Why are so many writers afraid of WORD?

I am constantly amazed by how many writers seem to be afraid to make any changes from what WORD offers as its default. They still treat the program as if they were working on a typewriter. Need an indent, press TAB. Want to set a section of type farther in (so it looks like a newspaper article), hit TAB and ENTER at the end of each line. And so on.


Now, I’m not going to say I know everything there is to know about WORD, in fact I just learned two new things today, and many of the formatting tricks I’ve learned came from a publisher’s (and my editor’s) tip sheet. I’m also not going to say I like WORD. I swear they love frustrating writers because every time they come out with a new version, they move things around so I have to spend time figuring out where they hid a simple command. (Such as: Where is the thesaurus now?)

Back when I started writing I was using a typewriter and learning formatting techniques wasn’t important beyond the simply ones involving spacing, margin width, tabs, etc. Nowadays, however, most publishers are accepting manuscripts in electronic form and many (if not most) want the ms formatted so it can easily be converted to print or to an e-book. This mean the writer needs to be in control of how many spaces after a period (or at the end of a paragraph). The writer needs to know how to use FIRST LINE INDENT, control line spacing, font, and font size. The writer is expected to know how to add a header or numbers, and how to keep the header and numbers from appearing on the title page.

Many editors, nowadays, as well as contest judges, are using the TRACK CHANGES and COMMENT options. Writers need to know how to hide those markups or show them. And maybe most important, writers need to know how to use the ¶. Either as you type or while editing, that symbol (usually found on the default HOME line) should be toggled on. It will show when you’ve used the tab rather than a first line indent, when you’ve hit the spacebar more times than you realized (I was amazed by how many extra spaces I had after the period before I actually hit the enter key.), as well as other normally unseen formatting symbols.

What we (writers) should do is simply play with the different options available. Take a short piece of something you wrote in the past and save it as a test piece. Then go through the tool bars of whatever edition of WORD you’re using and find out what you can or can’t do. (WORD is always frustrating me. It may say I’ve changed the default font from what they loaded to what I want, but next time around, I find that’s not true. We’re back to the font they obviously like best.) Learn shortcuts, how to undo actions, what you can add, how to change that numbering or alter your name and the book’s title on opposing pages, and so many other possibilities. Don’t be afraid of the program. Make it work for you.

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16 Responses to Why are so many writers afraid of WORD?

  1. Cheryl Peck says:

    I am not afraid of Word: I am fed up with Word. I’ve spent five years trying to figure out how to set a font as a default for 2010 (I could do it in three previous versions. It was easy.) About 3 months ago Word changed may page layout and I still haven’t been able to figure out a.) where the change occurred (much less why) or b.) how to change it back. The program is possessed. It is written by malignant gremlins and if I had wanted to become an ITT specialist I would have taken more math in high school (which is about forty years too late to change now.) My agent sent me corrections to a MS (which eventually she rejected) four years ago. I won’t tell you how long it has taken me to figure out what they were, where they came from and how to a.) see them, b.) get rid of them. I think in the end it’s a question of how many times are you willing to re-learn the same thing so you can do tomorrow what you did with no effort whatsoever yesterday (all the while trying not to get testy about how much ‘easier’ computers have made our lives.)

    • Maris Soule says:

      Hmm, Cheryl, does this mean you’re upset with Word? Just kidding. It’s good to hear someone else swears at those malignant gremlins. I agree with all you said, but I still think writers need to learn how to do the basic formatting. It would make their work look more professional and dwouldn’t really involve that much work on their part.

  2. I think this is why younger people are so much better at technology – it’s because they’re not as afraid of “breaking things” and just explore. When they discover what happens when they do something, the remember it and apply it next time. I’ve gotten a little more adventurous, but still get stuck once in a while and have to ask my grandson for help.

    As for using Word, I use a Mac version so things look a lot different than what my daughter sees on her PC. Still this updated Mac version took a bit of getting used to and I had to search for things – or go to Google!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Patricia, it really frustrates me when the new version of almost any of the computer programs come out. Maybe they (the programers) think they make the program better, but usually it just means I have to search for what used to be easy to find. Thank goodness for grandsons (and granddaughters).

  3. Kathy Crouch says:

    I’ve seen things in critique that they had two spaces after the period and when I asked they said olkd habits die hard. I’m thinking okay but you can set up a default template and WORD will catch the error. I used to take a computer tips by email. I learned a lot from there. Also, there was an author that had on her website how to set the lines, the margins and other things. I followed her instructions and it worked. I have it set as default. Doing the header can be a bit tricksy as Smeagol would say. I usually choose the three column one and fill in the spots. Again it can be deleted if it isn’t working. I think people are often afraid of change. I remember when I worked in a convenience store aka gas station. We had three different cash registers in the almost 15 years I worked there. the last one is pretty much universal in all c-stores now. We had fun when they trained us and during the install.
    When we first got a computer, my husband would screw something up or get lost and call me at work asking how to fix it. I finally started telling him leave it and I’ll fix it when I get home. It was hard to tell him what to do when I couldn’t see the screen. I love the first line indent thing and the other fun stuff. But I forget how I set it to only do one space after the period. I wasas going to tell someone how to use it but I didn’t remember how.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Kathy, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I’ve worked with a lot of new writers, showing them how to find things and make changes using WORD. They think I’m smart. They don’t know that most of the time it’s merely by chance that I find the answer to the problem.

  4. Melissa Keir says:

    I think it’s easy to get frustrated when there aren’t clear directions or you aren’t sure what you did to get to the problem. It is better to try things and mess around but you can get in trouble when you make a mistake and don’t know how to fix it.

    • Maris Soule says:

      You are right, Melissa, which is why, if it’s something you don’t want to mess up, it’s best to make a copy of the ms and try to make the changes on that. If you do get in trouble, you can simply delete the file copy and go back to the original.

  5. Most of what I know, I’ve learned since I became published. Yes, Word can be frustrating, but I like to learn new things, so when my first editor forwarded instructions of Track and Change, I embraced the chance to add a new skill to my work set.

    I think attitude is everything. Don’t let fear rule! I like your idea of experimenting. Besides, if you make a mistake most times the undo button works magic.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Yes, Shelley, thank goodness for that undo button. Besides attitude, I’ve come to believe some people simply don’t want to make the effort to learn (or relearn) how to do things. Then again, I guess that is attitude.

  6. Diane Burton says:

    I like the comment about Word being possessed. I just wish they left things alone. I knew exactly where things were before the 2007 version (or was it 2010?). I’m an old dog but I can learn new tricks. Just wish it didn’t take me so long. BTW, instead of Thesaurus, highlight the word then right click for synonyms. I’ve found with MS programs, they put a lot of good stuff in the right-click menus.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Diane, at least you have the right attitude (you’re willing to learn new tricks), I’m amazed by how many people (and yes, they’re usually past 50) simply say, “Well, that’s not how I learned how to do it.”

  7. Kathryn Jane says:

    I just took an online course by Joan Leacott on Word through AEMS (Amy Atwell) .. and OMGoodness, there was such good stuff to learn!

    I have to say that this made a huge difference because everything I used to know about Word was by self-discovery and I’m not very adventurous in the presence of technology 🙂

    • Maris Soule says:

      Bravo to you, Kathryn Jane. I’d like to take a course because as much as I do know, I’m sure there are many more options I don’t even realize are available.

  8. Mark Tank says:

    It is not just word. The rules you are talking about apply to just about every type of word processor. From Adobe InDesign to Apples iPages the formatting maybe found in different places but it is there. If you don’t even know these formatting options exists you won’t even look for them.

    As a person in the print industry it amazes me how many people use spaces to center titles. Hanging indents are also done wrong 90% of the time. People have no clue as to the use of a hard return and a soft return, and this is just the begging; after and before paragraphs, leading, word spacing, paragraph and character styles.

    Thanks for this post. I might make my job easier.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Mark, I wish my blog would make your (and my) job easier, but just the other day I had to help a writer figure out how to change the spacing between paragraphs, put numbering into a header, and use the NEW PAGE option. As you said, we writers should know how to use our tools. Thanks for taking the time to comment.