Spring Into Action

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…


Hmm, three going on twenty-three.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“We want to play in snow!”

Snow, in March? Rocky Mountain springtime…

Tori the Terrible

On Monday I played golf in near short’s weather, but yesterday I was shoveling out of 9″ of snow–a 3′ drift behind my car! I love the Rocky Mountains, but the seasons are screwed up at 7000 feet above sea level. We have warm, spring-like weather in the Winter and snow in the Spring. Oh well, as long as they can clear the snow off the greens by tomorrow, I guess I can live with it.

Here I sit, one year later, about to publish my thirteenth blog in this series, and I wonder where we have been and where we are going. By the way, thirteen is lucky for me, it is always the fastest isle in the grocery store. But I digress. I must admit, I have given my readers a taste of the organizational skills they need to succeed in their writing, but what about the writing itself?

A grand question that must be addressed. In fact, I plan to dedicate most of this year to addressing that question by imparting to you my experiences with writing novels and things each writer should be wary of. Some of my blogs will be organizational in nature, while others will discuss mechanical aspects of writing itself.

Now, I am no writing expert like you might find at your local college or university, but I can offer practical advice based on my own experiences writing and publishing three novels, one self-help book, two blogs, and about to publish my fourth novel. Also, while I am tooting my own horn, I was an honors English student in high school, if that counts for anything. Oh, and I have written millions of words of technical documentation as a software engineer for twelve years.

All right, all right, enough self adulation, let’s spring into action! As I said, I am not an expert on the subject of writing, but I do have a bit of an expertise on the art of writing. With that small bit of expertise, I will attempt to help you achieve your own artistic dreams of writing. After all, isn’t that why you went into writing? A passion? A need to express yourself in the written form? A deep desire to tell the world the stories that have built up in you over the years? If not, give up now.

Okay, I am all about product, so let’s get you springing into action with something tangible you can produce during your next Appointment to Write. What, you haven’t been keeping your appointments? Shame on you! If writing really is important to your life, then you will keep that appointment! Don’t feel too bad, I have missed a few, too.

But now, let’s get back to it, and start producing that great novel simmering inside you. I find that before I begin writing, I like to have my template created within which I will write my story. There is something inspiring about having this created, tangible, and near publishing quality. What you ask, near publishing quality?

Yeah, you heard me write, I mean right! Why start with something crude and unappealing except maybe to some writing teacher who needs double spaces to mark up all the grammatical errors? Look, I am writing a novel, and I want it to look like one from the start.

Fine, I hear some of you, you’re hung up on the old standard 8.5″x11″, 1″ margins, double spaced format, the bellwether for so many years. But please, do away with ye ol’ typewriter you got for college and join the 21st century of writing. It’s all digital now, and we can format anyway we want, whenever we want, and produce whatever anyone wants.

In other words, you can create a novel, printout the ol’ standard for your writing teacher, or post it in the blog of your writing group. What, you don’t have a writing group or a writing group blog? Sorry, that’s another post you’ll have to wait to read. For me, I like producing a novel, and I want it to look like a novel.

Okay, nuts and bolts. To create your novel template in Microsoft Word, you will need to start with a fresh new document. Save the document using the following naming convention: BookTitleDRAFT-1.doc. Great, as you progress (after each chapter written), you will save-as the document, increasing the draft number by one each time. This is the poor man’s way to file versioning, but hey, it works.

Now that you have created the file and saved it to your writing folder, we must set up the global book format before we address each section and paragraph. In Word, select the Page Setup dialog. I am purposely avoiding the specific menu keystrokes to access this as many people will be using different versions of Word. If you are using another editing program, consult their documentation to find out where you access the page setup options. When you have it in Word, you see the following dialog:

Microsoft Word Page Setup Dialog

Now, we will go through this tab by tab and setup your novel properly. By-the-by, this is for a 6″x9″ novel, but the same would work for any other format with proper tweaking. On the Margins tab, first set the Multiple Pages field to Mirror Margins. This sets the document up into a book format where opposite pages are mirrored. Then, set the following field values:

  • Top: 0.6″
  • Bottom: 0.6″
  • Inside: 0.6″
  • Outside: 0.6″
  • Gutter: 0.25″

The gutter is for the binding area inside each page. If you don’t set that, the binding will obscure the text on the inside portion of each page, making for an unpleasant reading experience.

So far so good, let’s continue. Select the Paper tab. We want to change the Paper size to the finished product. Select Custom size and set the Width to 6″ and the Height to 9″. Superb, now select the Layout tab.

Keep Section start as New page as this affects the headers and footers. Okay, now select both check boxes for the Headers and Footers so that they are Different for Odd and Even pages and for the first page of each new section (chapter in our case). Now, set the distance between each header and footer to 0.3″ from the edge. This is good for both appearance and to keep it from being chopped off when the book is cut during printing.

Once you have set these values in the Page Setup dialog, click on OK to make the changes to the whole document. The advantage to me, besides the nicety of having an actual “book” in the making, is that I see what the finished product will look like, gauge approximately how many pages it will contain when published, and to provide a pleasant reading experience for my writing group. For a novel in this format, I shoot for 300-500 pages.

I don’t know about you, but the standard 8.5″x11″ double spaced is not a pleasant reading experience. If your writing group needs this space to annotate your grammatical errors, you shouldn’t be writing a novel anyway, you should be in a writing class at your local college or university! Learn the mechanics first, then apply them to the art.

If you have an existing document with which you have been working, you can still make these changes to it at any time. Since the changes affect the whole document, Word will simply reformat your writing to fit within these new parameters. Try it out, and I think you will appreciate this new way of working on a novel. I think it is inspirational and will always be a crowd pleaser in your writing group.

Next month, I will discuss how to complete this template by adding the up front pages (title, copyright, toc, etc) and even provide you an actual template you can use. I will also outline how to insert your chapters, set your headers and footers for odd and even pages, and format your paragraphs to give it that nice, finished look. So tune in to learn more about how to inspire you to spring into action and get your writing underway.

Now, where on earth is that sled? Didn’t I just swap it out for my golf clubs? Oh, brother!