This week, YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday prompt is, What word processing program do you use to write your manuscript, and can you share one handy trick you’ve learned in that program that has helped you while you write?
As you’ve probably guessed from the emblem to the left, I use Microsoft Word (on a PC). And from the title of this post, you might have inferred that Word and I have a bit of an uneasy relationship.
You might think that my issues with Word arise from my being one of those writers who’s computer-phobic, more comfortable writing longhand or on a typewriter. Ah…no. I was thrilled to give the typewriter the old heave-ho when we bought our first home computer in 1983 (a Kaypro II running WordStar). I’d been working as a software engineer for six years by then, and had an MS in computer science from UCLA. So I had (and still have) strong opinions about how intuitive a software user interface should be (very intuitive, IMHO). Yes, Word remains a very powerful tool for word processing (I’m a thousand times more productive using Word than I was at a typewriter). I do continue to use it, but I confess that at times I wish it were a live thing so I could give it a good, hard poke.
Taking a calming breath now. As much as I use Word and appreciate its functionality, I do wonder how people with no computer background cope with some of Word’s, shall we say, less intuitive features. For instance, when I’m working on my first draft, I like to write my chapters as individual files, then stitch them together into one big file when I’m ready to edit. To accomplish that, I first do a SaveAs for my first chapter (or prologue), naming it something like Awakening draft. Then I scroll to the end of that chapter and insert a section break using Page Layout/Breaks/Next Page. I then go into the header so I can turn off Link to Previous. My running headers include the chapter number, and if I don’t turn off Link to Previous, the chapter number in the header for the new chapter will be the same as the previous one. Then I use the Insert/Object/Text from file to drop in the text of the next chapter. I run through this process for each chapter until I have the complete manuscript.
Easy-Peasy, right? You followed all that, didn’t you? I guess you would if you already knew how to do it, but if you didn’t, you might be a bit at sea tracking my instructions. And this process has changed slightly with each new version of Word.
I’ll tell you something I really do like about Word, though–tables. I use them for everything from organizing my agent submissions, to keeping track of my page/word count (both on a daily/weekly basis and overall count), to chapter outlines, to worldbuilding. Here is a nifty table I used to develop some of the backstory in Tankborn:
So, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with Microsoft Word. And yes, I often rant and rave about it to my poor beleaguered husband. But please, don’t make me work without it.