If you want to write a book, you'll need book writing software that's up to the task. Yes, you can invest in dedicated book writing programs. But you don't have to: a great writing tool is likely already at your fingertips, if you know how to write a book using Microsoft Word.
There's a lot of book writing software out there. Many of these programs claim to offer intuitive use, help with organization, and even say they’ll keep you from distraction. The options can be overwhelming.
There’s still one tried and true option if you’re not interested in all that (or can’t afford the fancier programs): Microsoft Word.
I write most of my books in Microsoft Word, not to mention short stories. Here’s the rundown of how to write a book using Microsoft Word, and why that might be your best choice.
The Benefits of Microsoft Word for Book Writing
You most likely already have it. And so does everybody else. Word is the standard, accepted across platforms, and is easy to access for non-writers (your beta readers). It’s been around forever, so most people know how to use it.
There are book formatting templates. A ton of them. They have them for short story format and for manuscript format. Personally, I don’t use those templates, but they’re a nice baseline for beginners, or even old hats that just want to hurry up and write without setting up their document first.
It’s simple and uncluttered. There are a ton of apps and programs out there that will allow you to keep your plot structure notes close at hand, to rearrange your chapters with the click of a button, and to keep detailed character profiles right in the program. That’s all a little too much for me. I prefer handwritten notes and nothing else blocking my screen while I’m typing and Word gives me that.
It is worth noting that if all that sounds appealing to you, you can do those things in Word as well, it just won’t be as fancy as other programs.
How to Navigate Your Book in Microsoft Word
When you have a 90,000-word manuscript, navigating becomes daunting. Luckily there are ways to do it in Word that make it easier if you know where to look.
Word doesn’t divide your book into chapters for you like some other programs. There will be no easy way to click and drag to rearrange chapters.
What I recommend is using headings. On Word’s Home page, there are already standard headings listed. Definitely mess with them and change their formatting to something simple.
No one needs giant blue words as their chapter headings. (You can set your simpler formatting as your default style as well, so you don’t have to change it every time.)
Make the title or number of each chapter a heading. Then you can easily bounce around to different chapters through the navigation pane (check the Navigation Pane box under the View menu).
These basically work the same way as headings, but they’re for anywhere in your document. Have a specific scene you need to do more research on? You can bookmark it and jump back to it later.
Bookmark by going to the Insert menu and clicking Bookmark. Name your bookmark and voilà. You can delete them easily from the popup menu as well.
Find and Replace
CTRL+F brings up a simple search option to find words and phrases in your document. CTRL+H brings up the full gambit. From that dialogue box, you can search, replace certain words with others (i.e. Jennifer now becomes Julia all through the manuscript), and go to any page, section, heading, bookmark, etc. that you need to go to.
Microsoft Word is Great for Editing Your Book
Word has a ton of options for editing your story, including comments, tracking changes, and comparing documents. All of these are under the Review menu.
I use the comments feature to make notes to myself where I need to recheck facts or add description later. It’s easy to navigate through the comments with the search feature or the buttons under the Review menu. Don’t forget to remove them all before saving your document as a PDF or sending it off to an editor.
Tracking changes is awesome and a lot of editors (for short stories anyway) will use this feature to collaborate with you during the editing process. You can accept or reject changes or even revert back to the original.
Pro tip: To keep you on track while you’re writing, turn off some of the more fine-tuning features of grammar check. There’s nothing that will ruin your flow more than a bunch of underlining you feel like you need to take care of immediately. I recommend running the full check when you’re done (or at least done for the day).
Formatting Your Book in Microsoft Word
Make sure you’re familiar with standard manuscript format for novels and formatting short stories. Take a look at those links and follow their instructions. You don’t want to get rejected out of hand because you tried some weird formatting that’s hard to look at.
One of the biggest gripes I see from editors is writers using spaces to indent paragraphs. Don’t do this. It makes it super hard on them when they’re putting a book together. Instead, use the ruler in Word (under the View menu) or the paragraph settings (under the Home menu) to adjust your tabs. A half inch is standard.
Despite what most of us were taught in school, the standard is now one space after periods, not two. This is another sticking point with editors, so don’t do it. If you’re used to two, there’s a grammar check feature in Word you can turn on to highlight every time you use two spaces.
Finally, use the page break option to break for a new chapter, not enter or a million spaces. You can find the page break under the Insert menu.
Pro tip: When in doubt about your formatting, you can turn on the Show/Hide option under the Home menu (looks like a paragraph symbol) to see all your formatting symbols.
Now That You've Mastered Microsoft Word, Go Write Your Book
Don’t let choosing writing software stagnant your writing. Don’t overthink it. You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses with the latest writing technology that’s trotted out on tech forums and in writing chats.
The important thing about writing a book is actually writing it. No fancy book writing software is going to help you with that.
So get writing!
Ever used Word to write a book? Do you have any more tips for how to write a book using Word? Let me know in the comments!
Want to make plotting your book EASY? Check out our new book The Write Structure which helps writers make their plot better and write books readers love.
Take fifteen minutes to write. Just write. Don’t worry about page setup, formatting, or which program you’re going to use. Open up Word or get out a pen and paper if you’d like!
When you’re done, share your writing in the comments. Don’t forget to comment on your fellow writers’ work!
Sarah Gribble is the author of dozens of short stories that explore uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She just released Surviving Death, her first novel, and is currently working on her next book.