Microsoft Word’s Writing Environment by Eric Braswell
Unless pen and paper are preferred, writers spend most of their writing time on a computer. Every popular operating system ships with a basic word processor. Additionally, there are dozens of free or inexpensive alternatives available online.
But writers want extras like spell checking, formatting, word/phrase search, and a way to track revisions and make comments. Many people settle on Microsoft Word. It has its annoyances, but I’ve made peace with most of them.
Word has the ability to save variables such as font size/face and line spacing with your file. I take advantage of this feature by creating a customized template for writing.
My template sets the default paragraph font to 12 pt. Courier New; creates a header with entries for the working title, my name, the current draft number, and last updated time; and prints page number in the footer. But all of these properties can be changed to meet the editor’s, proofreader’s, or publisher’s needs.
Below, I’ll detail how I create my template. I use Word 2003, but the information should generally apply to later or earlier versions.
To create a template, begin with a new, empty document.
Choose the font face and point size you’d like to be default. Next, set up your header and/or footer. They are a great way to view information about your work in progress from any page of the manuscript. Also, whenever you update either, the change will occur on every page.
In Word 2003, create a header/footer by selecting View—>Header and Footer in the menu. You can manually enter information in your header, but I prefer to use Word’s field function to grab the information from the document’s property sheet.
Once you’ve created the header, choose Insert—>Field from the menu. A property window with lots of entries opens. Limit them by choosing the “Document Information” category.
Under “Field Names”, choose DocProperty. The middle column of the Field window lists available properties. They correspond to those listed when you view File—>Properties from the menu. As an example, click on “Author” and hit OK. If you set a user name when you installed Word (Tools—>Options—>User Information), that name will appear in the header.
With the header still open, hit enter to begin a new line and insert your next field of information. Are you obsessed with word count? Insert the “Words” property here.
I should mention that fields populated this way don’t automatically update when you save. To see the most current information, double-click to highlight the field in question (for a header, place your cursor in one field and then press Control + A to select every field in the header), right-click and select update field.
If you’ve set your Print preferences to update fields before printing, you can also switch your view to File—>Print Preview and then press Escape to update fields. Below is a screen grab of my template’s header.
Notice the Draft 1? That’s a custom property I added.
If you want to track drafts or revisions this way, open File—>Properties—> and click on the “Custom” tab. Using the “Type” pulldown, choose the type of information you want to record (text, date, number, etc.).
For this example choose “text”. In the “Name” field, give your custom property a name. You’ll look for this name in the “Field” window of DocProperty, where you chose what information to include in your header.
Once you’ve named your custom property, click in the value field and add a value (1 for 1st draft, 2 for 2nd, etc.). When you type a value, the “Add” button highlights. Click it to add your custom property to the document’s properties.
Follow the previously outlined procedure to include the new property in your header (or footer). Just remember to change this property value and resave your manuscript with a new name that reflects the draft number when you begin subsequent revisions or drafts.
Once you’re satisfied with your header information and any custom properties you’ve added, save the empty document as a Document Template (*.dot) file. Word should save the template in your personal preference folder by default. This location will vary depending on the type and version of your operating system.
If you’re comfortable navigating the folder structure of your computer, you should definitely backup your personalized templates to another folder or drive.
To use the template, create a new document from it. This time, when you save your new document, save it as a Word Document (*.doc or *.docx), not a template file. Don’t forget to open File—>Properties and enter information like title, draft, etc.
Congratulations if you made it this far! It may seem like a lot of work, but once you’ve created a template it’s easy to use and re-purpose.
I hope this post helps you use MS Word to reveal information and better organize your writing.
A special thanks to Lara for allowing me to litter her blog with Cheetos crumbs. Now, go write!
Eric Braswell is a videographer and video editor by day, and an aspiring writer after hours. He is currently completing a collection of short stories, and a Young Adult novel about a senior required to vote and write a report about it to graduate. He blogs at Eric-Blues.com and tweets @Eric_Blues.