someone might want, and update old versions in new, current editions of software.

I went through those file cabinets in my home office and weeded out all but one paper copy each of published works. Then I went back and pitched all the loose copies after I remembered that I have a copy of everything in notebooks organized by year and going back to the 1970s, which creates the one paper copy that all that I really need — in these days of websites and online portfolios, there’s rarely a need to send someone a paper copy of a finished project. Although my file cabinet copies were organized by client or publication name and the notebooks are organized by year, I’m pretty sure I can remember at least roughly when I worked with which clients and thus can pull old copies as needed.

Next, I got rid of all paper copies of edited and proofed projects — anyone wanting to update or revise any of those nowadays will send me an electronic file to work on, and a current version is likely to be different from the one I worked on years ago. Even if it’s the still the same, my edits should already have been incorporated, and it would make more sense to reread the current version as if it’s new than to try to copy old edits from the past. The clients should have paper copies of anything not available electronically and also should be the one responsible for scanning paper copies to create new versions.

I wouldn’t use those paper edits in pitching to new clients anyhow, because no one would want their “before” versions made public, even on a limited basis. I don’t need to wonder about that or to have signed anything promising not to show the edited version of a document to anyone other than the client. If a prospective client wants proof of my editing or proofreading skills, I’d rather do a short sample than risk embarrassing a past client by showing what I did on their projects, even if I can hide their names. And my website has (wonderful) testimonials from clients attesting to the value of my skills and services, often more effective than samples.

After trashing all those paper copies, I bagged all the various types of disks and headed to the local recycling center to dispense with those as well. I still have electronic versions of everything that’s a year or so old on my computers and in cloud storage.

I even gave up my dad’s little classic Mac and my ancient Radius CPU, taking those to the recycling center as well (after wiping their hard drives).

It felt wonderfully liberating to clear out so much old material — and saved a bunch of effort in packing, which probably saved some money in the way of moving costs. I’m hoping a client won’t ask for a very old project after all, but I’m prepared to defend not keeping ancient files or copies, and can always photocopy or scan my paper versions from those yearly notebooks.

The next task for the aspiring organizer in me: going through all those old business and tax records to get rid of everything from receipt copies to entire years’ worth of documentation! That will open up an entire bookcase … I won’t know what to do with those empty shelves.

For a little farther down the road, it’s time to clear out old computer files in my e-mail program, Dropbox cloud storage account and project folders on both computers … at least I can never say I have nothing to do!

How have you changed your processes for saving projects and client files?

3 Comments

  1. Yikes! I’ve got to scale down too, anticipating a move to another state in two years. I should start now on all those files, boxes and computer! Thanks for the reminder. 📚Christine

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    Comment by C.E.Robinson — May 15, 2019 @ 7:09 pm

  2. Reading about your purging I noticed I kept tensing my muscles. I’d tell myself to relax. Tense, relax, tense, relax. I got quite a workout reading about what you did that I should also do. I’m inspired, Ruth! Thanks.

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    Comment by Maggi Kirkbride — May 15, 2019 @ 7:59 pm

  3. I’m a packrat, and I wanted a house with an attic so I could keep stuff. Then my mother died, and I realized how difficult it is to dispose of things and vowed to clean out my attic, which is getting full. I started with canceled checks, which go back to the 1960s. But I found that reading the names of people I’d written checks to long ago was almost like a diary; it brought back memories, so I stopped throwing them away, figuring I could go through them and throw them away if I were bedridden or something.

    I realize old client material doesn’t have the same emotional appeal. I stopped freelance editing when I wrote a book, and I did throw away most of those files, but I kept all the style sheets. Now I should throw those away as style in 2019 would probably be different from style in 2005. And I should throw away the cartons containing the various rewrites of my books. It’s not like I’m Robert Frost and future generations will care how I edited the book.

    For me, the problem is whether I want to spend time throwing stuff away or reading some of the many books and papers in my To Read piles or mowing the lawn or painting the house. Good for you for lightening your load.

    The solution would be more hours in the day.

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    Comment by Gretchen Becker — May 16, 2019 @ 9:36 am


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