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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

For Fiction Authors: Tidy Time

Spoiler alert: What lies below is Good For You, but not necessarily Fun.

In a break from blogging about how to use MS Word, here are a few reminders about managing your online work.

You will spare yourself frustration, time, and that agonizing "lost file" panic if you get your electronic self organized. If, like me, you spend many hours each week "creating content" on your computer, it is worth a hour or so of housekeeping now and then, right?

1. (You saw this one coming...) Back up your files if you care about them. What if your house burned down? Have you got your work saved to "the cloud" or to a CD or thumb drive stored off-site?

2. Get rid of junk, like all those versions of the manuscript you saved in case you wanted to go back to a scene or phrase you deleted. Get rid of 11 of the 12 almost identical pictures you saved for your blog. Your computer might feel a bit friskier and you will avoid confusing yourself with multiple similar documents.

3. Is your desktop littered with files? Create folders and sub-folders with names that mean something to you. Tuck your documents in where they belong. Then you can find them in a jiffy.

4. Do those documents have good, clear names? Names you will understand 12 months from now? Change them if you need to.

5. Are your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs up to date? It is not wise to be casual or careless about these.

6. Does your email system offer options to tag or organize messages by topic? Take a look and see if you can tidy that up as well.

And that's plenty enough nagging for today!

It's so messy here, so messy...

Oh, to cheer you up, take a look at my totally cool trailer.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MS Word for Authors: Does this chapter look fat?

Some authors waste a huge amount of energy as they draft a chapter worrying about how many pages long it's gotten to be. I'm one of those dopes. Since all my chapters are in one file, the page count at the bottom of the screen doesn't help. But there is another way to get Word to tell me. This "tip" is for equally misguided souls who have some experience with Word.

This trick works well in combination with chapter titles assigned Heading 1 and Document View turned on, but those aren't essential. You do need a section break after each chapter.

Put your cursor at the end of the chapter title. Space. Now insert the field SectionPages. Here's how.

Word 2007 for Vista: Go to the Insert tab. Find Quick Parts/ Field. Find SectionBreaks and click on it. Click OK.

Word 2003 for Windows XP: Insert/ Field/ SectionPages. Click on it, click OK.

Word 2004 for Macs: Insert/ Field. For Category, select Numbering. The Field name is SectionPages.

Word will drop a number where your cursor was. (This really is a field with programming behind it, not a simple digit.) To speed up adding it to each chapter title, copy the number/field you inserted and paste it in the same place for each chapter title. You will see the number in Document View. Drag the Doc View window wider if necessary.

BUT this section (chapter) page count will be wrong. You must update the fields. Use Ctrl + a (Command + a for Macs) to highlight the entire document. Now press F9 in the top row of your keyboard to "update fields". All the numbers will now be correct, and you will know how long each chapter is. (I had some trouble testing this with a Mac--let me know if it works for you.)

Word will update the fields every time you re-open the document. More important to neurotic writers, you can highlight the document and press F9 whenever you start to worry that the chapter is too short, too long, or full of porridge.

Remember to get rid of the fields before you submit your ms. An easy way is to use Outline View set to Level 1. At each chapter title, delete the field.

Authors are such worriers. Just back up your files and get on with it!

Monday, September 6, 2010

MS Word for Authors--Making Space without the Enter Key

In previous posts, I talked about how to space text horizontally, such as centering chapter titles, without hammering on the space bar or the Tab key. Now for the Enter key!

First, for ordinary fiction, you don't need a line between paragraphs. Indent the first word of each paragraph and skip the second tap on the Enter key. The indent is enough to set off a new paragraph. (Blog posts are different, so don't copy the formatting you see here and now.) To set up the indent, see the August 16 post "We're Stylin' Now" for instructions on modifying styles. Change Normal style, using Modify/ Paragraph/ Indents and Spacing. Find Indentation/ Special. Choose First Line. Word puts in .5 inch. All paragraphs in Normal style will now be indented automatically.

Second--and I know this will arouse fiery passions in some of you--don't double-space after each sentence. One space is enough and will save some poor person the effort to strip out that extra space before publishing.

Third, if you need vertical space, avoid the Enter key. Perhaps you want to drop the title of each chapter so that it is a third or half the way down the page, which some editors prefer (as do I). I repeat: you don't need the Enter key to do this. Instead, put all that space into the paragraph formatting. You are already assigning Heading 1 style to your chapter titles, right? Modify Heading 1 to put that space in automatically. See the August 16 post "We're Stylin' Now" for instructions on modifying styles. When you get to Format/ Paragraph, check that you are on the Indents and Spacing tab of the dialog box. Find the section labeled Spacing. Throw a big number in there, maybe 120 Before and perhaps 24 After. Click OK, click New documents based on this template, click OK. Test this with a new document. If you don't like it, go back and use a bigger or smaller number. For a short story title, this can be a one-time fix instead of changing Heading 1. Right-click and choose Paragraph, then add the space before as described above.

Really, it's better not to have long strings of hard returns (paragraph symbols). They will give you a headache whenever you need to make changes. Let Word do the work instead!

Oh, come on! It's not THAT hard.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Elephants at the Borders

Yes, I'll be talking about elephants and Did Not Survive at the downtown Portland Borders Bookstore, 708 SW 3rd. See you at 7 PM this Friday, September 3!