Silence—a Hostile Work Environment?

I find it nearly impossible to write in total silence.

I was still in high school when I discovered I was most productive in environments that weren’t absolutely quiet. Back then, I would take a portable typewriter to the university snack bar to pound out prose. Years later, when I was writing my master’s thesis, I would park in a booth at Taco Bell with my laptop. A friend of mine was the manager there, so I’d buy a drink and he’d bring me free food.

For a while I thought I was just quirky—or even defective. Then I read David Mamet’s book, Writing in Restaurants, in which the award-winning playwright and screenwriter equates public writing with performance art. A writer in a restaurant is, in many ways, similar to the sidewalk chalk artist who draws both pictures and crowds. The act of public writing includes an unspoken obligation to your “audience.” I know from my own experience that the pressure to “perform” helps keep me on task … even if the pressure is all in my head.

When writing in public, Mamet says, “Joy and sorrow can be displayed and observed ‘unwittingly,’ the writer scowling naively and the diners wondering, What the hell is he doing? Then, again, the writer may be truly unobserved, which affects not a jot the scourge of popular opinion on his overactive mind.”

I wrote most of my first NaNoWriMo novel at a McDonalds in Draper, Utah, where the dining room technically closed at midnight but the staff didn’t mind if I hung around longer. For 99¢ (plus tax) I got unlimited Diet Coke, free WiFi and just enough background noise to get my creative juices flowing. I also got words of encouragement from the cashiers who rooted for me from behind the counter. When I hit 50,000 words and “won” at about 11:45 p.m. on November 30, the restaurant’s employees joined me in my victory dance. It felt like a standing ovation.

Recently, I came across an article that refined my thinking somewhat. The Harvard Business Review piece, “Why You Can Focus in a Coffee Shop but Not in Your Open Office,” reviewed new research on “open office” environments, where office walls doors and even cubicle partitions are dumped with the intent of creating a more collaborative, collegial atmosphere. Anyone who’s ever worked in an open office knows that the model tends to stifle productivity rather than fostering it. The key question is why.

One of the studies mentioned in the article, this one conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found that “the right level of background noise—not too loud and not total silence—may actually boost one’s creative thinking ability.” Obviously, the “right level” for one person might not be right for the next. But there is some pretty good research to give us general numbers. According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Research, “… [A] moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks…. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity.”

A separate study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggested it’s the lack of privacy as much as noise levels that can torpedo productivity in an open office setting.

Which makes perfect sense. While a moderately busy restaurant or coffee shop provides plenty of background chatter to drown out the silence, it also provides a level of relative anonymity you don’t get around your co-workers. Unless you live in a very small town, most people you encounter in public are strangers. When you write in a restaurant, you’re alone in a crowd.

Or as Mamet puts it, “In a restaurant one is both observed and unobserved.”

Obviously, sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop puts you in the crosshairs of the Chatty Cathys of the world. This can pose a real threat to productivity. “What are you writing?” “A novel! What’s it about?” “I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Let me spend the next 40 minutes telling you about it….” This happened to me a number of times until I learned the number one rule of writing in restaurants: don’t make eye contact.

This finding is borne out by a paper presented at the annual conference of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which found “that face-to-face interaction, [and] conversation … may disrupt the the creative process.” Interestingly, the creativity factors these authors tested for include “originality, elaboration, flexibility and fluency”—exactly what you want when you sit down to a writing session. You just have to find a way to keep the kibitzers at bay.

All of this goes to say that where you work—and especially where you write—may have a profound impact on how much and how well you produce. I get it; there are people who require complete silence to get their creative juices flowing. Others need music. The key, of course, is experimenting with different environments to find out what works best for you. If you’re having trouble getting your creative on at home, try trading the silence for some anonymous chatter.

Incidentally, if you find that you’re one of those people who thrives on background chatter, but you can’t always head to the nearest Starbucks to write, there’s a solution for that. Download the Coffitivity app (available for Android and Apple devices) and take your coffee-shop noise with you wherever you go.

You’ll just have to provide your own caffeine.

Silence - a hostile work environment

David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at

Bite-Sized Goals and Mousey Nibbles: Managing Lengthy Projects

Working your way through large, lengthy projects, like . . . oh, writing a novel, for instance, can be overwhelming, can’t it? First you have to write down the words, then you have to fix the words, then you have to fix them a second time, and possibly a third or fourth or fifth time. Then you have to figure out how to get those words out into the world, whether via traditional methods or indie. And while you’re trying to accomplish all of this, you have everyday life stuff to deal with too: jobs, family, chores—as well as non-everyday stuff, such as illnesses, vacations, bad mental health days, holidays . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, it helps to get organized by setting goals and deadlines—to mark on your calendar in bold when you want your first draft to be finished by, when you need to be done with the first round of edits, and so on. But when setting these longer deadlines, it’s easy to underestimate how long you’re really going to need.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I’ve tried to prevent it by calculating out how many words I need to write each day leading up to my deadline in order to reach it—making room for days when I know I’ll have less time to write. As long as I write the prescribed number of words each day, I’ll be perfectly fine, right? But then, life throws obstacles in my path, and soon I’m failing to meet my word counts and falling behind. The farther behind I fall, the more frustrated I get. I move my deadline out. I recalculate my word counts. Then I fall behind again. I get discouraged and overwhelmed over, and over, and I start to think I’ll never finish this darn thing.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you do well with large goals and a daily word count system. Maybe that’s all you need in order to get things done. If so, that’s fantastic! It’s common advice, so it must work for a lot of writers, right? But if it’s not working for you, just as it hasn’t been working for me, I’d like to suggest a few things that have been working for me lately, in the hopes that you, too, will find them helpful.

Make 2-3 Bite-Sized Goals At A Time

I still plan out the large goals (finish draft, revise draft, edit draft.) But I’ve lessened their importance in favor of smaller, bite-sized goals (that, I must stress, aren’t word counts,) and I only plan out a few of these goals at a time. For instance, my goal this weekend was to re-examine my outline, because I’ve discovered I need to throw out some scenes and replace them with brand new ones. I wasn’t writing the scenes this weekend—just taking a look and deciding what I need those scenes to do. My next bite-sized goal will be to outline those scenes. The bite-sized goal after that will be to finally draft those scenes. And . . . that’s it. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned. Obviously, I have an idea of what I’ll need to do after that, because I know that my ultimate goal is to finish revising this entire draft. But for now, I’m not going to worry about anything further than getting through these next few scenes.

Keeping my goals small and few in number helps me feel like I’m actually making progress. If I look at it in respect to the larger goal of finishing my revisions, it won’t feel like I’ve done much at all. I’ll feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ll get frustrated. So I don’t do that.

Only Work Under Your Best Working Conditions

Pay close attention to when and where you do your best work. Do you get more done in the morning? Then work in the morning and don’t try to squeeze more work out of yourself past that time (unless you absolutely must.) Do you have specific days when you’re less likely to be able to focus? Keep your expectations low on those days. I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning that tends to throw off my concentration for the rest of the day. I’ve come to accept that if I do get any writing done on Tuesdays, it’s a bonus. I’m better off using Tuesdays to catch up on chores or other things that don’t require me to think too much. I’m having a harder time convincing myself that writing post-children’s bedtimes is also a lost cause. But it’s a fact that I’m usually too tired and brain-drained to do much of anything by then. My best times for focusing are late morning and early afternoon when the kids are at school, so that’s when I make myself sit down and work. I also pay attention to my energy level. If I try to work with my laptop on the couch, am I more likely to nap instead? If so, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee or tea, and work sitting up at my desk. Is my back bothering me to the point where sitting at my desk will make the pain worse and/or distract me? Then maybe the couch would be better after all.

Just Take a Mousey Nibble

Okay, this one probably needs some background. My oldest son is a very picky eater. Always has been. He has texture issues and we suspect he may also be a super taster, because he will often complain about things tasting “too strong.” There was a period when he was younger where he was so anxious about trying new foods, that he would burst into tears at the mere suggestion. That is until one day, he told us that maybe . . . maybe he could just try a mouse-sized bite. A little mousey nibble. A nearly microscopic taste that, like sticking a toe in the water, would help to alleviate some of his fear of the unknown. This still works with him. “Just take a mousey nibble, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay,” we tell him. And so he does. And then sometimes, all on his own, he will decide to take a larger taste afterward.

If, even with your bite-sized goals, you’re still feeling anxious about sitting down to work, or you’re not sure how to get started, or you’re just plain unmotivated, tell yourself that you only have to take a mousey nibble. Open your document and commit to five minutes. You don’t even have to type anything. You can use those five minutes to look over your last paragraph, or glance through your outline, or heck, just stare at the blank screen. Chances are though, once your timer goes off, you’ll be able to settle yourself into your task. And if you still can’t, that’s ok. Take a break and try another mousey nibble later. Maybe it’ll taste different next time.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that help you get through large projects? Please share them with us in the comments.



When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard, Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele, knitting, or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys and three mischievous cats. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Formatting Like a Microsoft Word Ninja

“Format guidelines were not instituted to drive you crazy. That’s just a perk.”
—Janet Reid, Literary Agent

The other day I was reading a blog post by agent-blogger Janet Reid (of Query Shark fame), who had some interesting things to say about the importance of manuscript formatting:

“I’m reading (as are all other agents and editors) a LOT of manuscripts,” she said. “When mss follow a consistent format, it helps me assess the pacing. If I get to page twenty and I haven’t yet gotten a glimmer of what’s at stake for Our Hero/ine, then I know there’s a problem. It’s essential that page twenty be about the same amount of words across the board.”

She went on to note that page 20 comes at about the 6,000-word mark if the text is formatted in Times New Roman. In Verdana, the 20-page point will come at about 5,000 words. With Courier, it’s more like 4,400 words.

Simply put, formatting matters. If you follow standard formatting conventions of font size, margin width, and so on, professional readers (including agents, editors and publishers) have an easier time gauging the pacing of your book. Even more importantly, formatting your work correctly can make you look more professional—and more “serious” as a writer.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Microsoft Word is still the number one tool writers use to, well, write. (Yes, I know there are other programs, and I know a lot of writers are migrating to Google Docs.) As I scrolled down the comments on Reid’s post, I was amazed at how many writers don’t know how to perform the simplest formatting in Word. We’re talking basic stuff: auto-indenting paragraphs, inserting chapter breaks, inserting automatic page numbers, and so on. I was flabbergasted to hear some people still indent their paragraphs by hitting the space key five times, or that anyone would manually number the pages of a manuscript. But apparently, Reid sees this all the time.

Since I’m something of a Microsoft Word ninja, I thought I might pass on some important skills to help you get your manuscript submission-ready. The post will be long, but I’m hoping it will be helpful.


First, a quick Q&A:

Q: Is there a standard industry formatting convention?
A: No, there isn’t a single, super-secret document that tells you exactly how to format your manuscript for submission. Some publishing pros still want manuscripts formatted in Courier. Others prefer a 1.5″ left margin because they spiral-bind their submissions. Check the agent’s or publisher’s submission guidelines before doing your final formatting.

Q: What makes you an “expert”?
A: I edit and format documents for a living. In putting together this post, I consulted about a dozen sites on manuscript formatting, most published by authors, editors, and other industry insiders. I’ll throw a few of the more helpful links down below.

Q: Can’t I just format my manuscript any old way?
A: Absolutely! But if you want to be taken seriously, you should consider using the formatting that agents, editors and publishers prefer.

Q: But isn’t Comic Sans more “fun” than Times New Roman?
A: No. Using Comic Sans in any context other than a hastily printed “Restroom Out of Order” sign is a crime against humanity. Stop the madness!

Basic Formatting Guidelines

Most of the sources I consulted agreed on the basics:

  • Pages: Pages should be letter-sized (8.5″ x 11″), oriented vertically with one-inch margins all around.
  • Font: Text should be in 12-point Times New Roman. When emphasis is needed, italics (and not underlining or boldface) should be used.
  • Paragraphs: Paragraphs should be aligned left (not justified) and double-spaced with no extra padding above or below the paragraphs. The first line of each paragraph should be indented by half an inch.
  • Chapters: Each chapter should begin on a new page. Center “CHAPTER” (in all caps) and then the chapter number at the top of each chapter, then begin the text of the chapter four to six lines below that.
  • Page Numbers/Headers: Page numbering should begin on the first page of Chapter 1, and should continue unbroken to the end of the book. Manuscripts should have a header that includes the author’s name and a shortened title of the work.

CAVEAT: I’m using Microsoft Word 2016, so if you have an older version, some of the controls and menus may show up in different places.

Formatting Pages


To configure your document in Microsoft Word, click on the Layout tab and set the overall document formatting using the first three icons.

  • Margins: Click the Margins icon and select Normal (1″ on top, bottom, left and right).
  • Orientation: Click the Orientation icon and make sure the document is configured for Portrait (vertical) instead of Landscape (horizontal) display.
  • Size: Click the Size icon and make sure your pages are set to Letter 8.5″ x 11″.

That’s it. Once you configure these settings, they should apply to your entire document.

Formatting Fonts

font-menuThe preferred font for most agents and editors is 12-point Times New Roman. To format your manuscript font, first select the Home tab.

Select all of the text in your document by pressing Ctrl-A (⌘-A on a Mac). With all of the text selected, pull down the Font menu and scroll down the alphabetic list of fonts until you find Times New Roman. Click to select it.

font-size-menuNext, with the text still selected, click on the Font Size menu (it’s right beside the font menu) and select 12.

Now here’s a trick a lot of people don’t know about. Select one of your paragraphs, either by clicking in the left margin of the document or by triple-clicking somewhere in the paragraph. If you consult the Styles menu, you’ll see that your paragraph is probably defined as “Normal” (default) style. The styles show up as rectangular tiles on the menu, and you know the style of the current selection because it’s outlined in gray. To ensure that Word doesn’t default back to Calibri (or some other font) at random, right-click on the “Normal” style tile and select “Update Normal to Match Selection.”


Formatting Paragraphs

One of the biggest mistakes some writers make with manuscripts is with paragraph indenting. As Reid mentioned in her post, some writers still use the “five spaces” method to create an indent. Others tab over to the 0.5-inch tab stop. If you’re doing either of these things, stop now! You’ll have no excuse once you know how to indent your paragraphs the right way.


To get started, select one of your “Normal” paragraphs by clicking in the left margin or triple-clicking somewhere in the paragraph. Once you’ve done this, look for the Ruler (it should literally look like a ruler) above the text, right below the menu ribbon. If you don’t see it, click to the View tab and check the box next to “Ruler” in the “Show” section of the ribbon menu. At the zero position on the ruler you’ll see a widget that looks like an hourglass with a rectangle at the bottom. Click and drag the top half of the hourglass over to the tick mark at exactly between the left margin and the 1″ mark. The first line of your selected paragraph should now be indented by exactly half an inch.

update-normal-styleOf course, that’s just one paragraph. You’ve got lots, right? Make sure the Home tab is selected, then right-click on the “Normal” style tile and select “Update Normal to Match Selection.” This will automatically indent all the paragraphs in your document.

“But wait!” you may be thinking. “I don’t want my chapter headings or section breaks indented!” Don’t worry. We’ll fix that.

align-leftNow let’s make sure the other paragraph settings are correct. With a paragraph selected, click the “Align Left” button on the “Paragraph” menu of the Home Ribbon. You can also press Ctrl-L (⌘-L on a Mac). Please resist the urge to justify your right margin. Though justified text looks nice and polished (published, even), professional readers hate justification because the variable spacing makes the copy hard to edit.

line-spacingRight beside the “Justified button,” though, is the line-spacing icon. Pull down this menu and select “2.0” to double-space your text. If the “Remove Space Before Paragraph” option shows up at the bottom of this menu, pull it down again and click it. Do the same thing is “Remove Space After Paragraph” appears on the menu. You don’t want this extra padding.

Once you’ve aligned your paragraph and fine-tuned the line spacing, right-click on the “Normal” style in the style menu again and select “Update Normal to Match Selection.” This will apply the formatting changes to all of your “Normal” paragraphs.

Fixing What You Broke

What if you’re reformatting a work in progress that uses tabs (or, deity forbid, spaces) to indent each paragraph?

First of all, AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH! Second of all, it’s easy to fix.

Press Ctrl-H (⌘-H on a Mac) to open the “Find and Replace” dialog box. This box is movable, so you can drag it off to one side if you have enough screen real estate. The window opens in its default configuration, but you’ll want the “Word ninja” version. Click the “More>>” button to expand the box to maximum ninja power.


First, click the “Find what” field. Find the “Special” menu at the bottom of the dialog and select “Paragraph Mark.” Word will insert “^p” into the “Find what” field.

Second, if you’ve been using five spaces to indent, click directly after “^p” and type five spaces. (Since they’re spaces, you won’t see them in the box. But they’re there.) If you’ve been using a manual tab to indent, Select the “Special” menu again and select “Tab character.” After you do this, you’ll see “^p^t” in the “Find what” field.

Third, click the “Replace with” field. Pull down the “Special” menu (at the bottom of the box) and select “Paragraph Mark.” Word will insert “^p” into the “Replace with” field.

What you’re telling Word is to look for a tab character (or five spaces), but only at the beginning of a paragraph (right after a paragraph mark). When Word finds this pattern, it will replace it with just a paragraph mark, effectively deleting the stuff you don’t want.

If you’re feeling cocky, click the “Replace All” button and let ‘er rip. If not, click “Find Next” and then “Replace” again and again until you feel brave enough to just click “Replace All.”

Now, repent and never use tabs or spaces again to indent your paragraphs.

Formatting Chapters

Now it’s time to put some structure into your manuscript. I know a lot of people don’t bother using styles, but in my opinion, you can’t afford not to use them.

Each chapter in your novel should begin on a new page. You can create a page break two different ways. The clunky way is to click the Insert tab, then click the “Page Break” icon. The easier way is to press Ctrl-Enter (⌘-Enter on a Mac). If you’re editing with white space hidden—that is, if the document looks like one continuous strip of white—the page break will show up as a horizontal gray line across the document window. If white space is being displayed, and the text is broken into discrete pages, you’ll see an actual new page.


center-textNow let’s create a chapter heading. Type “CHAPTER,” followed by a space, followed by your chapter number. Right now, the heading is probably formatted like all of your other text: 12-point Times New Roman, indented half an inch. Select the heading, either by clicking in the left margin or by triple-clicking on the heading itself. Then center the heading, either by clicking the “center” icon on the Home ribbon, or by pressing Ctrl-E (⌘-E on a Mac). Then, with the heading still selected, drag the top of the ruler’ “hourglass” widget to the zero position so your chapter heading isn’t indented.


Now let’s style the heading as a heading. Find the “Heading 1” tile on the Styles menu, but don’t click it! Instead, right-click on the tile and select “Update Heading 1 to Match Selection.” Boom—this updates the style and applies the style to the heading.


navigation-paneHere’s the awesome part. When you style chapter headings as “Heading 1,” they show up on the “Headings” list on the Navigation Pane. (If you don’t see the Navigation Pane on the left side of your document window, click the View tab and check the box next to “Navigation Pane.” It also shows up when you press Ctrl-F or ⌘-F to Find text.) Now scroll down through your document, styling each of your chapter headings as “Heading 1.” As you do this, they’ll appear in the Navigation Pane. This menu of headings is interactive, so when you click on a heading, Word takes you straight to that chapter in your document. As you edit, Word highlights the heading of the chapter you’re working on, helping you keep track on where you are in your book.

This is one of the most indispensable features in Microsoft Word. Use it to your advantage!

The text of your chapter should begin four to six lines below your chapter heading. Since both your “Normal” and “Heading 1” styles are double-spaced, this means you should leave either one or two blank paragraphs between the heading and beginning of your chapter. Now go through your manuscript and make sure everything is consistent.

Extra-Special Awesomeness

While you’re drafting, you can make your life even easier by adding a brief description to your chapter headings. For example: “CHAPTER 1 – Sally meets Billy at the park,” “CHAPTER 2 – Sally goes to school,” and “CHAPTER 3 – Billy loses his socks.” These descriptions show up on your Navigation Pane, forming a clickable quick-reference outline of your entire story as you go. (If the Navigation Pane truncates the heading, just hover your mouse over it and the entire thing will be displayed.)


Obviously, you’ll want to go through and delete these descriptions before you send your manuscript to an agent, editor or publisher. But while you’re actively drafting and editing, they’re really helpful.

Formatting Scene Breaks

Scene breaks, also known as section breaks or blank-line breaks, are those separators within chapters that usually appear in published novels as an extra space between blocks of paragraphs. When they fall at the bottom or top of a page, they’re sometimes indicated by a short line, a row of asterisks, or sometimes an ornamental glyph.

create-new-styleIn your manuscript, scene breaks should be set off as a separate, double-spaced paragraph, with either a number sign “#” (or “hashtag” if you’re under 20) or a row of three asterisks “***” centered between the margins. You shouldn’t include any additional blank lines before or after the scene breaks.

The easiest way to manage scene breaks is to set up a style to handle them. To do this, type your “#” (or “***”) and format it correctly by centering the paragraph and eliminating the indent. Then right-click the selected paragraph and find the “Styles” icon on the pop-up menu. (It should be on the top one, at the far right.) Pull this down and click on “Create a style.” This will open a dialog box called “Create New Style from Formatting.” Name your style “Scene Break” and click “OK.”

The “Scene Break” style will appear as a new tile on the “Styles” menu on the Home ribbon. Now, when you want to create a scene break, just type “#” or “***” and click on “Scene Break” and Word will format it for you. Easy peasy.


Title Page and Table of Contents

Do you need a title page? Yes. Do you need a table of contents? Not necessarily, but if you’re going to export your manuscript as an e-book for alpha or beta readers, a table of contents can really come in handy.

Title Page

Title page format is one of the least standardized manuscript elements. Opinions vary, but most everyone agrees that the following elements must be included:

  • Title of the work
  • Author
  • Author’s contact information
  • Word count

Some sources suggest that you include the work’s genre as well as information about your agent, if you have one.


Click to View Larger Image

Here’s a good template for a title page, based on an analysis of a number of industry recommendations. Beginning at the top of the page, at the left margin, type your name (on one line), your address (on two lines) and your phone number and email address (on separate lines). Single-space this block of text.

Skip down to roughly the middle of the page and type the title of your work, in all caps, centered on the page. Skip a line and type “by,” then skip a line and type your name. Skip two lines and type “### Words,” replacing “###” with the word count of your manuscript, rounded to the nearest hundred. (Some guides say to the nearest 1,000.)

You can add your genre if you want, though if an agent or publisher has requested a manuscript they probably already know the genre of the work.

One thing you shouldn’t bother putting on your cover page is a copyright notice. But don’t take it from me; take it from Janet Reid:

Your work is protected by copyright law as soon as you write it.

Once your work is sold to a publisher, there’s a clause in your publishing contract that says the publisher will register the work with the US Copyright office.

You should not register something with the copyright office at the query stage. And you also don’t need to put the (c) notice on your manuscript.

Basically, including a copyright notice in your manuscript makes you look like a newb, and you don’t want that, do you?

Table of Contents

Sure, you can create a manual table of contents, but why would you want to do that when it’s so easy to have Word create one for you?

toc-menuThe table of contents should come directly after the title page. First, create a new page by pressing Ctrl-Enter (⌘-Enter on a Mac). Type “Contents” or “Table of Contents” and format as a heading by clicking the “Heading 1” style. Then hit Enter a couple of times.

Now click to the References tab. (In some previous versions of Word, this feature was in the Insert tab under “References.”) Click on the “Table of Contents” icon and select “Custom Table of Contents…” In the dialog box that opens, make sure that “Tab leader” is selected to a row of dots, and click the down arrow beside the “Show levels” setting until the number is “1.” Then click “OK.”

toc-dialogYou should now have a table of contents containing the names and page numbers of all of the chapters you’ve marked using the “Heading 1” style. To make sure the table is formatted correctly, select it by clicking on the table and then un-indent the lines using the top-hourglass slider in the Ruler. Make sure the font, font size, and other settings are consistent with the rest of your document. When you’ve done this, right-click on one of the lines, pull down the “Styles” menu and click “Create a Style.” Call this style “Table of Contents” and click “OK.”

The table of contents doesn’t track your content in real time, so you’ll have to tell Word when you want it to update. To do this, right-click on the table and select “Update Field.” An “Update Table of Contents” dialog box will open. Click the radio button beside “Update entire table” and click “OK.” Voila! All of your chapters, chapter headings, and page numbers will synch up with what’s in your manuscript.

Formatting Headings and Page Numbers

Remember Janet Reid’s comment about the crucial page 20? The only way readers will know when they arrive on page 20 is if the pages are numbered. What really blew me away was when Reid said, “Recently I’ve had several authors who have inserted page numbers by hand….” Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? This actually happens? Yes, and apparently it’s not uncommon. This means, of course, that one little change to the text on page one can throw off the pagination for the rest of the manuscript. For the love of Mike, don’t do this!

Besides page numbers, another key aspect of manuscript formatting conventions is the inclusion of a header at the top of every page. Imagine a busy agent carrying a stack of five unbound manuscripts. She drops the stack and the pages get mixed up. Without a header on each page, the agent wouldn’t be able to sort the identically formatted manuscripts back into proper order.

Here’s another tricky part. The cover page should not have a header on it. Any pages before the first content page of your book should use lower-case Roman numerals. The actual numbering should restart at chapter one (or your prologue, if you have one), so that page 20 comes at the actual 20th page of the text of your book. We’ll call this point the “story beginning.”

Here’s how to make that all happen.

To get started, go to the View tab and make sure “Print Layout” is selected under “Views.” (The other options are “Read Mode” and “Web Layout.” You don’t want either.) Now, look at the page breaks in your document. If you see just a gray line (and not actual page boundaries), position your cursor over the gray line. It will change to the “Show white space” cursor, which looks like a capital H with up/down arrows in the pockets. Double-click on the line and you’ll expand the continuous page to individual pages.


You can collapse this later in the same way: just point to the break and double-click.


Now we need to convert the page break before your first chapter or prologue to a section break. Click to the Layout tab and click right before your first chapter heading. The insertion point should be right to the left of the word “CHAPTER” (or “PROLOGUE”) at the story beginning.

breaks-section-next-pageNow find the “Breaks” option in the “Page Setup” section of the Layout tab. Pull down the menu and click on the “Next Page” option under “Section Breaks.” Nothing will look different, but this is a crucial change.

Click over to Word’s Insert tab. Click the “Header” icon and select “Edit Header.” (You can also double-click directly on the header to edit it.) The ribbon will change to include some new options only available when working with headers. (“Header and Footer Tools” under the Design Tab.)

link-to-previous.pngFirst, find the “Navigation” section of the Design tab. You’ll see an option called “Link to Previous” that is probably selected (grayed out). Click on it to deselect it. The “Same as Previous” message at the bottom, left of the header will go away. You should now just see “Header -Section 2-.”

Click on the header area and type the following: Your last name, a slash, a shortened title of your book, a slash, then the word “Page.” For example, if your name is Smith and your book is called “The Short, Happy Life of Wendell Jones,” you might type something like, “Smith/Wendell Jones/Page.” If word is indenting the heading, move the top-hourglass widget back to the zero position to make it stop.


With your cursor still at the end of the header line, press Ctrl-R (⌘-R on a Mac) to right-align the text. (You could also click back to Home and click on the Align Right icon in the Paragraph menu, but this is quicker.) Now, with your insertion point to the right of “Page,” type a space and then click the “Page Number” icon on the Design ribbon. From the menus, select “Current Position” and then “Plain Number.” The number you see will likely be 2 or 3 or even higher.

page-number-formatClick on the “Page Number” icon again and select “Format Page Numbers.” The “Page Number Format” dialog box will open. Make sure the number format is set to “1, 2, 3, …” Down where it says “Page numbering,” Click the radio button next to “Start at” and make sure the number next to it is “1.” When you click “OK,” you should see the page number at the story beginning change to “1.”

What you do next depends on how much “stuff” you have before the first actual page of your story.

If you just have a title page…

Scroll back to your title page. The label beneath it should say “Header -Section 1-.” You’ll probably see a duplication of the header you used for your main chapters. Select the whole header by triple-clicking on the text and hit delete. Click “Close Header and Footer” and you’re done!

If you have a title page and other stuff…

If you’ve added a table of contents or other pages before your story beginning (like a dedication page), you’ll want to retain the header, except for on the title page, but change the numbering before the story beginning.

Scroll up to the page right after your title page. This is likely where your table of contents or acknowledgments page is. If the header isn’t selected for editing, double-click on it to edit.

Click on the “Page Number” icon and select “Format Page Numbers.” The “Page Number Format” dialog box will open. Click on the “Number format” menu and set to “i, ii, iii, …” then click “OK.” Now click on the checkbox next to “Different First page” under the “Options” section of the ribbon. Then click “Close Header and Footer.”

If you did everything correctly, the title page should display no header at all, and the first page after that (but before the story beginning) will have the “Name/Title/Page ii” combination on it. The header at your story beginning should be “Name/Title/Page 1.” Mission accomplished! Once you set this up, you shouldn’t ever have to mess with the headers again … unless you change your title (or your name).

A Few More Formatting Conventions

Spaces Between Sentences

If you know what a “typewriter” is, you were probably taught at some point to hit the space bar twice after sentence-final punctuation (periods, question marks, exclamation points, close quotes). If this old practice is still fossilized in your mind, it’s time to re-train your brain. If you can’t get out of the habit, use “Find and Replace” (Ctrl-H or ⌘-H on a Mac) to find all of your double-spaces and replace them with single spaces.

Formatting for Chapter Beginnings

Published novels will oven employ drop caps or a line of words in small caps at the beginning of chapters. Resist the urge to so this in your manuscripts. Agents and editors don’t want manuscripts that look frou-frou and professionally typeset—they just want a clean, simple copy they can read quickly.

Italics, Underlining and Boldface

Most formatting guides indicate that you shouldn’t use underlining or boldface anywhere in your manuscript. If you need to emphasize a word or phrase, use italics. Back when typewriters were the state of the art, underlining was the norm. Today, italics are standard. To quickly set text into italics, press Ctrl-I (⌘-I on a Mac).

Manuscript Format Links

16 Manuscript Format Guidelines (Daily Writing Tips)

How to Format a Novel Manuscript (Scribophile)

Correctly Formatting Your Novel Manuscript (Advanced Fiction Writing)

Format Your Novel for Submission (The Editor’s Blog)

What Are the Guidelines for Formatting a Manuscript? (Writer’s Digest)

Proper Manuscript Format for a Novel (First Manuscript)

David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at

Thinking Through Your Brain … and Then Your Fingers

Last week, an author I follow on Facebook (Larry Correia, best-selling author of the “Monster Hunter International” books, among other awesomeness) made an interesting observation about his writing process:

Ten years ago when I was starting out, I wrote my first book while I had two jobs. I had to write super late at night, or marathon weekends. So I beat myself up trying to crank out as many words in one sitting as possible. I’d often write until 3:00 in the morning.

But I wrote a ton of stuff that wound up not being that good, which got thrown away. After the first couple years I learned to never bother writing past 1 in the morning, because there was a 90% chance anything past that, no matter how awesome I thought it was at the time writing it, was going to suck.

Then when I only had one job, but my career was taking off, and I was writing less crazy hours every night, and then shooting for 5,000 word days over the weekend. It made for a ton of really late nights and long ass Saturdays and Sundays.

And I still ended up throwing out a bunch, or spending a lot of time editing and cleaning.

For the last few years I’ve written full time, I do about 2,000-3,000 a day consistent, and I usually wrap up around 4;00 in the afternoon or so because my creativity is worn out by then and my mind is starting to wander.

But now, I seldom have to throw away much, and the editing time is a lot shorter. Because when I’m not pushing as hard, the first pass is far cleaner.

So even though I was cranking out more words in shorter amounts of time back then, the overall productivity is better because when I’m not pushing crazy hard, there is less clean up time later.

As Howard Tayler would say (for those of you who listen to the Writing Excuses podcast): “LUXURY!” It would be great to be able to quit my job and write full time. But I have this weird addiction to food, clothing and shelter, so I still haven’t quite made that jump. Someday, I hope. But not today—not yet.

I imagine there are more TTOF readers who are in the “starting out” phase, as opposed to writing full-time like Larry Correia. We have no option but to write when we can, always during the times when our day jobs and other responsibilities aren’t commanding our attention. For some, that means getting up early and cranking out words. For others (like one of my writing group friends), that means arranging our schedules for long lunchtime writing sessions. For me, that means blocking out the last several hours of the night for writing time.

Discovering your most productive time of day is just smart. Some other important considerations include location (kitchen table, home office, coffee shop, public library?) and auditory stimulus (this music, that music, silence?). Timing and environment can have a profound impact both on how quickly we write and on the quality of what we produce. But I suggest you can become more productive as a writer by paying attention to the length and frequency of your writing sessions.

Brain-Writing vs. Finger-Writing

In general, I believe that “trying to crank out as many words in one sitting as possible” can be counterproductive. I have a non-scientific explanation for this. Your brain may work differently (or maybe mine is defective), so all of the standard caveats apply. I’m basing this on my own experience, and of course your mileage may vary.

I think writers have two brains. We have a normal one that allows us to walk, do our jobs, recognize our spouses and progeny, tie our shoes and make it to dentist appointments on time. Deep inside our skulls, we also have a “writer’s brain” that generates story ideas, dreams up characters and conflicts, makes connections between plot points, and generally does all of those other things related to the weird stories that pop into our heads.

During the “brain-writing” phase, our writer’s brains spin like crazy to queue up ideas for us to put on paper. Then we sit at the keyboard and do the “finger-writing,” during which we transfer those ideas onto paper (literally or figuratively) so they can be revised, edited, and cherished forever. (Or thrown out—that’s always an option.) While finger-writing only happens when we’re actually at our keyboards, brain-writing happens all the time—while we work, play, and even sleep.

(The only time brain-writing might actually shut down is when we watch television. I could be wrong on that, though. Remember: I said this was non-scientific.)

The concept of brain-writing explains why we sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a current or future project. Our ever-restless writer’s brains tend to spit things out on their own schedule. We have to write down those ideas immediately or they can be lost forever.

I don’t know about everyone else, but it seems there might be a practical limit to how much stuff my brain can queue up at one time. When I try to finger-write beyond the point in a story where my writer’s brain has brain-written, the quality of my prose (and my storytelling) tends to suffer. In Larry’s parlance, I can always tell when I’m “pushing crazy hard,” meaning that I’ll end up with stuff that either gets tossed out or requires a lot more work to hammer into shape.


Guessing at Larry’s Schedule

The idea of brain-writing and finger-writing helps explain the pattern of production (both in quantity and quality) that Larry described in his post. What it sounds like is that, when he was writing part time, he was trying to cram his finger-writing into a few long sessions. Today, as a full-time author, he’s producing fewer words, most likely in shorter bursts.

Based on what I know about Larry as an author and a guy, if he’s producing between 2,000 and 3,000 words per day, he probably has a schedule that goes something like this:

8:00: Get up. Scratch. Eat something manly.
8:15: Shoot a moose using ammo he crimped with his own teeth.
8:30: Personal hygiene activities of various kinds.
9:00: Sit down at computer. Destroy Internet trolls. Drink the tears of his enemies.
10:30: Write stuff.
12:00: Eat a manly lunch. More scratching.
1:00: Wrestle a bear or blow something up. Whatevs.
1:30: Destroy a few more haters. Twerk on their disemboweled arguments.
2:00: Write more stuff.
4:00: Done. Go out and fell trees with karate. Bench-press a Camry. More scratching.

My point is that he’s probably writing his 2,000 or 3,000 words in a couple of sessions per day, with some time in between for his writer’s brain to front-load more content for his afternoon session. And then, of course, he has all evening and overnight (while his regular brain is fighting ninjas, plotting the overthrow of a small South American country, and possibly even sleeping) to do the brain-writing ahead of his finger-writing the next morning.

Personal Writing Retreats

Two Novembers ago, I did something that I’d always wanted to try during NaNoWriMo: a personal writer’s retreat. Since I live relatively close to Las Vegas, I threw some clothes in a bag and drove to Sin City for a veritable orgy of word-cranking. My goal was to see if I could produce 15,000 words in a single long weekend. I managed to do exactly that, but only by spreading my production across multiple short sessions.

On Thursday, I wrote for about two hours as soon as I got to town. Then I had some dinner, saw a show, and wrote for a couple more hours. Boom: 3,000 words my first night.

Friday morning, I went to Einstein’s for a bagel, caffeine, and another thousand words. I returned to my hotel, where I showered and watched a little TV, then cranked out another 1,000 words before the housekeepers knocked on the door. I went out and did some shopping, then camped out at a public library for a while, pounding my keyboard like a rented mule. I was able to generate over 6,000 words that day in six sessions. I did essentially the same thing on Saturday, slept the sleep of the dead and drove home on Sunday with a draft that was 15,000 words longer. And doggone it if many of those words didn’t turn out to be pretty good ones.

I guess I could’ve tried it a different way, chaining myself to the hotel desk first thing in the morning and saying, “You’re not allowed to eat, sleep, or do anything else until you produce 6,000 words.” Would that have worked? I don’t know. But that’s not how I work. And that’s the point.

By the way, I repeated the experiment again in 2016, with similar results.

Add Sessions, Not Hours

What I’m trying to say here is that it is possible to increase your production, but if your fingers get too far ahead of your brain, the stuff you produce might not be the best.

If you want to produce more, instead of adding hours to a single regular writing session, try adding another session to your schedule. If you’re a morning writer, tack on an hour at lunchtime and see if that helps. If you’re a night writer, try pounding out some words right after work, then returning to the keyboard after your writer’s brain has had time to get ahead of the story again. If you want a high-production weekend, you might do better with four sessions spaced out rather than a single marathon of frustration.

Your brain might be totally different from mine, but maybe not. Who knows? It never hurts to try.
David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at

Puzzling Out Your Revisions

I did it! I finished my draft! And now . . . ohhh boy, is it a mess.

I’m not talking about awkward sentences and sparse details—though there’s certainly plenty of that. I’m talking about huge plot and character shifts part way through, characters I introduced, then ghosted on, a beloved pet dog that appears in the first chapter only—that kind of a mess.

I have chapters I wrote, then moved, that now need to be rewritten so they’ll make sense within their new context. I have location shifts, missing parents, siblings that I may or may not add in. . . .

Basically, I have a TON of work ahead of me. When I look at everything that needs to be done, it’s overwhelming.

As writers, one of the most prevalent pieces of advice we’re given is to get the words down. Just get them down, finish that draft, worry about the mess later. We can’t revise what isn’t there, right? This is great advice; however, once we’ve followed it . . . what do we do next?


First, take a deep breath.

Then another.

Ok, just one more.

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, open your document back up.

You might even want to go so far as to print it out so you can physically go at it with a red pen. Or, if you prefer, you can use the comments option in your word processing software program of choice. Do whichever feels easier for you when it comes to wrapping your head around the monumental task ahead.

First, read your manuscript and take notes—any and all thoughts that come to mind—but resist making any changes at this time. (I know, it’s hard.) If you make changes as you go though, you might find later that the changes you made at the beginning still aren’t going to work with the changes you end up needing to make at the end. Think of this as the Intel-Gathering phase. Right now, you’re a detective figuring out what best needs to be done to your story and how best to do it—how to fit the pieces of this messed up puzzle together in a way that makes the most sense.

Ok, so you’ve done that, and . . . you’re still feeling super intimidated, aren’t you? Maybe you should take a few more deep breaths.

Better? Good.

The next thing you need to do is categorize your notes. Just like separating out puzzle pieces into groups—grass pieces over here, sky pieces there, what looks like maybe the hull of a wooden boat? Maybe it’s a house . . . over there. I find organizing and separating the different types of fixes that need to be made in my draft, helps me break things down into more manageable tasks that make the entire process feel less daunting. Rather than go through the manuscript one time, tackling each note one by one, I’ll make multiple passes focusing on one problem at a time.

Big stuff comes first. (It’s ok to take another deep breath here if you need to. Ready? In . . . out . . . good.)

What is it about your draft that needs the most work? For me, it’s usually characterization. For you, it could be setting, or filling in plot holes, or smoothing transitions. Take the biggest task and go through only focusing on that. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better once you get that bit out of the way. Next, move on to the second biggest issue.

And keep on moving down the list this way. I haven’t finished taking notes on my current draft, but I’m guessing my big focus areas for example, in order from messiest to least messy, will end up being characters, setting, plot holes, transitions, dialogue.

Once you’ve finished these big picture tasks, move on to the nitty-gritty things, like grammar, punctuation, varying your sentence structures, and finally, removing unnecessary filler words (like, very, really, that, etc.) and adverbs.

And that’s it! Keep in mind, you might need to go back and adjust areas you’ve previously focused on after you’ve made some later changes, but it should be much easier now. And then, of course, you’ll absolutely need to go through the entire process again once you’ve let your critique partners and/or beta reads get a hold of it. But the hardest part should be over. Congratulations! You’ve now turned your huge, jumbled up, intimidating mess into something you’re actually willing to let people read! The puzzle is now complete.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

The Truth About Writer’s Block

I’ve heard people say that claiming you have writer’s block is akin to a plumber saying he’s got plumber’s block. To me, that comparison is ridiculous.

Plumber's Block - 2
A plumber has the exact same wrenches and other tools he uses every day on the job. He has a clear-cut list of skills he needs and issues he’ll face, and he’ll use the same tools to fix them. Chances are he’d better make use the same fitting he did on a similar job yesterday, or the connection will leak.  Continue reading

Workflow: Formatting

Welcome to my fifth and final post on workflow. I’ve talked about my general workflow and tool choices as well as my capture, drafting, and revising processes. For me workflow has been something to focus on and refine, not for its own sake, but a task undertaken to increase the transparency of my tools. I really want to focus primarily on the “flow” part of the term.

Ultimately my goal is to not fiddle with the tools or to wonder how the tool works. I want to be able to settle into the writing with as few obstructions as possible. It’s taken me a long time to choose the tools and processes that work the best for me. It’s been a good investment, because I am now comfortable with them, and in all honestly, I don’t think about them much at all except when necessity forces me to use tools and processes that don’t work well with my preferred approach.



The final step in my workflow is formatting. I’ve mentioned that I write in text documents using a plain text markup formatting syntax called Markdown. The internet is overflowing with descriptions of Markdown and how it works. If you want to know more, I’d suggest you begin here with John Gruber, who started it all. Markdown allows you to designate your desired formatting in the simplest way possible without actually formatting the document. This allows you to format in plain text, which is the smallest, most future-proof and backward-compatible document format there is. Markdown allows anyone to see, at a glance, your intentions. It also allows you to create and share documents that might end up being formatted differently depending on the medium (webpage, blog, print, social media, etc.).

Here’s an example of Markdown syntax. There are also ways to use Markdown or one of its derivatives (MultiMarkdown, for example) to structure tables, footnotes, and the like.

Here’s a more substantial list of Markdown syntax.

Markdown has not been widely adopted

Markdown is really fantastic especially for writing that will appear on the web, but it hasn’t been widely adopted outside of the programming and blogging world. It’s a shame because it’s so easy to use and creates all kinds of consistency in application, even when preparing documents for print. You can even use a Markdown derivative for formatting heavy documents such as screen plays. It’s called Fountain, and I love it.

Markdown’s real power comes from it’s ability to work with different style sheets for different purposes. I have a style sheet for printing early drafts of fiction projects, which uses Courier font, 12 point, 2.0 line spacing, 1 inch margins, page numbering in the upper right hand corner. I like this formatting because it (a) reminds me that the document isn’t even close to done, (b) the monospaced Courier font gives me more red pencil room for revision, and (c) it allows me to visually distinguish early drafts from later ones.

I also have a style sheet for final drafts that really fits itself for use in Microsoft word. That style sheet uses Georgia, 11 point, 1.5 line spacing, 1 inch margins, clearly identifiably section breaks, and running headers with the work’s title, my name, and the page number. All of this is designed to make it easy for my agent to work with, handle, and share the document. If he was a Markdown user, this would be a different kind of article. But, alas, Word is the industry standard, and I have come to the realization that it’s less trouble to make my workflow and formatting as “empathetic” as possible. As I have mentioned before, the new Word for Mac and iOS is really quite good and it’s less trouble for me to use Word comfortably, which has made my life a lot easier.

Empathetic Formatting

For a long time, especially in graduate school, I was the main typesetter, designer, and production editor for a string of literary journals. This meant I spent a lot of time taking in and processing other people’s documents, almost all of them done in Word, and almost all of them chock full of strange and vexing formatting. Double spaces after periods, all kinds of tabs, four spaces then a “hard return,” all sorts of junk formatting that didn’t match the style sheet and specifications of our publication. Even when we’d send along a style sheet the formatting would come to us done however the writer wanted it formatted.

This is where I came up with the term “empathetic formatting.” I realized that what designers and typesetters wanted was the least amount of specialized formatting possible. They would be using pre-established house styles for all the document elements, which they would apply as paragraph or character elements. It would be easiest to strip all formatting from a document, which would cause its own set of problems because that would erase all of the formatting. I was doing most of this work before the advent of Markdown, but even if we would have had it then, I think it would have been very difficult to re-train writers to use it.

As a writer, you should go through your final drafts and use the Find/Replace function to look for extra spaces, tabs, and returns. It’s a small way to make the design people happy, and they are good people to keep happy.

What I do now when I have to work with the writing of other people is convert their .docx files to text files formatted with Markdown. I have a number of tools that help me with that conversion. I work with those documents this way, and then place the writing into the design software, webpage, or blog directly. It is hugely more efficient. The writer gets to do what they are comfortable with, and I get to work in a way that makes sense and is the most efficient for my workflow. Empathetic formatting leads to empathetic workflows.

Empathetic Workflows

In the end, the font you choose, the line spacing, and all of that is really a matter of personal preference until you have to start working with others. At this point, I think it’s the responsibility of writers to be as flexible and neutral as possible. For this blog post, I write in Ulysses, using a modified form of Markdown devised by the Ulysses developers, I export the document when I’m done as a Word .docx file with links and images embedded, then email it in. It only took a couple of emails to learn what Thinking Through Our Fingers wanted and needed and only a couple of extra steps to get the document to them in that format.

Your ability to be flexible and neutral in your final formatting really depends on your facility with your tools and the other tools people might be using. You need to know enough about your own workflow to ask good questions about the workflows of others. Once you have become empathetic and flexible, you’ll find that the business end of writing (editing, proofreading, redlining proofs, etc.) becomes a lot less stressful. You’ll be able to focus on the real creativity, because the necessary evils of formatting kind of take care of themselves.

Todd Robert Petersen is the author of LONG AFTER DARK  and RIFT. Originally a YMCA camp counselor from Portland, Oregon, Todd now directs Southern Utah University’s project-based learning program. You can find him online at and @toddpetersen for tweets and Instagrams.