Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

writing tools

By Corina Koch Macleod and Carla Douglas
@CKMacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas

This post appeared first on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer.

In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches…

Approaches to Self-Editing

There are many ways to improve your writing. You can

  • set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
  • get structured feedback from beta readers
  • hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
  • run editing tools on your writing

Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.

DIY Feedback

You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.

External Feedback

The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.

Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.

Editing Tools

Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!

Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.

Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.

Self-Editing Tools for Writers

Tool Word-level Sentence-level Paragraph-level Big-picture level
Consistency Checker* x x
Hemingway app* x x
PerfectIt Pro* x
Self-Editing macros* x
Scrivener’s Binder+ x x
Word’s Navigation Pane+ x x
Split-screen feature in Scrivener+ x x
Split-screen feature in Word+ x x

 

*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.

+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.

As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.

Advantages of Editing Tools

Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
  • If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
  • You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
  • These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
  • If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.

Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.

For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!

Limitations of Editing Tools

Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:

Won’t Think for You

An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.

For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)

But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.

Won’t Fix It for You

Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.

For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.

Won’t Do the Footwork for You

If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.

Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?

Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.

How to Use Editing Tools

As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:

  1. Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
  2. Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
  3. Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
  4. Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
  5. Consult self-editing books for solutions to the writing problems your tools uncover.

Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.

If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)

Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.

Image by Mark Hunter

3 Ways to a Better Book With Macros

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by Carla Douglas
@CarlaJDouglas

What’s a macro?

Simply put, a macro is a set of instructions for your word processor—a short computer program that automatically performs repetitive tasks. You can run macros using Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (pro version), and Google Docs now features a lite version of the macro editors love, PerfectIt. Macros are easy to use and customize to your specific needs. Learn how to use a macro and try one out here.

Why should I use macros?

Macros can  help you quickly accomplish the most fiddly task—or series of tasks—saving you time and improving your efficiency. Use them during the revision process for a multitude of functions, from alerting you to errors to significant text clean-up. In this post, I’ll show you how to use three different macros: one to help you spot bad writing habits, one to identify potentially embarrassing errors, and one to polish your final draft.

Needless Words Macro

We all have writing tics. Sometimes we use words as filler—they clutter our writing without carrying information or advancing the narrative, and most often these offenders are adverbs and adjectives. Removing them won’t change the meaning of your prose, but it will make your writing more clear and direct. You’ll find the NeedlessWords macro here.

NeedlessWords2Excerpt from 5 Reasons Readers Will Bail On a Book

Looking at the highlighted words, it’s easy to identify those that need to be zapped: almost and just qualify what follows and delay the point the writer is trying to make. Get rid of them. Also, have a closer look at the highlighted words that remain. Maybe there’s a more concise word you could substitute.

Tip: The NeedlessWords macro doesn’t do the thinking for you. It flags the offenders, but it’s up to you to decide if the word in question is grammatically necessary, if it could be replaced with a better word, or if it should be removed. Over time, using this macro will help you improve your writing by alerting you to the words you overuse. But don’t be too eager to hit delete—these little words can add the rhythm and tone that make your voice unique.

Confusables Macro

Foreword or forward? Sight, site or cite? Vice or vise? Are you certain of their different meanings and confident you got the right one as you hastily pounded out your first draft? Don’t worry: there’s a macro for that. The Confusables macro hunts down and highlights all instances of potentially confusable words. Later, you can review each instance word by word to ensure you haven’t made an embarrassing error. After all, you wouldn’t want your novel going out into the world while your hero was prostated with grief, would you?

Tip: The Confusables macro is a good vocabulary-building tool. It makes you think more carefully about language and writing—provided you take the time to look up definitions. This macro (and most macros) can be customized with your own word lists, too.

PerfectIt Consistency Checker

Everyone should use PerfectIt—free software that checks for consistency in

  • capitalization (Government or government?)
  • hyphenation (after-school or after school?)
  • preferred spelling (colour or color?)
  • abbreviations (UNICEF or Unicef?)
  • numbers (5 students or five students?)

Try the consistency checker free as a Google docs add-on or with Office 2013. Like an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, the consistency checker alerts you to errors that otherwise might go unnoticed and it provides an extra coat of polish on your writing.

Like all tools, those I’ve described here require active participation by their users if they’re going to be effective. They won’t improve your writing—but with time and practice, the feedback they provide can help you become a better writer.

Print to Digital: Cleaning Up Your Word File

by Carla Douglas
@CarlaJDouglas

If you have a print document that you’d like to self-publish, you can turn it into a digital file and convert it to an ebook.

The first step is to get it into MS Word, and this post shows you one way to do that, using OCR software.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll have scanned your print document and saved it as a pdf, and then run it through an optical character recognition (OCR) program and saved it as a Word doc (.doc). Note that MS Word is your best friend right now. Editors use Word for a few reasons, and efficient cleanup and editing are high on that list.

Here’s what the file I’m working with looks like as a pdf (produced on a Macintosh Classic and dot matrix printer):

The manuscript has been marked up with pencil, and these marks are picked up by the OCR software, sometimes in unexpected ways. Here’s what the Word file looks like:

Two Kinds of Cleanup

There’s junk in the file—the stuff you can see, and the stuff you can’t. Sometimes, what’s hidden behind the scene in Word is the cause of the junk you can see—things like garbled text and wonky formatting. Also, the pencil marks that haven’t been converted to text remain in the document as pictures, and will have to be deleted. Some random characters appear, too, and the text is all boldface. These are just a few of the things you can see.

To clean up this file, will a spritz of vinegar and water do, or will you need industrial-strength degreaser? The answer depends on what you plan to do with the file next. If you’re going to revise or edit the text, clean it up enough to continue working on it, and save the heavy-duty cleanup for later.

For Initial Cleanup

The story I’m working with here is just over 4,000 words, and it won’t be converted to an ebook any time soon. I’m going to do an initial cleanup using FileCleaner from Jack Lyon’s Editorium. (Wiley Publishing has a free add-in with many similar features. You can find it here.)

FileCleaner is about US$30, but there’s a generous 45-day free trial available, too. It runs as a Word plug-in. Follow the directions on the site to download and install it. It will appear on the Add-ins pane in your Word ribbon. Here’s what it will do (you can select/unselect features):

Running FileCleaner cleaned up most of the junk in my story file—it’s now in a format I can continue to edit without too many distractions. Here’s what it looks like post-FileCleaner:

As you can see, FileCleaner didn’t catch the text that had been marked up with pencil. After trying a few ways to clean this up—including selecting the text and applying Normal style to it—I ended up having to repair it manually by deleting the picture and re-keying the sentence that’s squished together. Because my document is short, this wasn’t a problem, but in a longer document it could present a significant inconvenience. Here’s a last look at the cleaned-up text:

Other Cleanup Tips

At times, Word can be frustrating to work in—with extra page breaks and hidden formatting, it will do things you don’t want it to. For now, I’ve cleaned my file up well enough to do further editing. If your Word document is really acting up, there are a few of things to try. I’ve found that the best place to start is by using the show/hide feature on the Word ribbon. Corina’s post, Find the Hidden Formatting That Will Mess Up Your Ebook, shows you how.

What’s Next?

When you’ve finished revising and editing your document, you’ll need to do some more cleanup. In a future post, I’ll show you what I’ve done to prepare a document for ebook formatting—and I’ll show you the mistakes I’ve made, as well.

image by atomicjeep

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How to Format Your Ebook the Simple Way: A Word-to-Ebook Cheat Sheet 
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8 Proofreading Tools for Beta Readers

FeedbackBy C.K. MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

This post originally appeared on August 14, 2014, at Tech Tools for Writers.

Many self-publishing authors use beta readers to get feedback on a book before publication. You don’t have to work on paper; you can use a computer or a tablet to “mark up” or make notes on an author’s manuscript. Below is a list of tools for beta readers. An author may send you a manuscript in a variety of formats, so I’ve included options for several file formats.

File Formats

Sometimes it will make sense to convert the author’s file to another format. Many of the proofreading tools below will read PDFs. You can save an .rtf, .doc, or .docx file as a PDF with Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (free). If you have a stylus for your tablet, you may be able to mark up text like you would on paper. This table will tell you which tool will read which file format. I summarize the features of the tools below.

Tablet Apps

Adobe Reader (free)

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android and iOS
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs, and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus
  • Search function, so you can search all instances of an error

iAnnotate

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android (free) and iOS ($9.99)
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus

WPS Writer (free)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Available for Android and iOS tablets and phones
  • Reads .doc and .docx files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Find and replace
  • Voice search
  • Syncs with desktop version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Computer Apps

WPS Writer (free and paid)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Reads .doc, .docx and .rtf files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Robust find and replace
  • Wildcards
  • Pro version can run proofreading macros
  • Syncs with the tablet app version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Adobe Reader XI (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software (see below), so you can mark a variety of proofreading errors with symbols instead of with comments
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function
  • Read-aloud feature so you can listen for mistakes that your eyes might miss

PDF XChange Viewer (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function

Adobe Digital Editions

  • Reads epubs
  • Use ADE if the book has already been professionally formatted for e-readers
  • It’s not possible to mark up in ADE, but you can copy sections of text into a word processor and mark up the changes there—procedure explained by Rob at 52 Novels

Kindle E-ink Readers and Apps

  • Reads mobi files
  • Use this method if the book has already been professionally formatted for Kindle e-readers and apps
  • Highlights
  • Notes
  • A bit clunky—see How to Proofread on a Kindle for the procedure

App or Desktop Version?

Computer software tends to have more robust search functions than tablet apps, but it can take a while to figure out how to use the drawing tools to mark up the text with a mouse. Proofreading stamps are a shorthand for proofreading errors, and tend to make the proofreading process faster. Use them if the author knows what they mean (or provide the author with a glossary of symbols, if you like). Note: As far as I know, stamps tend to only work in the desktop versions of proofreading software.

Proofreading stamps
My stamp library; blue stamps by Adrienne Montgomerie

If you want to imitate the pros, you can import* proofreading stamps into your proofreading software or design your own. Louise Harnby of the Proofreading Parlour offers a collection of British proofreading stamps for free, and you can find American proofreading stamps on the Wiley Publishing website. Do you have a favourite proofreading tool not listed here? Tell us about it in the comments below.

*To learn how to import proofreading stamps into Adobe Reader XI or design your own, see this video by Adrienne Montgomerie.

Image by Alan Levine

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How to Proofread Your Book Like a Pro, Part 1
How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2: Checking Your Formatting
How to Proofread on a Kindle
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How to Turn Your Print Book into a Digital File

by Carla Douglas
@CarlaJDouglas

My grandmother’s typewriter: an Underwood Noiseless Portable

OCR—not your grandmother’s typewriter!

A few weeks ago I suggested that you could turn your essays, stories and other documents—stuff you might have lying around in a drawer—into ebooks. You also may have unpublished or previously published books, now out of print, that you want to self-publish as ebooks (be certain you own the rights).

You can do this yourself, but first you need to get this material into a digital format. One way is to re-key the text manually (not really an option if you have a book-length work) or you can use optical character recognition (OCR) software, which converts a scanned document into a digital file.

There are many OCR programs available, ranging in price from free to fairly costly. I chose OCRonline to experiment with. It’s web-based, and your first 5 page conversions are free. After that, they’re 4 cents per page. Simply open an account and log in, then follow the instructions.

1. Scan your document and save it as a pdf. The photo at the top of the page? That’s my grandmother’s typewriter. She was a prolific correspondent, and I’m currently digitizing a collection of her letters. Here’s a snippet of one, dated March 13th, 1944:

Tip: Be sure to scan all pages into a single document, or you’ll be stuck (as I was) with multiple separate files that have to be compiled later.

2. Upload your scanned file.  Browse >> Upload

3. Convert your scanned file to MS Word .doc (no .docx option) >>Process


4. Retrieve your converted file at the link provided.
Here’s what my converted snippet looks like:

That’s it! As you can see, the Word file is littered with debris and some ugly bits, but you’re well on your way to having an editable, searchable file, suitable for formatting as an ebook. So go ahead—open your drawer…

Next: File cleanup.

Photo by Carla Douglas

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How to Improve Your Writing with Macros—Tips for Beginners

by Carla Douglas
@CarlaJDouglas

Paring down your prose is immensely satisfying—it makes images and turns of phrase come alive, and it helps clarify your meaning, too.

Finding ways to trim what you’ve written is drudgery, but macros can help you by automating part of this process. In her post a couple of weeks ago, Corina mentioned three macros that are especially helpful to writers: NeedlessWords, TellingWords, and -ly Words.

Get a snapshot of your writing habits

These macros locate and highlight potential offenders—words that clutter your writing and cloud your meaning. They’re easy to use and can be adapted and tweaked to suit your task. I love them because they provide a rudimentary data visualization of your personal writing ticks: they show (don’t tell!) you exactly where your bad habits reside.

Give them a try—if you need  help adding a macro to Word, you’ll find it here. To run a macro in Word, you’ll find instructions here. If you have 20 minutes to spare, this free 20-minute macro course will have you up and running with macros in no time.

What to do with highlighted text

So, you’ve run the macro and all the possible culprits are magically revealed on the screen before you. What’s next?

The macros have done their part—now you have to apply your own sweat. You need to look at the highlighted words and assess them, one by one. Here’s a preview of what your decision-making process might look like for the three macros I’ve mentioned.

NeedlessWords

Needless words are the words you can eliminate without changing your meaning. Words like that, which, to, in order, really, very, barely—in short, many prepositions, adverbs and adjectives—that stand in the way of what you’re trying to say.

Which words are needless?

In this sample text, you can easily see which words could go and which need to stay. I need to keep begin but can do without then, almost, just and just. (Who knew that I just love the word just?) These words cause drag in the writing: they qualify, delay and postpone the point I’m trying to make.

The other highlighted words need to stay to make the sentences they’re in grammatical. The macro can’t identify what part of speech a word is acting as—that’s your job.

-ly Words

The -ly words can be a pox on your dialogue: “He said sadly,” “she replied enthusiastically,” “they chirped boisterously.” And when you’re trying to bang out a quick first draft, these adverbs appear fast and furious, both in your dialogue and in straight narrative. Here are two sample passages with some -ly words highlighted:

Adverbs are almost always optional, as are those in this short passage. They’re not strictly needed, but they might function in ways that aren’t obvious—by adding texture to the narrative voice, for example.

The -ly words in the sample below, however, should be zapped. Adding adverbs to dialogue tags almost always results in flat, inanimate speech.

TellingWords

Telling words are different than needless words and -ly words—they provide a broader diagnosis. A cluster of these words is a symptom that you might be doing a lot of telling, and eliminating them one by one won’t solve your problem. Here’s an example:

Telling words appear most often in narrative passages, in which writers are trying to fill in story gaps or provide background information. The telling words macro can act as a red flag: if you see too many telling words, ask yourself if the narrative has become boring or flat. And if it has? This could be a good place to switch to dialogue.

What stage of writing is best for using a macro?

Most writers actively suppress their inner editor during a draft, and plenty of writing advice also recommends writing a first draft quickly and paying little attention to details like word choice. Writing macros come in handy at the end of this stage, and point to areas that will need more attention.

You can also run a writing macro when you’ve completed two or three chapters, to point out some of your writing habits. And they’re also useful in later stages, if you’re trying to reduce your word count. In other words, run them any time you want an objective snapshot of your style and habits.

Finally, many of the words targeted by these macros are needed, but maybe they are not needed as often as you think! Rhythm, pacing, tone, voice—these aspects of your writing make it distinctive and interesting, and you don’t want to strip that away for the sake of efficiency. And whether a word should be excised also depends on your audience, subject, genre and purpose.

Macros won’t fix your writing. That’s up to you. What they will do is point out what you should be thinking about—they’ll help you switch off autopilot, and that’s an enormous first step.

Image by ProAdventure

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2 Tools for Improving Your Writing

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by C.K. MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

Learning to write well is a process, and there is so much to consider—from story structure to the words you choose.

In self-publishing circles, there is a lot of discussion about perfecting plot, characters, and dialogue—the elements of story—but comparatively little airtime is given to the building blocks of stories: words.

Sometimes, the words we use can clutter our writing and jolt the reader out of the story. Strunk & White calls these words “needless words.” That’s good news. If these words are needless, we don’t need them, and if your writing will be better without them, the solution is simple!

Needless Words

So, what are needless words? In a nutshell, any word that can be deleted without altering the meaning of a sentence or threatening correct grammatical construction is a needless word.
Strunk and White list some examples in the Omit Needless Words section of their famous style guide. Janice Hardy’s Words to Avoid list is another terrific resource for learning which words you can do without.

Hunting down needless words is an easy way to clean up your writing because it often requires nothing more from you than to find the offending words and press the delete button. Excise these words from your writing and you’re well on your way to communicating clearly.

Finding Needless Words

I know what you’re thinking… Do I have to pick through every word in my 300-page book? You can, but I’m not suggesting that you find needless words manually in a word-by-word manner. Oh, no. There are tools for that. Nowadays, simple tech tools can help you root out those words that muddy your writing.

Below, I’ve listed two tools that authors can use to polish their prose: one for Word users and the other for Scrivener users.

Word Tool

In Microsoft Word, you can use a simple highlighting macro that will hunt down and highlight all of the needless words in your book in a matter of minutes. I call it the Needless Words macro, in honour of Strunk & White. You can then decide how to address those highlighted words (delete them!).

NeedlessWords macro in action

You can find the Needless Words macro at Tech Tools for Writers.

Scrivener Tool

Scrivener’s Word Frequency tool is less sophisticated, but still worth a mention. It doesn’t highlight needless words, but it indicates words you may have overused. You can then use Scrivener’s Find and Replace function to find and scrutinize those words you’ve used most. In Scrivener, you can find the Word Frequency tool by going to the Project, Text Statistics, Word Frequency.

Scrivener’s Text Statistics tool

Scrutinizing words is best left for the revision stage of writing, after the the big-picture elements and paragraph-level elements have been addressed. Taking the time to give your writing attention at the word level will ensure a smoother read for your readers.

Image by Matt Scott

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Why Editors Use Word—Authors Can Harness Word’s Powers, Too!

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By Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

Authors can use a variety of tools for the writing and publishing process. In Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast, I describe over thirty tools that authors can use, and some of them may even make the writing and publishing process more efficient.

Will one tool do it all?

As much as I wish there were one tool for the entire publishing process (Scrivener comes pretty close to this ideal), sometimes different tools make sense for different stages of the publishing process.

Take editing, for example.

If, during the publishing process, you decide that you want to have your book professionally edited, there is a very good chance that Microsoft Word will be your editor’s tool of choice.

Why?

Quite simply, Microsoft Word helps editors to do their work better and faster.

So, how does Word accomplish that?

Word’s Built-in Functions

Word has some pretty powerful built-in functions that can help editors hunt down errors efficiently:

Learning to use any of Word’s built-in functions can save an editor loads of time.

Tools that Work With Word

Word also works well with some pretty powerful add-ins/ macros–tiny software programs that execute specific tasks and automate a variety of editing tasks. But it’s not just about automation, its about accuracy, too. These tools can help editors catch things they’d otherwise miss.

Here is a small sample of editing macros that have been designed to be used with Word:

  • CrossEyes–A “reveal codes” type tool that helps you see the formatting that lurks in a document’s background. This is particularly helpful for ebook formatting.
  • FileCleaner–For quick document clean-up
  • Macros for Writers and Editors (free)–A variety of macros designed to handle all sorts of editing challenges. FRedit is one worth trying.
  • Perfect It–A consistency checker
  • Reference Checker–Checks in-text citations against references (for specific style guides)

Writers can use Word’s built-in functions, macros, and add-ins, too. There’s a learning curve involved with each tool, but if you have the time and interest to learn something new, these tools can help you save on editing costs later.

Note: if you ask your editor to edit your manuscript in software that doesn’t have or allow for the use of these tools, your editor will take longer to complete the job. Keep that in mind if you’re paying your editor by the hour.

Try an Editing Add-on

Daniel Heumann’s consistency checker, PerfectIt, is my all-time favourite editing tool. The best way to understand what a consistency checker can do is to just give it a try. PerfectIt works as a Microsoft Word add-in, but you can try a lite version of this tool, called Consistency Checker, using Google Docs. If you have a gmail account, you’ll have access to Google Docs.

Consistency Checker Add-on for Google Docs

  1. Take a section of a document that you’ve been working on and paste it into Google Docs.
  2. Click on the Add-ons tab in Google Docs, click on Get add-ons and search for the Consistency Checker by PerfectIt. Download the add-on.
  3. Open the Consistency Checker by once again clicking on the Add-ons tab in Google Docs. The Consistency Checker should now be listed. Click Open and then click Scan. Consistency Checker will check for:
  • abbreviations in two forms (US vs. U.S.)
  • common typos (teh vs. the)
  • contractions (contractions aren’t used in all kinds of writing)
  • hyphenation of words (in-line vs. in line)
  • numbers in sentences (spelled out or numerals?)
  • spelling variations (colour or color)

    Consistency Checker will identify inconsistencies in your writing so you can fix them. If you spelled a word differently in two places (e.g. colour vs. color – both correct, depending on whether you’re following Canadian or American spelling), this tool will find the spelling variations. It finds common typos, too.

    The tool is designed to spot certain inconsistencies, but it’s up to you to fix them. To fix them, you need to know what to do with the information that Consistency Checker flags. To get the most out of this tool, you may need to consult a style guide and find out how to use hyphens correctly, for example. You may need to look up the rules for abbreviations and numbers in sentences. If looking things up in style guides is not your thing, an editor will know what to do and can fix things for you.

    In sum, editors use Word because it helps them to do their best job for you, the author. And I suspect that editors will continue to use Word until other tools* can rival Word’s capabilities.

    A final note: many of the macros listed in this post are designed for Word for Windows and are not available for Mac users. Mac users can write their own macros, though, and run Parallels Desktop so that they can make use of commercially available macros for Word.

    *I’m currently checking out one tool that may be able to do much of what Word can do. Stay posted for details.

    Image by takomabibelot

    How to Format Your Book the Simple Way: A Word-to-Ebook Cheat Sheet
    How to Make Word Behave Like Scrivener
    New Options for Designing Your Ebook
    The 4 Levels of Editing Explained: Which Service Does Your Book Need?

    How to Make Word Behave Like Scrivener

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    One of the greatest benefits of Scrivener is its ability to help manage sections of a book-length document. You can quite literally select a section of your book, and then drag it and drop it to another part of your book without any fuss.

    Scrivener’s Binder (the left pane in Scrivener) also allows you to see at a glance which sections you’ve written, which can then help you to do determine which sections you may still need to write.

    Scrivener’s Binder

    But not everyone is comfortable with Scrivener at first. Things may not be where you expect them to be (though this downloadable cheat sheet can help you get your feet under you). If you prefer to stick with the devil you know, then there’s a way to “hack Word” and get it to behave like Scrivener.

    Scrivener’s Binder and Word’s Nav Pane

    Did you know that Microsoft Word has a feature that’s similar to Scrivener’s Binder?

    Word’s Navigation Pane

    It’s called the Navigation Pane, and while it isn’t ready-to-use when you first open Word, a few simple tweaks can get Word’s Nav Pane working for you.

    Here’s how you do it:

    1. Sketch a book outline.

    Open a new Word doc. If you like to plan before you write, quickly list the sections you want to include in your book.

    Outlining lends itself well to nonfiction books (my outlines usually consist of a rough table of contents), but you could also list all of the scenes, plot points, or story beats for a novel.

    Here are the “bones” for Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast:

    Introduction
    Chapter 1: Develop a System
    Chapter 2: Just Start
    Chapter 3: Motivate
    Chapter 4: Collaborate
    Chapter 5: Brainstorm
    Chapter 6: Research
    Chapter 7: Organize
    Chapter 8: Draft
    Chapter 9: Revise
    Chapter 10: Edit
    Chapter 11: Add Images
    Chapter 12: Clean Up
    Chapter 13: Format
    Chapter 14: Proofread
    Chapter 15: Create a Cover
    Chapter 16: Publish
    Chapter 17:
    After You Hit Publish
    Workflow Tools
    Sample Revision Checklist

    Don’t be too concerned about getting you structure perfect. Your structure can change as you write. And that’s okay because we’re setting up Word to handle that.

    2. Assign a heading style.

    Once you’ve laid down the bones of your book, assign a heading level to each item in your outline. Each of my chapters in Idea to Ebook is a Heading 1. If I were to include sections, I’d style them as Heading 2s and subsections would be Heading 3s.

    In fiction, your chapters will be Heading 1s and your scenes can be Heading 2s. Apply your heading styles using the Styles menu  in Word.

    Word Styles menu


    3. Manage your headings in the Navigation Pane.

    After you’ve applied your heading styles, open the Navigation Pane with the Keyboard shortcut CTRL + F. Click on the tab on the left. You should see your headings in the Navigaton Pane.

    If you click on the headings, Word will whisk you to that section of the document. If you drag a heading in the Nav Pane to a different place in the Nav Pane, that section will be moved to a different place in your running document.

    By setting up the Nav Pane, you’ve essentially set up Word to behave like Scrivener’s Binder.

    You’re not limited to one heading level. If you create subsections and style them as Heading 2s in Word’s Style menu, they’ll show up in the Navigation Pane as well. Play around with it. You can also delete an entire section in your running document by right-clicking on a section title in the Nav Pane and selecting delete.

    If Scrivener is too steep a learning curve for you right now, there are ways to tweak Word so that it serves you better. In the end, it doesn’t matter what tool you use to write a book. Your readers will never know, anyway. Why not begin by getting to know the tool you already have?

    Related Posts
    25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story
    Scrivener Cheat Sheet (Downloadable)
    Ebook Formatting Principles: Organizing the Reading Experience

    How to Use Twitter to Compile and Export Your Kindle Notes and Highlights

    Twitter-2

    by Carla Douglas
    @CarlaJDouglas

    Image by MKHMarketing

    Do you use your Kindle for proofreading? If you do, then you know that being able to compile and export your highlights and notes — to make corrections to send to an author or formatter — is one of the handiest features available on this device.

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote about using Send to Kindle for personal documents. This feature, which allows you to send documents from your computer to your Kindle, is similarly handy for editors and authors.

    Oh. Except that after you’ve finished working away marking up a manuscript with notes and highlights, you find out that the export feature is only available for books purchased through the Kindle store.

    There is a way, though, to compile and export your markup notes and highlights. I tried this procedure on the Kindle and the Kindle apps for the iPhone and Android tablet. It worked well on the first two, but the Android app doesn’t offer the same options, at least not yet.

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    • Twitter account
    • Evernote
    • Kindle device or app

    Here’s what to do:

    1. Open a Twitter account. If you already have one and it’s linked to your device, then you’re ready to go. On the other hand, if you don’t want to broadcast messages from your personal documents, then open a new account and protect your tweets in the privacy setting. Have your new username and password handy because you’ll need them to link to your device later.

    2. Create an Evernote account if you don’t already have one. I like Evernote because it’s fast, flexible and free, and it syncs across all my devices.
       
    3. Find your document on your Kindle or Kindle app.

    4. Mark up errors and key passages using the procedure described in this postThe actual process of highlighting and making notes varies slightly across devices. I found it to be easier on the iPhone than on the Kindle because the iPhone responds more quickly and involves fewer steps. 
    If your markup is intended for your own use later, you can probably just highlight errors and passages you want to return to. If you’ll be sending notes on to someone else, you might need to add a few words. Number or mark the notes if you like — especially if you’ll want to talk about them later, and can refer to note 1, note 2, and so on.
    5. Share your notes and highlights to Twitter. On iOS devices, tap the export box (with arrow pointing up) and a menu with options to share to Twitter or Facebook pops up. Tap Twitter. Here’s what the screen looks like on the iPhone:
    The Kindle provides many more choices about what you can do with text once it’s selected. Just choose Share (you might have to tap More first).
    If your device is already linked to your Twitter account, then your message will be sent directly. If it’s not, then you’ll be asked to authorize Twitter by entering your username and password. 
    6. Go to your Twitter account, where you’ll find your compiled highlights, tweet by tweet. If you are compiling notes to share with others, you can make these tweets available to selected recipients through Twitter’s privacy settings (see Step 1). Or, you can share via Step 7, below.
    7. Clip your notes to Evernote. Do this if you have a long list of notes. The links remain active and you can take advantage of all of Evernote’s features to work with or share the text. This post by Michael Hyatt tells you how to get your notes to Evernote (begin at his Step 6).   
    A nice feature of this method is that the links are compact, but they contain the entire block of text you’ve highlighted. Links will open on your own Kindle page. There might be a word limit for what’s contained in the links, but I haven’t found it. Here’s what a link looks like open:
    Here, you can make additional notes on individual selections and share them. Note, however, that although you have the option to save the highlight, this function isn’t active for personal documents. So nothing is actually saved on your highlights page.
    This is not a perfect solution, but it’s not bad, either. Ideally, Amazon will make these notes available for personal documents just as it does for purchased books. But making the notes and highlights visible to others is currently part of Amazon’s social reading apparatus. To share your notes and highlights, you have to make them public on your Kindle book page — and they won’t be personal documents anymore.
    Even though the Kindle and Kindle apps weren’t designed specifically for sharing notes and marks in personal documents, these “markup” tools have enormous potential for proofreaders and authors.

    Update: Thanks to Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles podcast for alerting me to the fact that this technique might not work if your Kindle is linked to Goodreads.

    Is Goodreads the default destination for notes and highlights? Let me know if you’ve tried this method for exporting your notes. I’d love to hear what your experience is, and I’ll tweak this post accordingly.

    Related Posts

    Twitter in the Classroom