#WriteTip: The Power of Google Docs

Sam av

If one is to write a novel, one ought to have a solid word processor. Actually, that’s not quite what this blog post is about. I’ll get to the Word Processor of the Gods another day. This blog post is about a word processor that is useful for any writer, beginners and veterans. I believe it is most useful as a word processor for beginners. Advanced writers will want something with more features. But for veterans, Google Docs has other purposes, which I’ll explain.

The major uses for Google Docs are:

  • As a beginner’s word processor
  • As a backup for your work
  • As a vehicle to transport text from anywhere to anywhere else without a flash drive
  • As a temporary word processor when you simply MUST
  • As a platform for sharing your work with writer friends

What is Google Docs?

Google Docs the word processor of Google Drive, an online cloud storage done in the spirit of Microsoft Office. Google Drive is comprised of Google Sheets (Microsoft Excel), Google Slides (Microsoft PowerPoint), Google Docs (Microsoft Word), Google Drawings, Google My Maps, and Google Forms. You can access Google Drive from anywhere that has an internet connection. There’s even a smartphone app for it.

Because Google Drive is an online cloud, you can access it from anywhere. It’s great for when you are mobile or traveling. It’s wonderful for storage of documents, pictures, movies, etc. I often use it to scan drawings or other important documents to store in folders. Recently, I’ve used Google Drive to hang onto papers for my house. I’ve also set up a budget spreadsheet for the house, saved copies of fanfics (for reasons I’ll never understand, sometimes my favorite authors simply delete my favorite stories, and I can’t abide never having the chance to read them again).

Google Docs works almost exactly like Microsoft Word, with a few minor differences most people probably won’t even notice. So. Let’s discuss how to make it work for you!

As a Beginner’s Word Processor

Most people are familiar with how to use Microsoft Word. However, purchasing Microsoft Office is expensive, and if you’re new to the Writing Thing, chances are you don’t know what the best program to purchase is yet (I’ll go into this another time, or maybe Frankie will beat me to it). Google, however, is free. You can download Google Drive right now, if you like, and because it’s easy to use, you can just start writing.

You can experiment how you want to store your files. I have folders, and folders inside of folders…The outer shell folder is called “Stories.” I then have it subcategorized into my individual projects by name (VAETHRRE, for example), a folder for backups of my fanfiction (in case something happens and the site crashes), and a folder for my fanfics in progress. Each individual project may be subcategorized further (VAETHRRE has several books, so each has its own folder). I usually name my chapters with a two digit number, a dash, and the title. This is so they are listed within the folder in order (otherwise, 10 would list itself after 1, and I don’t like that. For example: 02 – Chaos.

Google also Auto-saves constantly, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to save and losing all of your progress (which is heartbreaking, by the way). This leads me to our next topic…

As a Backup for Your Work

You must always, always, always keep a backup file of precious words. If you are at a point in your project where you would be crushed if your file was corrupted or lost, backup your work. There are multiple ways to do this:

  1. Backup your actual computer, such as with Mac’s Time Machine
  2. Save your files to an external drive, like a flash drive or external hard drive
  3. Save a copy to online cloud storage, like Google Docs

Personally, I have NO trust at all in myself and machines, so I save my work to the internet. I could mess up the backup. I could wipe the entire computer clean. I could lose my external drives. But the data on the internet is safe from my ability to tamper with it. The worst I could do is delete it by accident.

Save backups frequently.

Usually, what I do is copy and paste my entire work into a new Doc. It will auto-save immediately. Then, I title it with the name of the project and the date. If the project is complete, I may indicate that as well.

I don’t worry about formatting so much. The entire point of this is to save the words. I can monkey around with italics if I ever need to recover the file.

As a Vehicle to Transport Text from Anywhere to Anywhere Else

The old way I used to move files and projects from one place to another, say a work computer to my file at home, was by sending it to myself in an email. However, with Google Docs, I can save the file to the cloud and pull it off when I get to where it needs to go. I’ve also found this helpful with work. Sometimes, I need photo files for projects/continuous improvement/writing discrepancies. Before I had a smartphone, I would photograph it with my laptop’s phone, upload the picture to Google Drive, and then download it on the work computer. This is also helpful with large files that don’t like being sent through email.

As a Temporary Word Processor When you Simply Must

Just how it sounds. If you have that idea that throttles your brain and won’t let go, but your precious laptop/notebook is elsewhere, get to the nearest internet connection and write it up in a Google Doc. Then, the idea will be fresh and amazing, waiting in a Doc for when you’re ready for it.

As a Platform for Sharing Your Work with Writer Friends

In my opinion, this is the greatest use for Google Docs, but only just barely nudging out using it as a backup for your work. Google Drive is the ultimate file-sharing platform. You can either send an invitation to your friend, or (and this is my favorite), set the sharing permissions to “Anyone with link can edit/comment/view.” I just drop the link off to my friends, and then they can click to see.

The moment a friend enters the document, they will show up as their logged in Google ID or as an “Anonymous [Animal],” which can be amusing. You can observe as they make their way through your document, highlight, make suggestions or changes, and leave comments. Sometimes, I’ve had entire conversations in the body of the document itself. You don’t have to send the file back and forth.

I’ve never been a fan of ‘Track Changes’ and sending Word files back and forth. However, if you enjoy Track Changes, Google Docs also has this in the form of “Suggesting,” a mode for offering your suggested edits.

Make sure you always keep a backup copy beyond this copy, though, in case someone makes an accidental change (or in case YOU make an accidental change). Google Docs autosaves. The Undo function works just fine, but not if someone else makes the error or if you catch it too late.

And of course, it’s probably good to remind you to only share your work with someone who you can trust not to steal your creative genius.

I use Scrivener for my Word Processor, which I would love to tell you about in another blog post. However, no matter how amazing Scrivener is, I actually use Google Drive for a lot more in every aspect of my life. Frankie and I share files and such through Google Drive. Sharing spreadsheets is helpful for planning out these blog posts, and sharing documents allows us to easily critique each other’s work.

I hope that helps you out! Drop us a comment or share your favorite posts with friends. As always, thank you so much for your support!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).



About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on July 1, 2016, in #WriteTip and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I have used Google Docs in the past, but for some reason JotterPad, an app on my samsung S3, works better for quick ideas or writing things down. After that I can copy + paste in GDocs to correct mistakes but I rarely do that.
    Some friends that are also writers told me they use it everyday and that it’s a great tool. I agree in that point. I just found out that I write more if I use the old pen and paper method and then type it on the PC.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The pen and paper method is still near and dear to me as well. I need to do that more. I actually have a weakness for notebooks, so I have dozens of them, including some pretty journals I am trying to start carrying with me now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: #WriteTip – Sam’s Writing Process, Part 1: Planning |

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