Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Microsoft Help Files:

Using Microsoft Word to Cut Though the Hesitation Shuffle

by Russ Gifford
©2004, Russ Gifford


As a writer, I've got my issues - and no, I'm not talking about publications. I've amassed lots of sales, but I have to face my difficulties every time I sit down at a keyboard, and I'm not alone in this world. "Stumbling block" doesn't describe the problems some of us have getting started on an article. Not the research, or the interviews, but actually getting into the groove to type the darn thing. Other writers confront difficulties moving from the final draft to the professional manuscript.

I call this the Hesitation Shuffle. Perhaps it is the writer's equivalent of stage fright! It could be the fear that as writers, we are about to "commit literature!" Either way, I suspect the shuffle strands more potential writers short of home plate than any other problem.

If the shuffle seizes you on a regular basis, I have good news! Just as Microsoft Word rescued us from the tedious chores of error corrections and spell checking, (see Vision 19, Microsoft Help Files: Five Important Tools in Microsoft Word), we can also use this premier word processing program to automate our writing efforts. We can create a professional final manuscript, and help us work with requests for re-writes and references, too. Let's get started!

Guidelines for Submissions

The first step to overcoming the fear of committing literature is to make certain you look like a professional every step of the process. Luckily, book and magazine editors do their best to encourage new writers, including posting their magazine's needs, and their specific guidelines for article submissions. Generally speaking, the guidelines are very similar, and all are designed to help the editors slog through the incredible amounts of copy without losing the vital connection to the author. Nearly all guidelines request your full name and address on the front page, double space for the body of text, and your name and a page number on each of the pages. Nothing too major, but very important. While you might get by violating these guidelines, realize doing so tells the editor they are dealing with an untested writer. Most editors want copy changes, or sometimes, a new twist to the story you've submitted. Working with a seasoned pro, they have reason to believe if they invest the time to tell the writer what they want, they'll get it. However, if you won't take the time to follow, or even read, the instructions they've already posted, why would they think they'll get what they want when they tell you?

The point is making your manuscript look like it was created by a professional writer won't get you the sale. But ignoring the manuscript guidelines is generally the fast track to the rejection pile. But here's the good news. With this article, you'll use Microsoft Word to create a professional document, following established guidelines for manuscripts. Best of all, it will be there every time you need it, since we'll create it and save it as a template.

I find this very helpful with the "Hesitation Shuffle" on two fronts: since the formatting is all finished before I start writing, I don't get sidetracked with technical stuff when I sit down to write. And since the article was written to the requested standards, when I finish the final proof, I'm ready to submit it!

Creating a Manuscript Template

In Microsoft Word, a template is a pattern, or a fixed outline, that takes your choices for formats (fonts, size, color, justification, and margins) and applies them to a document. The general template is never changed by writing in it, however, because template's require that you rename the document before you save it. Thus, the original, which is the template, always remains as it started. That's a big help!

Ready? Good! First we have to create the template, so let's start at the beginning.

Step 1: Create a blank file

We'll start by creating a new blank document.  File -> New… brings us the "New" window on Word 2000 and earlier, or the New Document Task pane on Word XP and 2003.  In either case, we want a blank document, so click the appropriate choice for your computer.

Now, we have a few things we need our manuscript template to achieve. First, let's determine what your manuscript should look like. According to Writer's Market, our manuscript should have no title page, but start with vital contact information about us in the upper left corner and article information in the upper right corner. Also remember to stay away from "fancy" fonts on this document, so I will stay with Times New Roman, at 12 points. The margins should be set at 1.25 inches for all sides. Ready? Let's walk through setting each of these on our blank page.

Step 2: Creating the Format

Margins: File-> Page Setup. On the Margins tab, note that the "Apply to: " setting reads "Whole Document," and then set the top, bottom let and right margins to 1.25 inches. (It might be easier to do 1.2 for top and bottom, using the spinner buttons beside each setting.) Once you have it, click the "OK" button.

Font: First, choose Edit -> Select All. Then, using the menu Format->Font, choose Font: Times New Roman,  Font Style: Regular, and Size: 12. Click OK. (If you use the Formatting toolbar, simply ensure that the bold, italic or underline buttons are not on.)

Line Spacing: Check Format -> Paragraphs, and see that in the third section, Spacing, Line spacing is set to Single.

Step 3: Applying the constants

Time to place the Author Information! At the top left of the page, type your name, then tab 7 times, and type "About 0 Words" on the right hand side of the page. If "Words" flips to next line, delete a tab until it stays completely on the top line. Hit the enter key.

(When you write an article, you'll change the zero to the final word count to give the editor the idea of the length of the article.)

Next line is your address, then hit tab again 7 times, and type any information that the guidelines ask for, such as copyright or rights offered. (If you use (c) it should automatically become ©). Then type the year, and your name. (Note: I've never done this, but it is recommended by Writer's Market 2003 in their basic guidelines, so I leave it up to you.) Hit Enter.

Next line: Your City, State and zip code. Hit Enter

Next line: Phone Number. Hit Enter.

Next line: email address. Hit Enter.

Now, hit enter 10 times, and then center your text. Type your Article Title in capital letters.

Click Format -> Paragraph, and under the section of "spacing" note the line spacing and open the drop down menu. Click on "Double." (Check to make certain this is the proper format for your submission before you send.  Some places have different requirements, but this is the usual setting.)  Click on OK, then hit enter, and type "By" and your name (or pseudonym, if you are writing it under another name). Hit enter twice more. Click Format -> Paragraphs, and set Left indent for 5 spaces. Hit OK.

All that's left is the header and page number. This is easy, but there is one trick to it, so watch closely.

Step 4: Setting the Header

On the menu bar, click View -> Header and Footer, and the header box should open, along with a header/footer toolbar. Click inside the dashed Header box, and click the right hand justify button on the Formatting toolbar. Then type your last name and a dash. Locate the "insert page" symbol on the header/footer toolbar, and click it. (It looks like a piece of paper with a single pound sign "#" on it.)

Look at your header. If your name is on the right side, followed by a dash and a # sign, you should be set. Click the "Close" button on the header/footer toolbar.

Whew! A lot of clicking, huh? But there are only two steps left!

Step 5: Setting the print options

On the menu bar, click File->Page setup and choose the "Layout" tab. Again, making certain it says "Apply to: Whole Document," use your mouse to put a check mark in the box that says "Different first page" and click OK.

Side step: Issuing a challenge to yourself!

OK – we could save it now as a template, and we'd be done. But I go a step further, and write the first paragraph for the "dream story." It serves two purposes: First, I get to check that my settings are correct for my article, and fix them before I save it if they are not. More importantly, I've actually issuing myself a challenge each time I start a new article. You can do the same.

On my new template, I clicked into the spot I'll be typing text when I actually use the template -- in other words, at the start of the story, following the byline. This time, I typed the following paragraphs:

"Start with a killer lead, one that grabs attention by providing color and sound. Always look for why my readers would care, and then follow it with a great hook or killer quote. To really make it fly, using action verbs, and show, don't tell, why this issue grips their heart. If appropriate, place a quote here from an authority, and the next paragraph offer a supporting point of view via second quote.

"If the article poses a radical change, or a charge, offer a counter quote, and a rebuttal from another authority. But if so, return to your opening people, and let them explain why they are correct. Leave the readers with a clear choice.

"For bonus points, tie the ending back to the lead sentence. Finish it, proof it, and send it off! But don't wait by the mailbox for the acceptance letter – it looks too uncool for a big time author. Besides, you should have three more articles written and placed by the time you hear back on this one!"

Sorry about the brash style, but it seems to help me when I use the template. As I said, it challenges me, and it reminds me this article is more than simply typing in some words. I have to make a point, make a difference, and make it count. (Of course, I also have to remember to highlight all those paragraphs when I start typing the new article, so they are deleted, or some editor somewhere will be very confused, and I'll be very embarrassed!)

Step 6: Saving your template!

OK, you've typed your test message to yourself, and we are at the moment of truth. Ready? Click File -> Save As. Along the bottom of the "Save" window that appeared, there are two entry boxes. The first is the "File Name:" field that we use all the time. The second is the "Save As:" box. In the "File Name:" box, re-title this document "Manuscript Template" and then click the drop down arrow in the "Save As" box. Find "Document Template" and click on it ONCE. At the top of the "Save" window, the "Save In" box should automatically change to "Templates." If you click "Save" now, your manuscript template will be available in the General Templates folder. Click Save. (If another info box opens, click Save or OK on it, too.)

Now, as you look at the template, note the name in the title bar has changed to what you called it when you saved it. Congratulations! You did it! Close the newly named template.

Now, how do you get it back? Click File-> New, and under either the New box or the New Document Task Pane, look at your templates. (In Word 2000 or before, make certain you are in the "General" tab.) Click on the Manuscript Template, and it will launch.

Notice the new document is now called "Document" (some number), meaning you will be forced to save it as a different name when you save it the first time. You've done it!

If you'd like, here's one last test. Using this new document, and before you make any changes, do a File -> Save As command. This time, leave the File Name as is, change the "Save As" to "Template Document" and then go up above to the "Look in" box. Drop that menu open, and change it from "Templates" to "Desktop" and click Save. Close the document, and then check your desktop. There is now an icon on your desktop for your Manuscript Template! You have created a one button quick start to a new article!

While this may seem like quite a few steps, let's recognize what we achieved:

You now have a professional looking manuscript.

You have quick access to it, from your desktop.

Every submission will now say "I'm a professional writer."

And if you are the type to have a hard time starting, you've just removed a huge roadblock. With a double click of the mouse, you've already started your article. You might as well finish it!

Next Issue: Using Word to work with editors and co-authors for changes and additions!

Russ Gifford is a certified Microsoft Office Specialist Master, and a candidate Master Instructor. He has also written and sold over 200 articles, and recently accepted a contract from the University of Nebraska to write two chapters of an upcoming e-commerce training manual.