Friday, April 26, 2013

Take Word to the Max

I've talked about many of my favorite writing software packages in this A-Z, including Scrivener and Ommwriter. But the reality is, most of the time, you'll find me working in plain old Microsoft Word. What can I say? I'm old school. I'm comfortable with Word, and I like the way it feels. I know the keyboard shortcuts. I get around it easily.

But I find a lot of folks open Word, write some text, and close Word, and if you're going to only do that, you might as well just use something like TextWrangler or WordPad. As they say, the secret's in the sauce. Here are a few ways to get exactly what you want out of Word:

  • Set the right default. When Word 2007 switched from 12-point Times New Roman to 11 point Calibri as the default font, suddenly I started getting papers in 11-point Calibri. I showed my students how to change the default settings, and you'd think I was explaining how to extract uranium. If you're a font freak like me (I'm 12-point TNR, no ifs ands or buts) set. (Change defaults in Word 2007: How-to geek)
  • Make your own document template to take with you. I work a lot on other computers, and so I've saved my defaults to a .dotx template file that sits in my dropbox. When I want to write a new document and am not on one of my home computers, I can grab my .dotx file, and boom—there's my regular font choice, line spacing, paragraph settings, etc. (Making templates:
  • Use a style. Word comes with several built-in stylesheets that let you set your document up simply, by telling Word which sections are which type of writing: heading, secondary heading, body text, etc. Now, again, for font freaks—one of the secret crazy hacks here is that you can set exactly what each of those headers look like. Just select any given text, click on the style, and choose, "Update <style> to match selection." This means that even though your whole document might be in 12-point TNR, Word knows to read certain pieces as headings. And this is helpful because.... (Apply a style:
  • Use the navigation pane. One huge and valid complaint I hear often about Word is that it's just too damn hard to wrangle am 80,000+ word manuscript. But if you've gone through and marked, say, all of your chapter headings as chapter headings (even if they're set to look exactly the same as the body text!), a quick Ctrl+F will open the Navigation pane (Word 2007 and later), and you'll see a nice table of contents on the left hand side of your document. And if that's not enough, you can even...
  •  Use subdocuments. I'm just getting into this feature, but this is a nice circumvent for the above. Each document (chapter, scene, etc.) is saved as its own subdocument. This helps a ton with some of the memory issues that Word has. (Create subdocuments: YouTube)

There's a lot that Word has to offer, which is why it's still my primary novelling software even though I have some fantastic other options. A couple of tweaks can make it every bit as functional for wrangling a novel as any other software out there, and you don't have to be a crazy techie to do them.

This month I'm participating in the A-Z blog challenge. My theme is "writer hacks," or 26 shortcuts you can do as a writer to get the most out of writing and the journey toward and through publication. Find out more about it at, and hop around to read the other cool blogs that are part of the challenge!

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