How to write a novel in Microsoft Word

My trilogy is currently sitting at 316,078 words, which amounts to 732 Microsoft Word pages. It’s all in a single doc.

I’m not saying that to impress anyone (it still needs to be edited down!). Only because a few people I’ve chatted to seem to think that you need some fancy writing software to write anything of that length. I actually find Word really easy to use, and it’s all because a few years ago I figured out how to structure a document for a novel.

Here’s what I do, and hopefully it can help you too.

1. Navigation Pane

Under “View” on the main menu, check “Navigation Pane”. This is the key to the entire thing. The Navigation Pane allows you to view the document by headings, pages or by search results. The headings is the important thing, as you will be able to navigate directly to each heading by clicking on it.

2. Scrap yard and Marker

The first thing I type is Scrap Yard, the second is Marker. Both of these should be on their own lines and set to Heading 1. You will find Heading 1 under Styles on the Home tab of the main menu. Then they show up in the Navigation Pane. You want to start typing your novel above this.

3. Using headings to structure the novel

Something that I know I vastly underestimated when I started writing was how much time I’d spend skipping back to check stuff. Whether it’s a character name, a piece of dialogue or what the hell happened in That One Scene, I do it at least three times in every writing session.

Now for each section of a story that I write, I will use headings so that I can easily find that part again.

How you do this all depends on how you want to break down your novel. For the 316k monster I mentioned above, I have Heading 1 for the book titles, Heading 2 for settings, Heading 3 for key scenes in that setting.

I’ve also been writing a fanfic in Google Docs, which also has this navigation system (called Outline). In that one I use Heading 1 for chapter numbers, Heading 2 for the point of view character and Heading 3 for the scenes within a chapter. You can see how nicely they nest under each other.

  

With this system, it’s easy to find That One Scene because of my descriptive Heading 3 that lets me find it easily. 

4. What was that about a Marker? 

So, remember that Marker Heading 1? That’s basically a bookmark. Because it’s the biggest heading, it will never be nested under anything and you can use it to always find your place.

If you write your novel from start to end, then it’s no problem finding where you left off. But if you’re like me,  you’ll constantly bounce back to fix stuff or make adjustments, and this is where this fellow is really handy. Just make sure you keep the Marker at the bottom of what you’re currently writing and you will never ever lose your place, even if you have to navigate away to check something quickly and accidentally only return to your document in six months. 

5. … And the Scrap yard? 

The Scrap yard is where all the murdered darlings go.

You know the phrase “kill your darlings”? It typically means that sometimes you need to cut out bits of your novel that you really love, but that just don’t fit where they currently are. My junk yard (or “Spares” as I call it in the trilogy) is a maze of descriptive Heading 3s. Sometimes I manage to use those darlings elsewhere in the novel, and then I just change the Heading 3 to reflect this. But even if I never use that bit of writing, it at least makes me feel like no effort is ever wasted. 

And that’s how I use Microsoft Word for writing really long documents easily. 

Do you have any of your own tips that I should try? Add them in the comments 🙂 

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