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Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MS Word for Authors: A flick of the wrist over brute force

Monday Blog

MS Word offers you at least three ways to do almost anything, but some are better than others. "Better" for writers means, of course, less work when you revise. Who said, "There is no writing. There is only rewriting."?

Whenever you find yourself hammering on the same key--usually the Tab key, Enter key, or the space bar, stop and think. Whatever it is you are trying to do, it's going to be a hairball when/if you need to revise it. Long strings of hard returns (Enter key), tabs, and spaces tangle themselves into nasty knots when you tweak them.

Instead, aim to create a lean, intelligent document rather than a Rube Goldberg kludge, to mix two eras in one metaphor. It's not that hard. If you write every day, or at least frequently, the techniques will stay with you. Nothing wrong with leaving yourself a trail of breadcrumbs either, which is traditionally the "lion's mane" of notes on yellow stickies stuck all around your computer screen. (You knew I'd work animals in somehow.)

OK. Enough exhortation. Today I'll cover how to avoid the tab key entirely.

Centering text: If you want text centered, perhaps your title, first be sure the cursor (a vertical bar) is blinking quietly somewhere in the paragraph you want to change. If it isn't where it ought to be, surprises will ensue.

Once you've clicked in the target paragraph, take a look at the toolbar at the top of the screen. There should be lots of odd symbols up there, two rows of them. Drift your cursor (the arrow) over them without clicking anything. Look for a series of little boxes filled with little horizontal lines. Balloons will pop up, helpfully informing you as to their function. Find the one that says "Center text." Click. The text in the paragraph you indicated is now centered on the page.

This is better than hitting the space bar or the tab key to scoot the text to the middle of the page. Why? Because if you change the text, adding or subtracting words, it will re-center itself automatically. Cool,no? The same logic applies to Center Text's neighbors, Align text left, Align text right, and Justify.

Aside from the title, fiction should be left justified--Align text left. The words line up neatly on the left and the right margin is "ragged", like this blog text. Avoid Justify, no matter how much those smooth margins on both sides appeal to your OCD. Justify is reserved for amateurs and graphic designers.

If you set your chapter title to Center Text and then press Enter to start a new line, the words you type on this next line are centered also. Word copies the formatting of the previous paragraph. Set that next paragraph to Normal style and all should be well.

Indent first line: Tab is another way, not the best way, to put text where you want it, but only the first line of the paragraph.

For fiction, normally the first line of each paragraph is indented .5 inch. This sets off each new paragraph for legibility. Don't space between paragraphs (hit the Enter key after each paragraph). It's not needed.

Word has tabs pre-set every five spaces, so you can tab once for every new paragraph. Or you can set Normal style to do this for you, which lets Word do the work. Refer to a previous post for instructions on modifying Normal style. Look for Modify/ Paragraph/ Indents and Spacing. Find Indentation/ Special. Choose First Line. Word puts in .5 inch.

While you're there, check that Line Spacing is set to what you want, usually Double.

Click OK. Click New documents based on this template. Click OK.

Open a new document and test drive it.

It's a worthy goal to avoid ever using the tab key. Your publisher, e- or p-, will appreciate it.

I like to let Word do the work.

Monday, August 23, 2010

MS Word for Authors: Chapter Titles--In which our hero, Dirk Graysteele, learns he is the natural son of Prince Igor The Intransitive and ...

MS Word for Authors, Monday blog #4

Now that you have assigned style Heading 1 to each chapter and discovered the delights of Document View, consider this. Perhaps you know perfectly well what happens in Chapter 9 and 24 and 33. Or perhaps not. Was the bloody dagger discovered in Chapter 12 or was it 13? Did you remember to move the charging rhino chapter to after the fire bombing?

When you send the ms to your publisher, you probably want simple chapter titles. But until then, it can be handy to cram a mini-synopsis into each. Here's an example.

13 Dirk/Zelda in Rome,neurotox,sex,pitbull

Keep it short so you can see the key words in the Doc View panel. It's easy to clean them all up after your final edits.

Dirk wrestles alligator

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The good, the bad, the (not yet) ugly

The good news is that Did Not Survive is getting some great reviews. This from the zoo world:

"Ann Littlewood is an exceptional writer and as a former zoo employee knows what it is like on the inside. She does not make the offputting mistakes that other authors make when they venture zoo side. ... Whereas all zoo people will enjoy reading them so too would any fan of mystery and suspense. What is more whoever reads them will learn something about zoos and the people who work in them too." Zoo News Digest

From Vancouver, Washington, where Did Not Survive is set:

"There may be only one thing harder than publishing a first novel: pulling a second healthy rabbit out of the same hat.

But Portland writer Ann Littlewood’s sophomore novel is out — Did Not Survive, a second offering in her Zoo Mystery series — and it’s even better than her debut." Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun in The Vancouver Voice.

Of course I'm tickled pink.

And I need good news because I broke my arm on Friday, August 13. My right arm. The one I like to use every single day for tasks such as writing this blog. Sigh. I hunt, I peck, my husband ties my shoe laces. Such are the consequences of frisking about on stumps out in the woods.

But, if all goes well, no surgery needed. That would be ugly.

Monday, August 16, 2010

MS Word for Authors: We're stylin' now

Monday Blog for Fiction Writers #3

MS Word, in its ceaseless efforts to be helpful, offers a variety of "styles," each with a name. Styles are handy and worth getting to know. It takes a little trouble to understand them, but they can save you a lot of effort forevermore (or until you move to a new computer). Adjusting Normal style to suit your needs saves work every time you start a new document. Applying the style named Heading 1 to your chapter titles opens up many useful features.

Hang in with me, experiment a little with these two styles, and see if the effort pays off.

A "style" in Word is a bundle of formatting applied to a paragraph. We will keep this simple by discussing only Normal style and Heading 1 style. (Note: Heading 1 style and Header style are totally distinct.)

"Style" applies to a paragraph. It's a paragraph if it ends in a paragraph mark, even if it's only one word or a period or nothing but a hard return. And now would be a good time to turn on Show/Hide so you can see those hard returns/paragraph marks. You create one every time you hit the Enter key. Those little puppies carry a lot of information and it's best to know where they are and what they are up to.

First, Normal style. This is the default, what you get unless you choose something else. Word tells you which style applies to the paragraph your cursor is in. Open a new document and look at the top tool bars until you find the word Normal. Remember where that box, the style indicator, is. "Normal style" determines the font, font size, and line spacing, among other things, of each new document. The tool bar shows you some of the style's characteristics--the font, size, etc.--but not all of them.

If you are tired of fixing the font and indent and line spacing for every new document, I have good news for you. Change Normal style and every new document will start out the way you want it. Usually authors want double spacing, Times New Roman, 12 point, indent the first line. All that information can be adjusted in Normal style. Here's how.

Word 2003 for XP: Go to Format/Styles and select Formatting. This opens up a side panel. Click on Normal. Pull down the little menu. Select Modify. Either make changes there or click on Format in the lower left corner. To make the changes "stick" for all new documents, find the Add to template box and click it before clicking OK. Do not click Automatically update. This is devil-spawn that will drive you to an early grave.

Word 2007 for Vista: Right-click on Normal and select Modify. Proceed as for Word 2003.

Word 2004 for Mac: Select Format/Style and click the Modify button. Proceed as for Word 2003.

Explore the options. It's not that hard to set up what you want. Save it and open a new document. Is it all good? If you hit problems, try again and/or add a comment below and tell me the problem.

Now for Heading 1. Apply it to every chapter title (but not the novel title). Click on "Chapter 1," then go to the box that says Normal and instead select Heading 1. That's all there is to it. If you don't like looks of Heading 1, change it the same way you changed Normal style.

Having your chapter titles in Heading 1 style opens up a lot of possibilities. For openers, find Document View and turn it on. Now you can jump around in your document at will. Document View is in the View menu. On the Mac, it's called Navigation Pane. I love Document View and I bet you will, too.

Next time: More on chapter titles.

I wasn't born yesterday. I backed up my files.

Monday, August 9, 2010

MS Word for Authors--Put it all in one file!

This Blog #2 For Fiction Writers combines persuasion and instruction.

Here's the pitch: Create your novel in one big file, rather than each chapter in a separate file. (Already there? Read on for a couple more points.)

Why not one file? Let me count the ways:
1) You get a page count and word count at the bottom of the screen (and I will not yield an inch to those who say automatic word counts won't do.)
2) You can do a global search-and-replace, say if "Billy" must become "Tyrone", instead of opening and repeating the change in 30-odd chapters,
3) If you fear you have overused "just" or "irrevocably" you can easily search the whole document,
4) Your chapters are in the right order and can be re-ordered and renamed.
There are probably more reasons, but that's enough for now.

But wait, you cry! The file will be too big and therefore slow. The file for my latest 256 page, 85,000 word novel Did Not Survive is 676 kb. A recent picture of my dog came in at 4.38 mg, or over 6 times as big. Text files are small. If your computer can't handle a file of less than 1 mg., no one can help you.

But what if I want to print only one chapter at a time? You still can. Put a section break at the end of every chapter instead of a page break. (Instructions follow.) Don't add any other section breaks. (We are keeping this simple.) Then, go to the print dialog box. Where it offers you the option of entering a page range, enter S3 for section 3, which is chapter 3, or S12 for chapter 12. Then click the print button. That chapter is all that will print. You can even enter S1-S4 to print Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4.

But it's hard to find the chapter I want to work on. One way to find the start of the chapter is to search for the title, say, Chapter 3. But I will describe a more elegant way in a future post, when you assign a style (Style 1) to each chapter title and turn on Document View.

How to insert a section break: You want it the end of the chapter (or beginning of the next chapter, same thing).
Word 2007 for Vista: Go to the Page Layout tab, then the Page Setup section. Find "Breaks". Look at the list and select Section Break/Next Page.
Word 2003 for XP: Insert/Break. Select Section break types/Next page.
Word 2004 for Mac: Go to Insert on the top tool bar. Find Break/Section Break (Next Page).

With Show/Hide turned on (see previous Monday blog), you'll now see a double line with the words "Section Break (Next Page) in mid-page".

If your WIP is in separate chapters now, here's how to put them all into one file. Back them up first, of course. Then open Chapter 1, go to the bottom, and enter a section break. Leave the cursor right where it is.

Word 2007 for Vista: Go to the Insert tab. Way over to the right in the Text section is Object. Pull the menu down and select Text from File.
Word 2003 for XP: Insert/File
Word 2004 for Mac: Insert/File
A dialog box opens up. Navigate to the next chapter and select Insert. Repeat as needed.

Next week: Assigning a style to your chapter titles and the benefits thereof.

As ever, comments, corrections, and criticsm are welcomed.

I'm sleeping easy because I backed up my WIP.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Washington County Fair

Saturday I visited the Washington County fair with my sisters. We had a fine time looking at sheep and chickens and quilts. In the cow barn, we found a Jersey who had just given birth to a heifer calf. It was still wet, with the mother licking it assiduously. I was, of course, entranced, but lots of parents were trying to help their kids see, so I got out of the way and came back later.

The calf was standing up by then, standing and falling, and getting back up. A young man was in the little stall with them. He said it was the cow's first calf, and the zoo keeper part of me promptly went tharn. Bring an animal to a busy fair for a birth? A young cow with no experience? What if the calf presented wrong and was born dead? What if she freaked out and trampled the calf? What if she rejected it due to stress?

But, but, but... This was a domestic animal and those zoo keeper reflexes were inappropriate. They became even more inappropriate as I watched the three of them--cow, calf, handler--interact.

The little gal didn't know much, but she knew what she had to do. Find a large brown object, shove your nose under it, and find something to suck. The cow was amenable to this.

Here we had a willing mother and a healthy baby, the infant/maternal dance in perfect step. How often have zoo people prayed for just that? Please please please don't panic and step on your kid or refuse to let it nurse. Please let the baby be strong and healthy and insistent on finding the nipple. This while tip-toeing around the den or stall and watching from remote video cameras.

But that was not the program. The future for the heifer was a bottle, which the boy kept offering her. She wanted no part of it, but eventually he will win out. The calf will be bottle fed, then pail fed. The cow will go to the milking stall twice a day. I will have cream in my coffee, and that is how it is.

Monday, August 2, 2010

MS Word: Crisis Avoidance & Crisis Managment

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.