A Word to the Wise

Nearly every writer I know uses Microsoft Word. I didn’t always use it. Not sure what it was I did use when I gave up on pen and ink and began writing on an Amstrad word processor (oh the joy of delete and paste), but since then I have always used Word. Hard not to, when it is so ubiquitous and publishers, as often as not, request its use. A little bit of me always wants to break free and do something wild and rebellious, like using Google Docs or SmartEdit Writer instead, but I don’t because it would mean learning a whole new system and I’ve spent over quarter of a century learning Word.

I’m still learning, of course, but I have mastered quite a bit of it, including some of the frills that you don’t necessarily bother with if you just want to write, write, write. Like Headings. They’re found in the styles section of the Home bar, and why would you be bothered about style if you just want to plug away at your magnus opus? Style is surely something for typesetters to deal with when the book finally goes to print, so I have discovered that many writers don’t pay that section any attention at all.

Mad mad fools.

Any author who has formatted a book for self-publication will probably already be using headings, in order to create a contents page. Others may not have grasped its value. They probably write Chapter 1/2/3 at the beginning of each section and leave it at that. Now what you should do, with a working copy of your brilliant masterpiece is type Chapter 7/8/9 and add a useful tag like the name of the character that the chapter’s about, or better still, write like those antique novels that began each chapter with a precis of what was about to happen .

Chapter XLVII in which our hero sets sail for foreign parts.

The more you describe the contents of the chapter, the better. Then you highlight the whole thing and format it as Heading 1 (instead of normal). Next you need the Navigation pane open, if it isn’t already. It’s the strip on the left that appears when you press Ctrl+F in order to find all those times when you wrote “Tom” before deciding that he should have been called “Dick.” If it isn’t there, select the “View” bar and tick Navigation Pane.

As soon as you start formatting chapter titles as Heading 1, they will be listed in the Navigation Pane, as clickable links. If you have your chapter headings, with descriptions, neatly to hand on the left, you don’t have to go scrolling back through 350 pages in order to remind yourself if Fred said “Meet me for lunch at midday” or “Meet me for dinner at 8.”

This is pure gold dust for writers like me who spend most of my time going backwards and forwards tweaking threads that interweave like Fairisle knitting. Your headings don’t have to remain. Once you have finished the book, revised it, edited it, deleted half of it, rewritten the other half, added seven chapters, removed five characters, edited it again and finally decided that it’s ready to go, you can replace your helpful descriptions with something stylish like 1, 2, 3, or something witty and totally irrelevant.

10 thoughts on “A Word to the Wise

  1. Yes! I’m a latecomer to the wondrous world of Word. He who understands these things has put up a style for me that automatically starts the opening paragraph without indent and then indents the others as I like them to be. I also make copious use of the Holmesian magnifying glass in the top left which will find the words I’m looking for and then replace all of, say, the Ermintrudes with Blodwyns, or just replace one of them, if that is what I want. The looking glass also comes into its own when I input ‘nod’, ‘smile’ or ‘realise’ – words that I woefully overuse – and it tells me how many of each there are and where. The use of chapter headings is a brilliant idea because it would save ages scouring thousands of words to find the section I need and I could even leave them in if i thought they might be eddy-fying and enticing a la Thackeray.
    I’m only just appreciating some of these Word Gifts and now live in fear that someone will decide it needs to be updated…

    Liked by 1 person

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