June 13, 2005

Internal Editor Wanted -- to shutup!

One of the hardest things for me -- and for a lot of other writers -- is turning off the internal editor. Maybe part of it is that we're afraid if we did finally succeed in shutting them up, they wouldn't be there for subsequent drafts when we really need them. In any case, a lot of stories and novels never happen because of second guessing, rewriting and endless reworking that keeps us messing around with page two or chapter one or that opening sentence that "just isn't right". While I can't tell you I've found the secret on/off button (I wish!), I have found something that helps.

First, a disclaimer: This trick involves Microsoft Word. Please do not take this as an enthusiastic endorsement of Word. Most of the time I use it partly because I use it in my day job, and partly because if I wander off to find something else to use, I'll end up spending weeks doing tests, comparisons, etc. The fact is Word is always sitting there on my machine, if you stay away from the bells and whistles it doesn't suck too badly, and almost every editor that takes electronic submissions asks for an attached file in Word format. So, we'll have that argument later, but if you can't stand the idea of Word, don't read on. On the otherhand, this "trick" can be extrapolated to any other package with very little thought.

If you're like me, you print out what you've written after the day's writing is done. This can be where the internal editor comes to life and sends you into rewrite hell. Typical manuscript format leaves lots of room for notes, tweaks and scratchouts (as it should). What I've found is if for the initial writing you use a proportional font with single line spacing, you won't stop the internal editor dead in its tracks, but you can throw some nails in front of its tires and slow it down. There's no space to do more than maybe a little spellcheck. (That's the part of the trick that can be extrapolated almost anywhere.)

One of the problems with this is that pages are massive and you can feel like you're not getting as much done. But if you reduce your page size to booklet form, not only will you feel like you're getting more done, but your printout will be easier on the eyes and each session will resemble a little chapbook. Now printer software has been able to do this for a while by shrinking down your full-sized pages and jamming them into half the size your layout intended, but I find this less than elegant. Since Word 2002, there's been a better solution at your fingertips. Here's what to do:

  1. Open a new, blank Word document.

  2. Choose File > Page Setup.

  3. On the Margins tab, select Book Fold from the Multiple Pages drop-down.

  4. Change your Top, Bottom, Inside and Outside margins to .5 inches.

  5. Set your Gutter to .25 inches.

  6. Click OK and you're now not only working in booklet form, but you're actually typing into a page the size of one booklet page! (Make sure your using Print Layout view, of course.)

Now just choose a good looking proportional font, and you're off. (I use 12pt Times New Roman because it resembles the font used in traditional paperbacks and it's freely available almost everywhere, but feel free to play around with it. Don't forget if the page or font seems too small, you can adjust your view zoom to help.)

For printing, you'll ideally want to duplex. If your printing doesn't provide automatic duplexing, most printers come with instructions on how to manually duplex. Check your manual.

To simplify things in the future, save the document as a template. For submissions, just copy the text out of your finished document and paste it into your normal manuscript template.

Good luck!

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