Monday, 13 June 2016

Microsoft Word for Writers: How to manage your whole novel in one document

Love your laptop.
You absolutely don't need a specialist programme to write a novel. Word can do everything you need, it's almost infinitely customisable, you probably already have it, and at the end your document is in the format publishers and agents want it. They always want a .doc or .docx. Plus Word has a host of nifty little features and tricks perfectly suited to writing. Often, these aren't remotely complicated - you just need to know they exist and why they're useful for writers. So the next rash of posts will be some computery how-to on all the nifty things you can do, to make life and writing easier, so you love your laptop to bits instaed of fighting with the machine, and we're starting with the most absolutely crucial and basic thing:

Keep your novel in one single document

Every time I see a thesis or a novel in multiple documents, one for each chapter, I want to weep - not for me, but for the poor soul who's trying to work like that. There is zero reason to have separate documents for each chapter: text files are incredibly light. To put it into perspective: a single photo from your mobile is about 1000kb. (1 MB) An 80,000-word novel is about 750kb. Your entire novel uses less computer memory than one picture of your coffee. So trust me: put it all in one document. Your computer can cope.

The other reason people keep their novel chapters in separate docs is that they don't know about the document map / navigation pane. This lets you jump around your novel from chapter to chapter incredibly easily, plus you have a nifty overview of your chapter titles. If you've never used this, prepare... to be... amazed! More on how to use that below.

And here's why you should be keeping your novel in one document:
  • you can scroll / jump back up easily, to check minor details - eg a cameo character's name
  • you can change the font / formatting of the whole thing
  • you can do find-and-replace to the whole thing at once - if, for example, you change a character's name from Kristoff to Xavier, you don't need to open 20 documents to do it
  • you can spell-check the whole thing at once
  • you can manage different versions of the document much more easily
  • you can back it up to multiple places much more easily - it's just one file
  • you can print it out with proper page numbering and headers running through the whole thing
  • you can send it to the agent as a single file (and not look like a massive amateur by sending a file for each chapter!)
  • you can check for repetitions of particular words across the whole novel

To manage your novel in one doc easily, you need to know three things:
  1. How to Insert > File (if you already have a bunch of separate documents)
  2. How to use Styles & Formatting (to get your headings set up)
  3. How to use the Document Map / Navigation Pane (so you can jump around the doc easily)
If you're nervy with computers, I suggest you play around with some other documents to start with, so you don't feel like you're learning something new and handling your precious beloved novel at the same time. The more playful and game-like you can make the learning bit, the better!

1. How to Insert > File (if you already have a bunch of separate documents)


You could open each document in turn, then copy-and-paste it into a new document, but there's an easier way.
  1. Open a new document
  2. Click on the Insert tab
  3. In the Text group, click the arrow next to Object.
  4. Click Text from file.
  5. In the dialogue box that opens, navigate to the first chapter, and double-click that. It will be inserted into your document.
  6. Press Enter to start a new line (in case your doc didn't) and repeat from #2 with all the chapters, in order.
Ta-da! Your whole novel's in one document! I suggest you save it as Your Novel's Name v1. (v1 = version 1, useful thing to add for managing versions.) Next, we want to get your headings set up properly so you can use the Document Map / Navigation Pane to jump around easily.

2. How to use Styles & Formatting (to get your headings set up)


Styles and formatting are one of Word's superpowers and have a fabulous range of uses for writing - plus you can customise the styles however you want. Right now, though, we're just going to stick to headings and we'll use the default settings. The next blog post will look at how to customise them to your taste.

All text is “Normal” by default – that’s body text.
  1. Click within the paragraph or line you want to change, then choose the style from the Home tab. In this case, click on your chapter title and then click Heading 2. (If you want to save Heading 1 for the novel title.) You don't have to select the title: just put your cursor on that line, blinking away.

    You can repeat that for each chapter title. You can also copy the format instead:
  2. To copy a format from one paragraph to another, put your cursor in the paragraph whose formatting you want, and click the Format Painter button: 
    The next paragraph / line you click will get the same formatting.
    To paste the formatting in more than once place, double-click the Format Painter button. When you're finished, click it again to "put it down".
All your chapter headings are now set as Heading 2 - so now we can do the magic bit!

3. How to use the Document Map / Navigation Pane (so you can jump around the doc easily)


Once you have headings and sub-headings, you can use the navigation pane, also called the document map in some versions.
  1. Go to View and tick Navigation pane.  (Some versions might call it Document map.) The navigation pane appears on the left-hand side, showing all your document's headings. Now you have an overview of your whole novel, with all your chapter titles! Here's the navigation pane for my original document on how to do this:

  2. Click on any heading to jump to that place in the document. You can now leap from chapter to chapter in your novel at just a click, hurrah!
Some added handy features...
  • You can use headings lower down the hierarchy - Heading 3, Heading 4, Heading 5, etc - to mark key sections in your novel, especially ones you want to jump back to often. This is especially useful for pivotal scenes you want to refer back to a lot. Before you submit the novel, you can easily take out those extra headings. 
  • Each level of heading appears nested below its parent - in the example above, "Styles and formatting" is Heading 1, and the ones beneath it are Heading 2, indented. You can click the little arrow to show or hide those subheadings.
  • Whichever section you're in shows as selected in the navigation pane - usually as that warm yellow highlight. That's incredibly handy for some of the more avant-garde stuff we'll cover, like jumping through a document checking for repetitions.

Once you've got these basics of styles and formatting, you can start bending them to your will - changing the Heading font to something splendid and spiffy that suits your novel's theme, getting the paragraph settings all nicely done for how a novel should be laid out, and so forth, all of which we'll cover in the next post.

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