Always Date Stories

FrustrationIf dates don’t fit in your story flow, anchor them at the end. Yesterday I had a frustrating reminder of how important this is. Read on to learn why and how to do this automatically.

Inspired by yesterday’s solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, I decided to polish up my account of viewing a total eclipse in Richland, Washington on February 26, 1979. I knew I’d written the story, but it took some digging to find the file. It was buried in a story I posted online, but I don’t know when I wrote or posted it. Ordinarily this wouldn’t matter, but today it did.

I know when the Richland eclipse occurred. That date is in the story, and I verified it online. I also refer in that document to an eclipse in Hawaii “about ten years later” that friends traveled to watch. Again, I was able to nail the date for that one online as occurring on July 1, 1991 – about twelve years later, not ten.

I have no clear idea when I wrote and posted that container story that begins with a mixed reference to celebrating Christmas and watching an eclipse in partial form in clear Pittsburgh skies while it was cloudy for some others. The original file date is 2010, but I know that’s wrong. That date signifies when I moved the file to a new hard disk. My best guess is 2003, but I’ve searched the web and can’t find anything about any USA eclipse during the early 2000s and my memory of that event has faded to the point I could doubt my own words in that story.

I’m kicking myself for not dating the story, at least in a signature line! A simple name and date would do, but there’s an easy way to ensure stories are dated with a bit more useful information. I generally begin with a story template that that includes these four lines at the end:Template-sig

I created this template using fields, a mysterious function few of us ever need to learn, though these particular ones are simple enough. The Created date is unchanging. The Edited date updates each time I resave the file. In each of these cases, you click on the Insert tab and select Date & Time. Select your preferred date format. The difference between the two is the Update Automatically option on the right of that menu. Check to see that it’s cleared for the Created date and selected for the Edited one.

The file name field is a little different. It’s also on the Insert tab, but in Word 2013 you’ll find it under Quick Parts > Field. Scroll down the list to FileName, then select your Famat option. You can, if you wish, add the full path to the filename. That used to be helpful, but today, search functions are strong enough that the filename is enough without the path. If you have a different version of Word, you can easily find out how to insert these fields using the Help function or a web search, specifying your version.

To create this template, add  your name, the filename filed, Created date field, and Edited date field to a blank document, leaving a couple of blank lines above. Format them as you wish. I like to reduce the font size a couple of points and italicize it, but that’s merely personal preference. You can add dingbats or anything you wish. You can align it to the left margin. Suit yourself.

Then save that blank document, but not as a .doc or .docx. After you name it, click the Save as type: field directly below the file name and select Word Template (*.dotx). This will place your new template in your Documents folder in a Custom Office Templates subfolder.

To use the template to begin a new story, in Word 2013 select New on the file tab, then select Personal from the line above the template icons. You’ll find your  new template there. Select it and write your story.

This all sounds way more complicated that it is. The five or ten minutes you may spend mucking around to create this template will ensure that you’ll know when you first wrote a story. It would have solved my dilemma today.

If you forget and begin a story in a standard file, no problem. Just copy it all: use Ctrl+a)to select all, then paste it into a new template page and resave.

Now that I think of it, I’m going to add this snippet to my default template so it will be on EVERY document I create. I can always delete it later. If this sounds like a good idea to you, do a YouTube search for “editing default template Word (your version).”

Here’s to anchoring dates!


Sherrey Meyer said...

Sharon, excellent tip! Thanks for sharing. Have set up my template. Starting new project and wanted to capture this right away.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Yay, Sherrey. Thanks for letting us know. Sounds like the instructions were clear enough then. :-)

Amy said...

Once again you prove to be the Word wizard! I will have to see if I can figure this out without a personal tutorial! Thanks, Sharon.

Amy said...

LOL! I tried, but I am not sure where the Created Date field or the Edited Date field options can be found. Or are there none? I guess I didn't get past step one....

Sharon Lippincott said...

Hope you manage it Amy. Remember, YouTube is your friend for nearly anything. Word Wizard? Funny, about thirty years ago I was affiliated for several months with a couple of fellows to do customer service consulting. They had a second business in the very early days of what was then called desktop publishing ─ about the time Word was released ─ and that business was called Word Wizard.

See how the tiniest thing can trigger a story? And that's a perfect anecdote to tuck into the section on Memory I'm currently working on for The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing 2.01.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Amy, I'm not sure what you are asking. Where to find them on the menu, or where to place them in the document? If the latter, type the label work, like Created, then search for the date field code as directed in the body of the post. If you're confused about where to find the field menu, check YouTube. You may have a different version of Word from mine, and this can vary. Good luck!