Friday, March 11, 2005

Customizing Word...for writers :-)

One of the things I get asked all the time by people who see my computer is how I have managed to customize Word. If you play around with the program, you find these things, but for those of us who have no time and no desire to search through that Help File nightmare, I thought I'd share.

I had to write this up for the writers who work for me at the magazine I edit, so I thought I'd post it on my blog so that the rest of you have it. Anyway, if you don't need this info, toss it away. If you do, feel free to use or forward it to other writers (I'd love it if you forwarded the link to the blog page, but whatever works is cool ).

Okay, first, here's how to create a one-key stroke for an em dash--the em dash is the long hyphen (see where I put in two hyphens back there? In AutoCorrect in Word, that would change that to a hyphen. However, if you work in documents where you have turned off AutoCorrect because it does weird things, then you might want to know this...besides, it's cool for all symbols you use often. It only works in Word, though, which is why I have two hyphens there instead of an em dash).

The old way of doing Em Dashes is either going to Insert->Symbol->Special Character or holding down Ctrl+Alt+Numlock+ the hyphen key. Too many keys and what's worse, every time you do that, it turns off NumLock and then you have to go turn it back on.

I like Macros and things like that, so I have a one-key stroke thing to do an em dash, since I use them all the time. Below are my directions on how to do that. NOTE: FOR ALL INSTRUCTIONS, BE SURE YOU ARE IN A BLANK "NORMAL" DOCUMENT SO IT APPLIES IT TO YOUR REGULAR FILES FROM THERE ON OUT.

1. On the Insert menu, click Symbol.

2. Then Click on Special Characters and Select the Em Dash

3. Click Shortcut Key.

4. In the Press new shortcut key box, press the key combination you want to use [FYI: I use F11 because it's a never-used key and it's a one-stroke insert --it's currently assigned to Next Field but I never use that]. For example, press ALT+ the desired key.

5. Look at Currently assigned to to see if the shortcut key combination is already assigned to a command or other item.
Reassigning a key combination means that you can no longer use the combination for its original purpose. For example, pressing CTRL+B changes selected text to bold. If you reassign CTRL+B to a new command or other item, you will not be able to bold text by pressing CTRL+B unless you restore the shortcut key assignments to their original settings.

6. Click Assign.

Now, every time you hit F11 or whatever key you assigned, you get an Em Dash! It works great with all kinds of symbols if you use them frequently.

Secondly, another thing people ask often is how to insert your own commands into your toolbar. I like having things like Double Space, Word Count, Close File, Exit, Select All, Thesaurus, etc., just one mouse click away.

To do this, go to View->Toolbars->Customize. Select either Custom1 (older versions of Word) or "Create" in newer versions. Now you have a custom toolbar that you can fill with whatever commands you want (for instance, if you do a lot of Inserting Clip Art, you can add that command. I have ones I need for writing, so I put my list below). When you see that toolbar on your screen (it'll be teeny until you fill it up), then click on "All Commands" (or you can go through each menu individually: File, Edit, View...they're all in the Toolbar Creation box). Then select the ones from the commands that you want. For me, I have this list:

File Close*
File Exit
File Save As
Office Clipboard*
Fit to Page width*
Select All
Insert Page Break*
Insert Bookmark
Insert Header*
Single Space*
Double Space*
Change Case*
Word Count

* The ones with the asterisk are symbols instead of words, the others are written out as words. You can further customize the keys later if you want to be all symbols or all words--it's in that same toolbar customization box. But I think it's easier to have a mix of both, that way you only have to learn a few symbols. Besides, if you hover the mouse over the symbol, it tells you what the command is.

Oh, and remember to move the toolbar up to the top with the other ones so it's always there. I put it on its own line so that I can see it all the time.

Hope that helps all of you and if you have any questions, e-mail me!


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  1. I love Macros. I actually made one for query letters or submission letters. It has my home address, a spot for the publisher's address, a dear sir/madam spot, a form body, and my signature. I just have to fill in the appropriate details, including my story blurb. My shortcut key is CTRL-SHIFT-L for letter. Love it!

  2. Thanks so much for this Shirley. I'm used to on some level on just bringing it down, but the idea of assigning my otherwise useless Fkeys to some of the tasks I do normally is a fantastic idea.


  3. OT...but I was really excited when my local library had one of your books and I could say "I kinda sorta not really in weird internet way know this author." :-)

  4. Anonymous12:29 PM

    Hi i love your book the bride wore chocolate is there away that you can email me an excerpt of the devil serves tortellini please. The bookstore here have not recived their shipment yet i guess but they dont have your book. You can email it to
    thank you so much


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