Word for Writers, Part 1: Why You Should Care

by Amber Lea Starfire on February 23, 2015

 craftsman at work

Most writers I know use Microsoft Word, or a Word-compatible word processing program. Even those of us who use other authoring programs, such as Scrivener, rely on Word on a daily basis to polish formatting and share our work with others. Yet, as an editor and writing teacher, I am frequently astonished by how few writers understand how to use Microsoft Word beyond its basics. They know how to start the application, enter some words, and save those words as document; they also know how to cut, copy, and paste; and they know how to highlight text and perform some basic formatting functions, such as changing font and fonts size. For many writers, that is “good enough.”

“I know enough to get around,” they say.

I’m here to challenge that “good enough” point of view. After all, if you were to hire a carpenter to build a cabinet, wouldn’t you expect that carpenter to have command over his tools? Would you be satisfied with a carpenter who only knew how to make rough cuts, and didn’t know how to miter corners or plane a smooth surface on the wood? A carpenter who only knew how to “get around” his tools? Probably not. And though writers work hard at having command over the primary tools of their trade — words, grammar, syntax, and punctuation — we don’t work at knowing how to use our word processor’s features. For most of us, that word processor is Microsoft Word.

So why are so many of us content with using Word to make “rough cuts”? There are probably as many reasons as there are people, but over the years I’ve observed these common ones: a lot of writers learned to type during the era of typewriters and view Word as a typewriter replacement, to type and print; some have never felt comfortable with the computer or with technology in general; many are intimidated by all Word’s features and menus and tabs; and many are simply unaware that they could revise so much faster and easier if they only knew how, never imagining how much power there is in an application like Word.

Do any of these reasons resonate for you? Do you think that “good enough” is good enough?

Imagine . . .

  • reducing the time that you spend fussing with formatting by at least half.
  • being in control of document versions.
  • changing all of the paragraph or title formatting throughout an entire document in one fell swoop, without highlighting any text or accessing menu after menu.
  • creating an accurate table of contents in just moments that will change dynamically when you make changes to your document.
  • having complete control over headers and footers, page numbering, and all spacing throughout your document.
  • being comfortable using all the Review tools (comments, track changes, etc.) when working with an editor.
  • knowing how to insert, resize, and reformat pictures, tables, and shapes.
  • confidently changing a character’s name (or finding and replacing any other text) throughout an entire document without having to page through it to “see if it worked.”
  • saving your document as a PDF, with an active, linkable table of contents.

Finally, imagine being able to do all of that without breaking a sweat.

I’d like to help you do just that. And that’s why, over the next few months, I’ll be publishing this series of articles on “Word for Writers,” of which this post is the first.

Already a Word power user? Stay tuned, because you may find a neat trick here and there that you didn’t know about before.

And for all my readers, don’t worry — I will continue to publish articles filled with journaling prompts and techniques, as well as memoir and legacy writing craft, and the writer’s life. After all, writing is my first love. Word is just a tool.

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Photo Credit: roseannadana via Compfight cc

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