NaNoWriMo USB Drive Layout (Mac)

October 19, 2013

A golden rule of NaNoWriMo is to back up your work. Every year, too many writers lose the one and only copy of their novels due to computer malfunctions, unfortunate accidents, and novel-stealing gnomes. Fortunately, you can avoid losing your manuscript by frequently backing up to multiple locations. (Use two or three from this post for maximum security.) Today, I'm going to show you Mac users how to set up a super cool USB drive for NaNoWriMo. (If you're using a PC, follow this tutorial instead.)

Most of you will have only one Novel folder on your USB drive. I have three because I'm working on three novels next month. (Egads!) I chose to only back up novels on this USB drive for simplicity's sake.

This set-up utilizes custom folder icons and custom folder backgrounds. With the Finder window in question open, press command + J to open the Visual Organization panel (shown above). Select "Picture" under "Background" and drag your desired image file into the square. You can also adjust the size of your icons with the "Icon Size" sliding bar.

Here's what one of the Novel folders looks like on the inside.

Because I plan to write the first 50K of this book in five days, I went ahead and created back-up folders ahead of time. In an ideal world, you'll back up your novel to at least one location every single day. Overkill? Of course, but you're better off being safe rather than sorry! (And trust me—people who lose their novels are VERY sorry. Like, sobbing incessantly while screaming WHYYYY sorry. Don't be that person.)

Optional Folders:

  • Outline: Store a copy of your outline here (if applicable).
  • Accomplishments: Received a nice compliment? Have screenshots of your progress bar after a long day of writing? Back those up here.
  • Rewards: Use this tutorial to create a "listing" for any and all rewards you plan to treat yourself to. Going to buy yourself a NaNo t-shirt after hitting 50K? Create an icon that takes you to the t-shirt's listing in the NaNo store. Want to take a long nature walk at 25K? Simply drag and drop a picture of a nature trail!
  • Pre-NaNo Draft (not pictured): If you're a NaNo rebel and are picking up where you left off on an already in-progress manuscript, keep a copy of your pre-November draft in this folder for reference and safekeeping.

You can download all of this (background files, icons, etc) in a .zip file (3.6 MB) by clicking here

Note that if your flash drive is formatted for Windows, you will need to go to Utilities>Disk Utility and "Erase" the content of your USB drive in order for these tricks to work. I recommend doing this only if the USB drive is brand new or if you have made copies of the USB drive's existing content. Be sure to select "Mac OS Extended (Journal) from the drop-down list of options.

To learn how to customize the appearance of any folder on your Mac, watch the following video tutorial. (Excerpted from this post.)

1. Select the folder you would like to change the appearance of and press command + i.
2. Open your desired folder icon image.
3. Press command + a to select the entire image.
4. Press command + c to copy.
5. Select the folder icon in the information panel.
6. Press command + v. Voila!

For more tips (including a snazzy Novel folder and Agent Directory), check out my Visual Organization Series.

Have a smashing NaNoWriMo 2013, you guys!


ETA: Eek! This post was featured in the NaNoWriMo Procrastination Station!


  1. This is a comment! ;)

    I'm a backup nut, too. There are so many NaNo-ers who are surprised when all their hard work disappears.

  2. This is really cool, but I'm not savvy enough to *quite* get how to do it. I downloaded your cool backgrounds, etc., and I followed the instructions and changed the icon on my USB drive panel, but after that - ? When I open the flash drive, is it supposed to look like your first screen capture up there? How? All I get is the usual Finder list of folders and files...sorry to be so dim.

    1. I should specify, I copied your folders and file onto the USB itself - maybe that's where I went wrong?

    2. I think I see where I went awry. My MacBook doesn't have the ability to change the background. I'll live. Thanks for the info, anyway!

    3. Oh, no! I'm so sorry to hear that—no fun. I'll do a quick run-through just in case.

      1. Download the file.
      2. Open the file. It'll contain two backgrounds, a folder with images, and a folder containing yet more folders.
      3. Plug in your USB drive and open it. (If your USB drive is not formatted for Mac, you may need to follow the steps I mention in the post above!).
      4. With the USB drive's folder open, press command + J at the same time (or go to View>Show View Options). You should see an option panel like the one pictured in the first two images of this post.
      5. There should (!!!) be an area called "background." Select "picture" and drag one of the two image files from the "backgrounds" file you downloaded into this area.
      *You can drag & drop the folders I included into the USB drive's file before or after the above steps are done!

      If you can't use a background, at least there're the custom icons! That's half the awesomeness right there. ;)

  3. NaNo brought me!

    Any tips for doing something like with on a PC? I sneezed soda all over my MAC and killed it.... :- (

    1. I'm not a PC user, so I Googled it and found a tutorial for you. Huzzah! (I'll be sure to add the link to the original post.)

      Also: While unfortunate in real life, sneezing soda on a computer sounds like a good plot point for a novel. What better way to thwart the enemy than to "accidentally" fry his or her evil documents with a well-timed soda sneeze? ;)

  4. I don't have a MAC either because I need to keep my day job. Sigh....

    1. Tutorial acquired!

  5. Love this! Trying to make some myself but my background images in finder seem way to big! How do I make the dimensions work with the screen so I can see the whole background image and not just a part?

    Thanks for sharing this. Loving making my files and folders more visual and thus inviting to use!

    1. Oh, good question! (To which I don't have a decent answer—grr!) If the backgrounds I provided fit correctly, try sizing yours similarly to 5100x3700px.

      I haven't found anything helpful about this online, but I'll let you know if I do.

  6. Thank you. I had to fiddle with the size but finally got it. Your's worked beautifully without any fiddling.


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