Secret Formatting Tool Helps Keep Your Writing Looking Sharp!

Feb 13, 2018

Hello again. Thanks for visiting.
I know–not a sexy title for a blog post, but I’ll bet you’re curious!

Writing is the Fun Part, But Then. . .
I see it all the time. People coming up with ideas, writing their hearts out–composing an article or a book, or another writing project. But then they start looking back at it. Things are. . . not matched up. “How did this header end up so big, while that looks like–is that a different. . . Font? Holy smokes!” Eeeks!

Then there’s this “little matter” of organizing all that Table of Contents stuff, getting it lined up, and. . . Oh, cr@p! The page numbers? Do the page numbers match the real contents? And what if you have to cut or add a paragraph or two? Or a page, or two? Then what? How the hell do you. . . realign. . . (muffled shriek)

Normally, I see writers “fix” these things manually with hard returns, extra spaces, tabs, and other nightmarish extraneous-coding hidden elements. If you only knew about all the extra hidden coding which gets inserted into documents because of hard returns and tabbing-over. Oh, my word! What a mess these actions make of your manuscript, and they have to be fixed before it can be submitted for printing. But I digress. extraneous hidden coding is a subject for another post.

The crazy uneven font sizes and styles, random bold or italics, and the hit or miss occasionally-centered heading here, and other left-justified headings over there. The sometimes bolded, sometimes not sub-heads are all only a few of the issues writers unknowingly stumble into and editors encounter. Have you ever had to rearrange your order of chapters? O.M.G.! It can be a headache to resolve.

How can you avoid these kinds of frustration? Or wait–Are we all doomed to hours of weeding through this part of the editing phase and just. . . figuring it out?  Hint: I have a secret weapon I use to simplify this stuff. . . and I’ll share in a couple of minutes.

Writing on the Right, Leave the Left for Later
The creative thinking is: just write and stay in the right-brain. Let it flow. Leave all that left-brain editing stuff for another time. And while this is wise advice, there are certain things you can do at the beginning of your writing project to make the eventual editing phases a bit easier. Be open to learning about the tools in your word processor and how they can simplify your process.

Setting Yourself Up for Easier Editing
While not everyone thinks this way–I find it helpful to know ahead of time (at least a little) what types of chapters, headings, and sub-headings I’ll use. That’s not to say I have it “set in stone” as non-negotiable. I see it as a living document that will continue to change and grow (or shrink, if I’m cutting) as I write. I like to start with a vague outline of what my general (very general) headings and sub-heads will be. They will change as I write.

As you begin your overall project, I believe it’s helpful if you can draw up some kind of rough outline for it. Then–I hear some of you screaming, “NO!!! I. Cannot. Outline. Can. Not. . .  Do. . .  It.”
Ok, I get it. . . just breathe. Sit calmly and dare to imagine. . . something cool.

So, (just keep breathing, slowly) if you’re more of a “panster” (that is: you tend to write “by the seat of your pants,” as in–outlines don’t. . . come easily for you–but your writing does come easily to you–through you) then I suppose you can skip the “outline” phase–if you must. You can still use the nifty, secret tool after you finish writing.
But in a minute, you might see why I suggested–I’ll whisper it– outlining.
Hey–Maybe you could try. . . a storyboard approach–just for the chapter headings and sub-heads? Ok. Merely a thought–Keep breathing.

If you’re writing anything more than a couple of pages, you’ll most likely have titles, and headings–maybe even sub-headings and other ways of dividing your document. You might even be including quotes as smaller sub-heads throughout your work. When it’s a short piece, going through it and unifying the formatting for these elements is usually not a big deal.

It’s the longer works–the white papers, the reports, the short stories, or the ebooks and print books–it’s the formatting for those buggers causing the boggled brains.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice If. . .
. . .There was a way, to set up an easy-button process to create uniform headings, sub-heads and other divider-elements in our pages? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could simply select a headings level, push a button and have all the headings for a given level come out the same–nice and neat–pretty and uniform?

Guess what? This seemingly magical tool really does exist, but most writers I’ve encountered have never discovered it or learned to use it.
And. . . That’s why I call it “a secret.”

This wonderful tool is found in MS Word–Even Word for Mac. So it doesn’t apply if you’re writing using something like WordPress or another word processor. Although, some of them might have their own versions.

Ya Gotta Have Styles!
There is a nifty set of tools in Word called, “Styles.” It’s a bit different in the various versions of Word, but they all work basically the same, once you get the hang of using it. I find it in the top “Home” tab ribbon, near the right-hand side of my laptop window.

Especially due to the different version of Word out there, if I were to try describing all this to you, it could get confusing, so I’m supplying you with a link (which will open in a separate page) to show you the basics on where to find the tool, and how to use it.

It’s advice from the MSWord experts–the Intro to Using Styles in Word. Or if you prefer to view it here, through YouTube, here’s their YouTube video link:

There are so many fabulous things about using the Styles tools–Oh, how do I count the ways?  First of all, by using the Styles tools in Word you can set it up as you begin your project–OR after you finish writing. It depends on how you like to write. But once you chose the “styles” you want to use, then each heading, (and your sub-heads) are at your fingertips–like pressing a button.

So easy!  And it’s masterfully introduced in the video. 

You do the same for sub-heads and any other. . . smaller sub-heads.  Or for a series of quotes throughout your book.

Another delightful aspect of using Styles is how it simplifies navigating your document, using the Styles Pane. This also aides you in the set-up of your Table of Contents–AND easily updating it, even if you have to reorder your chapters. It’s interactive.
The Styles tool is a terrific timesaver for any writer or editor and it’s an amazingly helpful tool–all around. It helps update your document (or keep it updated if you use it as you go) into a uniform, consistent project.

If you plan to publish both a print book and an ebook, using the Styles tools will greatly simplify the transition between your print-formated manuscript and the ebook formatting.

You can also customize the Styles elements when you’re comfortable with it. Or contact me by setting up a Quick Help Strategy Session. Let’s see where you need help mastering it.

I hope this revelation of my little secret weapon proves to be helpful to you as you move forward in your writing endeavors.
Stay Calm and Keep Writing!

Be Well,


  1. Paula High

    I’m testing the commenting function. I was getting some complaints about the Captcha “Prove you’re a human” unfairly forcing would-be commenters to perform math calculations without adequate time. Then the dumb thing would time-out and leave me comment-less. ;-(

    So this is me, Paula, trying it out after venturing into finding a solution only to be told it had already been modified. Did they tell me the truth? We shall see.
    Tune into to the next episode of “As the Comments Turn,” and find out if Liza slept with… Oh, wait… that was something else.

  2. Karen

    Its late at night and I am tired. I figured I would respond to help you see how the comment section works. Love your post.

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