One of the perks about living in this century is that there are a lot of writing tools out there. A lot. As fancy or as simple as you want them, free or ultra expensive, they’re all out there. Do you want to dictate your book and have the computer write it for you? Done. Store everything in the cloud to access it from any computer out there? Done. Format it and print it and bind it all yourself from home? You can do that too.
Personally, the three tools that I use for most of my writing these days are Final Draft, Scrivener, and Yarny, but somehow a lot of my writing passes through at least some stage of being in Microsoft Word, the word-processing giant that we all know and love. If you’re a writer, you probably already consider yourself an expert in the software… but as I’ve discovered, MS Word can do a lot more than meets the eye! Here are some of my more recent discoveries that can come in very handy if you’re formatting your book for self-publication:
- Insert > Section Break. A lot of us want page breaks between the chapters, and the common sense way around it is just to hit “Enter” over and over until everything’s where you want it. This can be frustrating, though. One edit to the text can throw everything out of whack, and sometimes so much as sending the file to the printer can shift things just enough so that there all sorts of odd spacing problems. There is an easy fix to this! At the end of one chapter, click on insert and then section break. Page break will also help, but later I’ll get into why I recommend section breaks. This way, the file automatically separates your chapters so that each starts on a different page. Not bad for a simple trick!
- Automatic Table of Contents. Yep, no more scrolling around for ever-changing page numbers! If you used section breaks in the step above, you can now automatically insert a table of contents. I will warn you that with Word’s major update a few years ago, you have to go about this a bit differently depending on your system. You can look it up under “Help” if you’re not sure how to get it, but on the newer Word, simply visit the tab labeled “Document Elements” and mess around. This tab also helps with citations and cover pages, so you can be sure you’re giving your text a first-rate layout.
- View > Focus. Yarny does this automatically as you type, and Scrivener is only a click away, but now Word can do it too. If you have a newer version of Word, click on “View” and then “Focus.” Now you have a real writing mode! For those of us who can get distracted easily while typing on the computer, Focus mode helps by blacking out everything but your own document, giving you some time alone with your story.
- Format > Drop Cap. This is more for vanity than anything else. If you want to make your manuscript look just a little more like a “real book,” you can check out the Drop Cap tool and mess around with it. Hey, it’s better than simply making the first word of every chapter several sizes larger than the rest!
- Insert > New Comment. This simple tool can also be accessed on the “Review” tab of the new Microsoft Word. While it is already pretty well-known, I do think it is worth a mention because of it’s utter helpfulness when breezing through a draft. It’s a great way to note down your thoughts as you read and revise and also to mark potential problem spots in your novel.
There might not be a whole lot of new stuff that I mentioned, but Microsoft Word can definitely give you all you need when you’re editing and formatting your book. Mess around with it for yourself and see what you can find, and feel free to comment if you know of any other Word tricks!