This blog is adding a new feature: a Monday series for fiction writers on how to use MS Word--short posts featuring one or two tips. This is my opportunity to give back to the writer community that has been so supportive.
Here you have Post #1 on MS Word.
Why we use Word: The entire point of word processing, as contrasted to using a typewriter, is that the document is easier to edit. Setting up your novel for easy revision will be a major focus.
To start with the fundamentals...
Back up your novel to something other than your hard drive every time you make substantial changes. This has nothing to do with Word and everything to do with writer sanity. Put the backup media (CD, thumb drive) somewhere safe, away from your computer, where you won’t lose it and where the scumbag who steals your computer won't find it easily. As an alternative method, if you use a web-based email program such as gmail or yahoo or hotmail, you can email the file to yourself. Then it lives on "in the cloud" (really, on your email provider's servers), where you can download it if you need it--until you delete the email.
You can replace the computer, but not your work--unless you have a backup. Why not go do that right now? This blog can wait.
To start with a few suggestions for Bad Times with Word: slow down, examine every label, message, and icon very carefully, and proceed methodically. Specific tips:
1) Find the Show/Hide button and turn it on. The button looks like a reverse P, a paragraph mark. In Word 2007 for Vista, it's on the Home tab in the Paragraph menu. In Word 2003 for XP, it's somewhere on the top toolbar, also true for Word 2004 for Mac. That button is there, but it's oddly hard to spot.
Find it and click it on. Now you will see all the hard returns, tabs, spaces, page breaks, etc. that might be causing your problem. These "non-printing" characters may look confusing at first, but seeing what's up with them can help enormously if you are having problems.
2) If you are changing the format of your document, do it one step at a time. Take a close look and save if a change looks OK. “Undo” changes that don’t work out. Use the Undo button or enter Ctrl+Z (PC) or Command + Z (Mac).
3) Worst case, close the document and say “No” to saving the changes. That sets it back to the last time it was saved, and you can try again.
4) Still having problems with inexplicable behavior? Close Word out completely, count to 10 slowly (that's for you, not Word), and re-open it to clear its brain.
That's a little on crisis management. Next week we'll investigate why you should put the whole novel into one file rather than a separate file for each chapter.
The picture has nothing to do with anything.