Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MSWord for the Novelist - Manuscript Templates

I'm starting a new series today, one that I hope you will find useful. I am a power-user of Microsoft Word, and I have long used a custom-designed manuscript template that suppresses all the more writer-unfriendly features of Word.

How would you like a document template that never forces the issue with "smart quotes," never auto-hyphenates and never mucks with your lines-per-page count? How would you like to be able to start up a fresh document all ready with your font of choice, be it Times or Courier, set up to 12 point, with 1 inch margins (not 1 1/4!), and even double-spaced? Well, here it goes!

These instructions assume Word 2003, which is the version I use both at work and at home. If I have enough demand for it, I'll rewrite the instructions for 2007. It may seem like a lot of steps, but you only have to do this once. I advise you to print this post for easier reference.
  • First things first. Bring up Tools, then Options. On the View tab, in the Show box, clear the Smart Tags checkmark. You may also want to check Vertical Ruler under Print and Layout Options.
  • Click Tools, Language, then Hypenation. Make sure the "Automatically Hyphenate Document" is unchecked.
  • Click Tools, then AutoCorrect. Click AutoFormat. Clear the boxes that begin with Straight Quotes, Ordinals, Fractions and Hyphens. Click AutoFormat As You Type. Uncheck everything. From now on, you will have to hit the Tab key at the beginning of each paragraph. This is useful for sending document chunks (such as via email when sending partials and fulls). You will not have to re-tab everything if the tabs are already gone.
  • Bring up Format, then Font. Select the font and size of your choice (12 point Times New Roman or Courier New).
  • Click Format, then Paragraph. Under Spacing, select Double. Click Line and Page Breaks. Unclick everything here except Don't Hyphenate. This stuff is only important for business and legal documents when you have headings that you want to stay with the text that they go with. And you don't want automatic hypenation.
  • Click File, then Page Setup. Adjust your margins to 1 inch all the way around. On the Layout tab, click Different first page. This will allow you to have a title page without headers and footers. Click the Default button and then click Yes.
Ok, by this point, you will have a nicely-behaved document. But you're not done yet. When you move on to the next document, you will have to do this all over again . . . unless you convert the document to a template.
  • To do so, click File, then Save as . . .
  • Drop down the Save as type box, and select "Document Template (*.dot)".
  • Name it Manuscript (or something meaningful to you) and click Save. Word will automatically append the ".dot" to the end and save it in the Templates folder.
Ta da! You now have a Manuscript template.

To use the template, click File, then New. Over on the right side, the New Document taskbar will appear. Click On my computer . . . and the Manuscript template should appear in the General tab, which is the first tab. Double-click your template and it will load.

You're done. Begin writing. The beauty of this approach is that it has absolutely no affect on your default template.

Next installment: Custom Word Styles for the Novelist. Believe me, Word Styles are worth taking the trouble to learn.

I'd love to know if you were able to use these instructions with success.


  1. good idea to create a template!
    I use OpenOffice but all the same ideas apply.

  2. Lisa, the last time I tried to use OpenOffice, it didn't have a document map. I utterly depend on the document map to help outline my manuscript, as I'll show in my next article. Have they come up with a document map feature?

  3. I don't know what DocumentMap is,but that could be because I haven't investigated yet.

  4. Tia, you're a doll! This worked beautifully for me. I have no idea why it never occurred to me to make my own template. This makes opening a new document much less daunting. Many, many thanks!

  5. I'm so glad this worked for you. Oh, and by the way, I was disappointed to see that you had closed your blog. I'm glad to see you still stop by from time to time.

  6. Great idea, Tia! It hadn't occurred to me to create a template. I'm curious about something else. Do you let Word prevent orphans and widows so that some pages have big spaces at the bottom? Does that make sense?

    Thanks again!

  7. No I do not. Go to the Format menu, then select Paragraph. Click the second tab folder. Clear everything except "Don't hyphenate".

    Unfortunately, if you've already created your template, it is tricky to open and edit it again. Let me know if you need instructions for that.

  8. Oops Anissa, I guess I meant to say that I always turn off that feature. I also covered this in my original instructions, so if you have already done it, you won't have to do it again.

  9. Thanks, Tia. I can never decide what to do (whether to keep it on or turn it off). I was just curious as to your method. Thanks!

  10. I keep it off because then you get a consistent number of lines per page. That can be valuable for markets that want old-fashioned word counts.

  11. Wow, Tia, what a great idea! I don't know why I've never bothered with a template before. Every time I start a new novel, I go through and change whatever needs to be changed, wasting a bunch of time. I'm off to make one right now.

  12. Thanks, Kristen. Wait till you see my next post. It'll blow you away.

  13. I never thought to set up a template before - I used to fix the margins and spacing, but that was it. I didn't even think of delving deeper into Word, so thanks for tutorial :-)

    Have a lovely day! :-)

    P.S. I'm procrastinating - I should be coming up with plot points, but instead I'm reading your blog, and calling it "research" ;-)

  14. Enjoy! You are going back in time a bit, so I'm flattered!

  15. Hi, Tia. Thanks so much for putting together your aids for Microsoft Word. I was going to write something on the topics of templates and document maps, but searched to see what had already been posted.

    You'd already said most everything I would have, and you said it better.

    I hope you don't mind, I referred to your work in my blog at

    Thanks so much for putting all this together.

  16. Thank you for posting this online! I was able to figure out how to create the template in MS Word 2007, with the exception of Step 2: Unchecking 'Automatically Hyphenate Document'. Any suggestions?

  17. If it isn't available in that dialog box, then the only thing I can suggest is that you simply try using a document created from the template and see if it automatically hyphenates. It probably won't--I think that option is off by default these days.

    If it does automatically hyphenate, then you'll have to check the help.

  18. I used to know how to use all the bells and whistles back when I did production typing and whatnot, but I now find it easier to create a template document that I open and Save As for a new writing project. Saves hassles for me.

    But your instructions are clear and I might have a go at a template once again.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, by the way.

  19. Tia,
    Thank you for doing this. You've helped me overcome a big writing hurdle. The simplicity of the Navigation Pane in Office 2010 is wonderful but I wouldn't have figured it out if not for your help.
    You deserve kudos and great sales of your book.


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