Upping the Word Count

I’m notorious for slow sprints… running and writing 😉 But recently I’ve learned—well, have been forced to learn—how to up my pace in my writing sprints. Thank you, Nano! 😉

I was at a pretty steady pace of 1000 words an hour, which is nothing to frown at, but I had no idea I could get better. Now I’m doubling that number, and here’s a few tips on how I did it.

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No distractions

Write straight through. No toggling between tabs—in fact, keep open only the manuscript. I even shut down my “research” while I draft, and use all caps or weird combinations of letters to search for later. Before, it would take me two or three sprints to reach the flow. (The flow is that zone every writer can find themselves in where the story takes them away, and the world around them becomes the book their writing.)

Now that flow is found within minutes 😉

Summarize your chapters

Before you sit down with your keyboard, sit down with a pen and paper. Write absolute nonsense about what you want to happen within the upcoming chapter. I know you pantsers are screaming at me right now 😉 but trust me, this allows your muse to keep talking at the end of each paragraph. There will be no awkward pauses in thought, and you might find yourself writing something unexpected.

Write the entire chapter

Instead of going until a certain time, write until you’re done. This also helps during revisions so nothing feels disconnected. If you don’t have chapters during your drafts, write the scene in its entirety. Take a five/ten minute break, then write the next one. Sometimes you’ll be done within the hour, sometimes less, sometimes more. But you’ll feel ten times better knowing that you didn’t drop off in the middle of a scene or chapter.

Set aside the time

We all have lives outside of writing, believe me, I know. This next one may take some trial and error, but find the time of day when you won’t be interrupted. Like for me, right now, it’s a bad time because the husband and children have all come in at least five times to ask me where something is or to wipe their butt 😉 (Not the hubby on that one!) But I find my zone at certain times on certain days, which took some figuring out.

For example, Mondays I know I have from 10-11 to write in the morning, and then from 8-10:30 that night. Tuesdays I have 10-11 in the morning and that’s it. Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8-bedtime, and Fri-Sun forget about it!

Because I know that time is precious I make the most of it.

I promise this works if you follow it. I’m able to write 1500-2500 words in an hour-long sprint when I’m this focused and when I take the five minutes beforehand to prepare. Which means writing 50K in a month not only seemed possible, it seemed inevitable 😀

Good luck out there!


Cassie Mae is the author of a dozen or so books. Some of which became popular for their quirky titles, characters, and stories. She likes writing about nerds, geeks, the awkward, the fluffy, the short, the shy, the loud, the fun.

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Since publishing her bestselling debut, Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend, she’s published several titles with Penguin Random House and founded CookieLynn Publishing Services. She is represented by Sharon Pelletier at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. She has a favorite of all her book babies, but no, she won’t tell you what it is. (Mainly because it changes depending on the day.)

Along with writing, Cassie likes to binge watch Once Upon A Time and The Flash. She can quote Harry Potter lines quick as a whip. And she likes kissing her hubby, but only if his facial hair is trimmed. She also likes cheesecake to a very obsessive degree.

You can stalk, talk, or send pictures of Luke Bryan to her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cassiemaeauthor

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.


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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 blog.bakerdavid.com.

Showing vs. Telling: The Whole Story Approach

There are a lot of writing absolutes floating around the internet. “You must write every day to be a real writer.” (Yeah, no.) “True artists use pen and paper.” (Nope. Nope. Nope.) “Showing is better than telling.” (Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.)

We crave these absolutes. We live in the gray area between Definitely-Yes and Definitely-No, and when revisions have worn us down to splinters, we sometimes find ourselves wanting nothing more than to be told what is right, and what is wrong. But there are few topics more divisive than Showing vs. Telling. What do we show, and what do we tell? How do we show it, and when do we tell it?

Opinions vary.

Showing Vs Telling.jpg

I’m super smart (some have even called me awesome), but I don’t have the answers. What I do have are some insights that might help you find some on your own. Because you’re super smart too, as evidenced by your taste in writing advice websites.

Telling: The black cat walked down the sunny sidewalk.

Showing: The cat twined between the legs of the sidewalk’s pedestrians, its dark fur a sharp contrast to the sunshine lighting the city up like a casino billboard.

Now, both of these sentences are decent. There’s nothing wrong with telling your reader about the cat. And there’s nothing wrong with showing your reader either. Your story should have a balance of showing and telling in it. But how do you decide what to show, and what to tell?

The way I look at it is this: Is the cat important? Is noticing the cat a casual observation on the part of my main character, or does it hold some sort of significance? Did my character’s pet cat just die, giving this moment internal resonance? Or is the cat going to play a role in the story, giving this moment a more external meaning?

Showing is a wonderful tool you can use to “zoom in” on the aspects of a scene that hold the most importance for your main character, whether you’re setting the mood through emotional resonance, subtly hinting at events to come, or simply bringing an otherwise dull scene to life.

Telling: She hated peas.

Showing: The peas in the casserole looked like green pustules of evil. Suzy didn’t care if Mom promised her a thousand desserts, no way was she ever going to touch the stuff.

Showing can also be used as an element of voice. Is Suzy’s hatred of peas integral to the story, or to her emotional landscape? Probably not. Does the showing line give us a better sense of Suzy as a character, and help us “hear” her voice? You betcha.

Of course, one danger of showing is that it can so easily be overdone. We have to be careful that we don’t obscure meaning with flowery (purple) prose, zooming in on the words instead of the actual significance of the moment.

The mellifluous golden orb crested the horizon, a river of yellow light touching the world to waking, a heralding of the warmth of spring that would soon touch the land again.

Which is a fancy way of saying: The sun rose. Spring was coming.

Whether we’re zoomed in too far, or not far enough, we run the risk of showing our reader who’s hiding behind the puppet theater’s curtains. For the most part, modern storytelling is all about the invisible narrator. Readers want to believe in the puppets. They want to be enchanted by them. Root for them. Boo at the villain, and cheer on the hero.

The person pulling the strings? They don’t care about so much. Ouch. I know.

If the main character notices things it doesn’t make sense for them to notice (like walking into their bedroom and mentally reciting a long list of descriptions so the reader can see it with them), the reader will see the puppet-master. If the main character doesn’t notice something it does make sense for them to notice (like hey, that boat they climbed on so they could say goodbye to their ex has been moving for an hour now and they are out to sea suddenly!), yep, the reader is definitely going to know who’s pulling the strings.

And they won’t be the least bit surprised when that storm rolls in and strands the two characters on a desert island. Just sayin’.

Showing isn’t just about how you write your sentences, it’s about how you write your story. It’s about what you want your readers to experience with your main characters.

If you need to describe your main character’s bedroom to set the scene, walk into your own bedroom and take note of what you notice. Did your significant other leave a mess again? Did you? Does the fact that only one half of your bed is rumpled remind you that you don’t have a significant other? Do you notice something missing? Is the clock in the hallway ticking stupid loud because you’re late? Is there a funky smell because you’ve been super down lately and laundry is your nemesis?

If your main character needs to be on that boat with their ex, and having them not notice it moving doesn’t make sense, what if they do notice it moving? What if they could have stopped it before it got out to sea, but they didn’t? What if they have to deal with the emotional fallout of realizing that deep down they want to be trapped on a boat with their ex?

What your character notices shows the reader who your character is. It shows them what your character places value in. If your character walks into a room full of people and notices their clothing first, they might come off a little shallow. If they notice someone who’s upset, they might give a more empathetic impression. Zoom in on those moments. Show them to us. Help us get lost in your character’s experiences.

I’ve come to realize that this is one of the dividing lines between meh-it’s-all-right fiction and blows-my-freakin’-mind fiction. Do the descriptions feel organic? Do they pull us into the main character’s point of view to the degree that we feel like we are experiencing the story with them? Do we learn about who the character is through their sensory experiences of their world?

Tell us your story by showing us what matters most.


kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.




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.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Trilogy

Writing a book is exhilarating, frustrating, satisfying, challenging, fulfilling, and let’s face it. 
It’s exhausting. 
Today I’m sharing some of the things that I learned while writing my YA trilogy. First and foremost: when you write a trilogy, multiply that exhilaration, frustration, satisfaction, challenge, fulfillment, and exhaustion by factors of three. 

If you’re thinking of writing a trilogy, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself first. If you’re a plotter, you may find it useful to work out these answers in your outline before you start drafting. If you’re a pantser writer like I am, you can still be a pantser and write a trilogy. However, you do eventually have to sit down and think about how you want to answer these questions along the way. 

1. What are the major themes for the overall trilogy? For each story?
Pick one or two common themes to weave throughout the trilogy, but also think about unique themes for each. Each story will build on the previous one so you don’t have to recreate the wheel with each, but you want to give your readers something new every time.
Star Wars had some great themes (e.g., the struggle to master The Force). Themes are essential.
2. What is significant (and new) about your characters’ struggles and challenges in each story? 
The first story needs to suck in the reader and get him/her invested in the characters and their struggles. The stakes need to rise with the next story and during a good part of the third before the epic resolution. (Think Lord of the Rings: Return of the King).
The struggle should be significant in each story, not rehashing the same old thing.
3. What is the overall ending? 
Even if you’re more of a pantser like me, you need to have an idea of the endgame for the trilogy. Where will your characters be in terms of development? How will the major issues that have been building in books one and two be resolved? 

Elements of your story may change from your original idea as you draft and revise, but you should plan out your endgame from the beginning.
4. Do the first two stories end at natural and appropriate breaking points?
You shouldn’t be resolving all of the issues that your character’s have in book one and two. Most of that should happen in the last book. Yes, cliffhangers happen (remember The Empire Strikes Back?), but your characters should be developing and at least be working toward solutions by the end of book one and two. Your readers need something to keep them going.
Cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers are not going to make your readers happy.
5. Does it need to be a trilogy?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer, but it needs to be asked. Do you have enough story for a trilogy? Do your characters need an entire trilogy to deal with their issues? Can you build those necessary stakes and envision a resolution? Are you invested enough in your story and characters to run that long mile with them? Because they’ll need you.
Writing a trilogy is like running seventeen marathons.
As for me, I walked, ran, and stumbled through that VERY long mile with my characters. 390K later, and I’m thrilled (and exhausted) to announce that I completed my first trilogy! 
(It might not even be my last, though I’m currently planning on writing a few stand-alones before I attempt another trilogy.)
In celebration of being DONE with my trilogy, book one is FREE through May 14.
Book two is on sale at $1.99. And book three? I just published it last Friday!  
There they all are! I’m super excited that my characters all got closure at the end of the trilogy (except for the ones that died…okay, maybe even those characters) and also super sad that it’s over. 


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors of the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT.

10 Ways to Write More with Children Underfoot


I adore them. Especially mine. Which is good, since I went and had six of ‘em.

BUT how does one actually get writing done with little ones around? Is the only solution to stay up after they’re all in bed and you’re completely exhausted? 

Sometimes I find the answer. Sometimes I don’t.

I decided to ask loads of writing friends for their thoughts and I received loads of fantastic advice. Here are ten ideas…

#1: Set a timer.

YA author, Jolene B. Perry said, Depends on the AGE of the kid, but I’ve ALWAYS set a timer, and when the kids come to me, I point at the time. Once the time’s up, THEN they can ask questions.

I love this idea. Kiddos can easily see how long they have to wait before they can ask Mom for help. It teaches them patience and respect. 

Of course, if they’re bleeding profusely or they’ve misplaced they’re little sister, they can probably ignore the timer.

#2: Invite more kids over.

Wha? This seems counterproductive. Or does it?

Writer Gina Larsen said, “I have found INCREASING the number of kids is super helpful. HEAR ME OUT. When they have a friend over, they forget I exist until they’re hungry. Ta-dah! I write. I’m not a hover parent, at all, though. If you are a worrier or aren’t like me in this area, this plan probably wouldn’t work for you. Anyway, I ignore them and they me, and they seldom get into trouble. {I don’t leave fingernail polish, markers, etc. lying around, either.} Sure there might be a bigger mess of toys to clean up… But the pay off is worth it, plus friends have to help clean up if they wanna come back.
Ok. That is an awesome idea. My kids completely forget I exist, too, when friends are over. *note to self: invite more friends over*

#3: Limit screen time.

“I try to limit screen time so that when I do turn on the TV, they’re glued,” said writer Melissa Meibos.

Ok. So, I’m not a huge fan of using the TV as a babysitter. I much prefer my kids to be devouring books or climbing trees. BUT there are those days. Those days when you need to get your twenty minutes of writing done or you have to finish up your pages for your critique group or you finally figured out the best way to fix a tricky scene and you need a few minutes of uninterrupted writing time. If you save screen time for when you really need it, it could be a lifesaver Or, at least, a writersaver.
#4: Get a babysitter.

Melanie Bennett Jacobson, author of romantic comedies, said, “Until this fall I had two little ones home, so I decided to reinvest some of my profits by spending 10% of my royalty checks on a babysitter when I was on deadline. I don’t get huge royalties, and this obviously only works if you’re making some writing money already, but I considered it an investment in my career AND my mental health because I’m much happier when I don’t have the stress of deadlines weighing on me. 

This is a great way to squeeze in writing time. And even if you can only swing an hour or two a week to pay for a babysitter, you’d still be moving forward with your manuscript.  

#5: Ask for help.

Maybe a babysitter won’t work for you. Do you have family nearby willing to help ? Or Mom or Dad friends willing to swap childcare? My daughter is in a little co-op preschool group. We take turns teaching once a week. When my baby was younger I made sure his nap time lined up with when she was gone. I had two hours a week with an (almost) empty house. It was awesome!

If not friends, then what about your spouse? Have you talked about your need to write? Every so often I run away for a mini writing retreat. I pack up snacks, water, notebooks, and my laptop. Then I reserve a little study room at the library and spend the whole day there, hanging out in my fantasy land.It’s lovely.

#6: Get creative.

Put together a box of activites, things your children only see when it’s time for you to write. Does your child love playing with tape and stickers? Or playdough and an odd selection of utensils? Maybe your little one likes to play in the kitchen sink with a bit of water. Get your children busy with a fuss free activity and then get busy yourself.

#7: Choose your poison.

Are you spreading yourself thin? Do you have a love of many hobbies, activities or pursuits? If you want more time to write, you’re gonna have to make a hard choice.

“I’ve just had to give up (okay, not give up but definitely limit) other things like crafting, TV, movies, and Pinterest to spend my time more wisely with my books,” said writer Judy Robinson.

Oy. This one is for me. I need to embroider it on a pillow. Or not…because that would defeat the purpose a bit.
#8: Yes makes less.

If you want more time to write, you have to say no. A lot. You can’t be on every committee. You can’t be involved in every PTA activity. You can’t go on every field trip. You can’t make every meal completely from scratch. You can’t sew ALL of the Halloween costumes (ok. That one might be just for me.)

Of course, you don’t want to be a curmudgeonly ol’ hermit who won’t help anyone and doesn’t ever do anything fun with their kids or spouse. BUT you have to realize creating comes at a price. It takes time! And time is finite. Choose where you want to spend it.

#9: Shove it in the cracks.

Writer Rebecca Birkin said, “I credit Josi Kilpack for her idea to always take a notepad or tablet wherever you go, waiting at the doctor’s office, soccer game, waiting at the bus stop, etc.

How much time do we waste waiting? For our kids, in lines, and on the phone with someone in the Philippines as we hope, hope, hope they know how to fix our laptop? (that last one was all me again.) Are you taking advantage of those potentially lost moments by writing? You could be like super smart Helen Boswell and carry an iPad mini and a cute little keyboard with you at all times. And then maybe you’d be as prolific as her, too!

#10: Make it.

The time isn’t going to fall into your lap. If you want to write then you have to make room for it. 

Writer Shelly Brown said, “When my kids were tiny I just hauled my laptop around from room to room. They play with toys, I write. They watch a movie, I write. I only got in an hour or two but add that to the hour or two I got after bedtime and it was a decent haul for the day. There really want more to it than that. It was about trying and being patient with myself and my kids when the day just wasn’t lending itself to writing.

“I take my thus-far MS and a pen everywhere I go, and make notes and try to work out plot and character so that when I do have access to a computer, I can sit down and get to work quickly, without wasting time thinking (er, which is what I’m doing right now–puzzling out the next chapter),” said writer Rose Green. “I even once (okay, or twice) brought my laptop to the delivery room with me because I figured that afterwards there might be a moment to work in those five minutes when the baby was asleep and I wasn’t. (Hey, it’s better than TV!)”

“When my kids were small, I got up at 5:30 and wrote until 6:30 every school day. I found that I could get 1,000 words down in that hour, and then I felt accomplished enough to be Mom the rest of the day, ” said writer Becca Wilhite

YA author Cassie Mae sums it up. “I don’t have anything to say other than you just do, lol. I’ve written with kids on my lap, kids hanging over my shoulder, kids fighting on the floor. You do what you gotta do.”

Now for a disclaimer. 
Writing is important. For many of us, it’s something we not only love to do, but we feel a need to do. However, my children’s needs come first in my book. (Puns are awesome. Especially accidental ones.)
I’m okay with working on my craft here and there. My children are little. Ok. The teenager is taller than me. Whatever. But I’m trying to soak up and enjoy these days. More uninterrupted time to plunk away on my laptop will come. For now, I’ve got block towers to build and swings to push. And it’s wonderful.

It’s all about balance. Find the one that works for you!

Do you struggle to find writing time because of the demands of parenting? What solutions have you found? 

Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, jewelry-making, and pretending she’s a grand artist. 

7 Ways to Stay Focused on Your WIP

A friend once told me that I have ADOS. Attention Deficit… Oh, shiny!

And she’s right. Especially when it comes to writing. I want it to be fun and exciting and…easy. I get distracted by new and shiny ideas all the time.
Another friend compared this to our dating lives.You know, like when you bump into a cute guy in the library (this is where us writer-types like to meet guys, right?). 

Your eyes meet and your stomach does a backflip. You give Cute Library Guy a shy smile. He smiles back. Pretty soon you are seeing him every day. And your time together is absolutely magical. You think about him all the time. You talk about him all the time. You want to be with him all the time. And it’s fun and exciting and…easy.

Then, one day, you learn Cute Library Guy only eats foods that are brown. What? Ok. I mean…that’s kinda weird. But, still… he’s fun and cute and he makes you smile. You can work past this.
Then you discover Cute Library Guy sees bathing as optional. And, he exercises. A lot.

But the last straw is when he starts speaking in his own language. I mean, really? Suddenly Cute Library Guy is boring, stinky and doesn’t even make sense.
And then you’re at the library again. You see another cute boy. He turns and smiles at you. Your stomach contemplates joining the gymnastic club as it does a somersault followed by a handstand.Before you say fickle pickle you’ve dumped Cute Library Boy and you’re with a new guy.
Until you discover Cute Library Boy #2 kisses like a vacuum set on Suck Her Face Off.
And that, my friends, is how my writing is going these days. I love writing the beginning of stories. I love dreaming up new worlds. I love the thrill of creating new magic systems or thinking up character quirks. I love designing cliffhanger chapter endings. But then… when I have to get down to the nitty gritty and figure out where the story is going, when I see there are problems with my idea that I’m going to have to work out or when I discover massive flaws in my world building, that’s when fun, exciting and easy-looking ideas begin to look incredibly attractive to me.

Anyone else struggle with staying focused?

After some research, I found some strategies for staying true to your (and my!) current project. 

#1: Get rid of the temptationIf a shiny idea comes along get it out of your head by writing the details down in a writing ideas document, folder or notebook.

#2: Remember all the reasons you love your current work-in-progress. I find this is a good use for Pinterest boards. Pin pictures to do with your project. Find lovely photos of spooky swamps, Victorian homes and guys in long jackets wearing goggles. Like I did.  And then when you want to be inspired or to get excited about your project, take a moment to scroll through your board.

#3: Keep in mind it won’t be easy. You’re going to hit road blocks. And you’re going to have to find a way around them. Decide now to stick with it, even when it’s hard. 

#4: BUT don’t focus on the difficult parts. Focus on the good stuff!  Think about what you love about your story. What makes your story different? Keep yourself motivated and excited by focusing on what makes your story fun and unique. 
      #5: Work on a different scene in your book. If you’re bored or distracted by where you’re currently at in your WIP (which might be a sign you need to change something about the scene) work on a different part of your story. Write the cool action-chase scene with exploding radish monsters and glow-in-the-dark radioactive octopuses (What? Your book doesn’t have one of those scenes? Mine either. But I think I better change that…)
#  #6: Make writing goals. Decide to write a page a day, a chapter a week or complete the book by a certain date. And then tell everyone about your goal. Tell your coworkers, your friends and family, the guy who stocks the bread in the grocery store. Heck, post it on Facebook and tell the world. This is called positive public pressure. If everyone knows your goal then they’ll ask about it, especially if you report how you’re doing periodically.

    #7: Be consistent. Keep your excitement and motivation high by making time to write every day. 
Time for me to get real, people.
I am going to finish a decent draft of my work-in-progress, WW, by the end of February. (Now we’ll see how this positive public pressure works.)

And when things get tricky and I want to give up, I’m going to remember this…

Do you have ADOS? How do you stay motivated and focused on your work-in-progress?