Organizing Your Manuscript in Word

organizaing MS Word

I’m a Word girl. I can’t deal with Scrivener. I have the program and for whatever reason, my brain looks at it, and threatens to explode.


Since my goal is to write novels and not have my brain explode, I willing return to Microsoft Word. I’ve picked up a few tips and trips to help me maintain organization as I slice open a vein and pour out my soul.

I’ve been a Microsoft user since the days of Clippy.


Until Microsoft decided enough was enough.


Anyway, Microsoft has come up with some pretty cool things to allow you to navigate your manuscript. I’m only going to talk about one of them: HEADERS. Before, I had to CTRL+F to find anything within my manuscript. When you’re pushing 90K, searching for that spot you were editing in Chapter Eight can take you eleventy seven minutes to find. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do with my time. Like actually write more novels.

Starting with a blank word document, find the view tab. Select “NAVIGATION PANE” to pull up the side bar.

navigation pane

Type the Chapter One to start your manuscript as you normally type. The default setting for word is to fall under the normal paragraph style.


Highlight the text you want to make into your heading, Chapter One in this example. Click the Heading 1 style. The text changes and moves the new heading to be left justified. The heading now appears in the side navigation bar.


Return the font to your originally preferred font, color, etc.


Repeat for each chapter. You can do this as you write or if you have an idea of how many chapters you are going to have, you can set up your manuscript before you write.

chapter 2

A completed, organized manuscript looks like this.

completed manuscript

I hope this helps those of you that use Microsoft Word, but have a hard time remaining organized. Since I figured out how to do this, I’ve had no problems keeping my manuscript organized.



My Outlining Process Using Disney’s Frozen

outlining process

Apparently what I do when I start a novel–or plan to start one–is very different from many of my peers in the writing community. Many of them use beat sheets or are big picture outline/summarizer’s, or full blown pantsers. I go all out and I make myself pour the story out of my head and into an outline before I am comfortable with what I’m writing. Sometimes, I veer from my outline, but I quickly make sure it goes with my endgame and if it doesn’t it gets cut.

As a science person AND a teacher, I am a very analytical thinker. This makes me do two things naturally: “begin with the end in mind” and think in bullets. All teachers are taught to prepare their lessons by beginning with the end in mind. That means you pick your objectives that you want to teach and then you design your assessment. Then fill in all the teaching bits. I applied that approach to my writing.

I tried to figure out where the book I wanted to plot would end. Sometimes the outline would work out and my original end, would stay the end. Other times, I have to make adjustments. Outlining to me is fun and gets me excited about what I’m about to write. Being ever so slightly ADD (read: VERY ADD — it’s taken me all day to type this because I’ve lost focus eleventy billion times), I like to get everything squared away before I get too deep in my writing.


If you aren’t used to outlining, try small scale first. Pick a scene from your novel that you know you could sit down and write this instant if you had to. I tend to outline by chapter and then fill in the deets later. For my last novel, I pictured the chapters based on locations. I knew what I wanted to start with and I knew where I wanted to end. From there, I bulleted the different locations my character would go through the course of the novel.

To give you an idea of what this looks like for me, I’m going to demonstrate how I would outline the opening sequence for the Disney movie, Frozen.



First, identify the locations. Just so you know, the entire chapter doesn’t have to take place in that one location. You can also identify chapters by some event that happens, but for the last three outline’s I’ve written, I’ve used location as my jumping off point.

outline 1

Once I figured out the locations for the scenes, I went back and I added the main plot points.  You will have more main plot points than this (usually). I have many within a chapter (usually 3 or 4, but sometimes more). Please keep in mind, this is a very simplistic example on my thought process.


Now that I know what I want my character to do in each of the chapters, I can break apart each of those scenes. Sometimes as my outline grows, I find I have to split what I thought would be one chapter, into more two and sometimes even three.

outline 3

You can take it to another level and add more detail if you need to. It works for me, so maybe — if you want to give outlining a chance, you can try this method. It might work for you. Maybe give it some thought and get a good night’s sleep before trying it my way.



I work in this fashion until I reach the end. As I work, what I want each chapter to contain comes faster until I realize I’m finished. I’ve outlined three thrillers this way and from start to finish, the whole process only took a day.


Now all that’s left is to write it!



I have been a busy little bee.


In my mind, DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS has always been a series. As I write, I picture the events as if they were a movie or TV show (who knows, I’m a dreamer — maybe one day that will happen). I decided to sit down and write out what would happen next in the lives of Arissa and Erica. With the help of some amazing writing friends, I brainstormed one hell of a ride for them in book two.


The way I set this series up, I could go on and on torturing the lives of Innsbrooke High’s finest. With that being said, book two leaves off right where book one ended and answers many of the questions the reader is left to contemplate in book one. Especially considering the ending to book one. I’m not surprised, but my outline for book two is much longer than my outline for book one. I now understand why some books get larger as you add to the series (Harry Potter comes to mind). When all was said and done, I had outlined thirteen pages of action-packed OMGs and WTFs. The first four pages are the result of random brainstorming. What follows is my outline-of-awesomeness.

DLS BS outline

I’m not going to start writing this quite yet, but at least now, I know where I’m going.

Tagline: Some secrets take you to the grave.


Writing the synopsis is evil. If you’ve ever attempted to do it, you know what I mean.


The idea of taking 84K words and smooshing all the exciting parts of the story into one or two pages is enough to make some want to give up writing.


Before I could attempt such a feat, I had to get caffeinated.

tumblr_me1lq5AWBB1qkbtx4o1_500I worked at it for days.


It was tough, but I did it.


One step closer to querying!


The novel is complete. Not only is it complete, it’s been edited by my handy dandy CP1. She wore her editing hat well as she suggested certain things be tightened to make DLS shine. It’s now in the hands of my Beta readers for Round 1. Once I receive their feedback, I will take any and all suggestions into consideration and make improvements as needed before moving to Round 2. I’m excited because I have published and unpublished, agented and unagented authors reading DLS to make sure it has that WOW factor, I tried so hard to achieve.


Something amazing happened before in my world last week. I was chatting with an agented friend of mine on twitter and her agent got involved in the conversation. She knew my MS wasn’t completed edited, but she was interested and wanted to read any polished pages I had. After fighting the urge to jump up and down kermit flailing, I sent her the first two chapters with my query. So, before I even started querying, I found an agent interested in reading. From what I understand, this is not something that happens, so you can bet I’m thankful she showed an interest. Now, I’m waiting to see what my Beta’s think of my full MS and what the agent thinks of the first two chapters I sent.

MAKE IT COUNT Cover Reveal

It is with great pleasure that I present to you the cover for Megan Erikson’s novel, MAKE IT COUNT. Is this thing not the most amazing cover you’ve ever laid your eyes on?


Not only do you get a peek at the cover, you get an excerpt from the novel. Enjoy!!

MAKE IT COUNT excerpt:

Kat gathered her books and stuffed them into her plaid Burberry messenger bag, then headed toward the front doors, smoothie from the library snack shop in hand. Head bent, fiddling with the clasp of her bag, she stumbled into a wall of human on the pavement outside.

“Oh, I’m sorry—” Her voice dropped out when she realized the solid flesh belonged to Alec, Max’s best friend.

She’d only met him once or twice before he’d moved in with Max this semester and every time, he cocked his eyebrow with a half frown like he knew something she didn’t. Which he actually did, since he had brainy superpowers. Smarter than a speeding Einstein. Able to leap over C-minus students like her in a single bound.

She didn’t trust people that smart. And she didn’t trust a guy who didn’t ogle her ass or leer at her boobs like every other member of the straight male species on the planet.

Right now, that raised-eyebrow frown pinned her where she stood. His pale green eyes behind thick black frames roamed over her shoulder to the library and then back to her. With his pin-stripe button-down, dark jeans with Converse shoes and hair styled in a short, messy pompadour, he looked like a nerdy Elvis.

His frown morphed into a smile when he spotted the smoothie in her hand, and she definitely didn’t notice his full lips. “You know, you don’t have to venture into the forbidden zone just to get a smoothie.”

Oooh. The jerk. She glanced around surreptitiously, then leaned in and spoke in a low voice. “Just play it cool. Don’t let it slip someone like me snuck in the library.” She gripped his forearm and whispered. “Password today is rosebud.”

His face blanked and he looked at her like he’d never seen her before. Kat debated whether or not that was an improvement over his other look.

But then those intelligent eyes narrowed and a smirk curled his lips. “I know. We nerds get an e-mail every morning.”

See? He always needed the last word. She propped a hand on her hip and leaned in. “Well, sounds like you have a mole. Might want to look into that.”

He opened his mouth but she cut him off. “Just looking out for you guys. Anyway, see ya around!”

Before he could shoot back a snarky comeback, Kat skirted around him and bounded down the stairs. She chalked that up as Kat 1, Alec 0.

About the author:


MEGAN ERICKSON grew up in a family that averages 5’3” on a good day and started writing to create characters who could reach the top kitchen shelf.

She’s got a couple of tattoos, has a thing for gladiators and has been called a crazy cat lady. After working as a journalist for years, she decided she liked creating her own endings better and switched back to fiction.

She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids and two cats. And no, she still can’t reach the stupid top shelf.


Avon Romance:
Author website:



Up until this point, the only novels I’d ever written were fantasy and paranormal romance. I decided this time, I wanted to try to write something a little more commercial. Sprinkle in a few random visits with my muse and DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS was born. Started Feb 1 as a part of FebNo, I connected with my MC, sixteen-year-old Arissa Jayne and her life in the armpit of ‘Merica, Innsbrooke, Florida. (FYI: There is no Innsbrooke, FL, but my location for DLS is very loosely based on the area around Dixie County, FL).

As I wrote this YA LGBT Thriller, I discovered things about my characters, I’d never considered. For example, Arissa LOVES classic rock. Whenever I needed to get into her head, I just opened up Pandora’s classic rock station and within minutes, I was her.

Finally, the story drew to a close and I wrote the words THE END just so I could see them. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I donned a large Cheshire grin. Whether this novel ever finds an agent, a publisher, or just runs through my friends and Beta readers, doesn’t matter. What matters is that I FINISHED IT.


That being said, I have my trusty team of CPs hard at work. The first half of the MS is already edited and ready to go. Now, the rest is waiting patiently for them to devour so I can send it to my Beta readers. In the meantime, I’m ending my self-inflicted hermit status and returning to civilization.


I am a plotter. I take an idea and I try to break it down into an outline. Each bullet represents something that happens in a chapter. If detail is needed, I elaborate. It makes it easier for me to stay on target and not run off into another world where secondary characters take over (that happened with this MS A LOT to the point where I had to rename a character and the cause behind their disability because he demanded he get his own book).

In February, I started this novel, so I started an outline.

DLS Outline

I hit 50K in the month of February. Took a break for the first few weeks of March and caught up on ABC Scandal. When I started back up, I didn’t write, but edited. I cut over 4K from the intro and in March added a total of 19K words, giving me a net of 15K. The homestretch came the first week of April and I finished the MS on April 6th in the wee early morning hours. My completed outline grew into the beast you see below. It is much more involved than my original and I added the yellow highlighting to signify whenever something insane happened due to my stalker, Secret. As you can see, there is A LOT OF YELLOW.

outline fini

I will admit, I did stray from the outline some, but overall, this worked for me. My first Thriller is in the bag and I couldn’t be more excited.

Question for all my readers: What’s your style? Are you a pantser or a plotter or some wicked hybrid?

Am I Finished Editing?


The novel is complete. You’ve walked away and started something else or started marathoning Doctor Who to give your mind a break. Is it ready for querying?

NO. I repeat: NO.

After it’s been through your Beta readers and CP team is it ready for querying?

Probably not, but maybe.

If you are like me, when you write, you slice open a vein and let the words flow. This tends to produce some passive phrases, adverb vomit, and some telling then showing paragraphs. You might catch some of it, when you edit, and your CP team might catch the rest. Heck, your grammar checker on Word or whatever program you use, might catch some. But is that enough?

NO. I repeat: NO.

Unless you are that good at editing. Most people aren’t. Not at first anyway.

There are two places you can go to that are free and will help you spot the number of adverbs, weak words, passive voice, etc. found in your writing. If you blog, consider using this. If you write, it’s a staple. I recommend using these sites before you pay for an editor. If you can eliminate this yourself, it means less money you spend on them.

The two sites I’m referring to are AutoCrit and EditMinion. Before I participated in PitchMAS and PITMAD, I’d never heard of either of these sites. Now, I use EditMinion because autocrit will only allow short passages before you are required to pay and receive limited feedback. It seems like a good investment for a CP team to split, but I’m not paying $77 alone.  With EditMinion, you can copy your entire novel or chapter by chapter and find out where your flaws are.

These sites are one of the many tools an author can use to figure out ways they can tighten their manuscript until they don’t have to rely on them anymore. As you edit and CP for others, finding the issues mentioned above become easier and you can transfer that to your own manuscript. It took me a while to reach a point where I didn’t feel like I needed to use either of these sites, but I’m glad I used them while I was still learning. Do yourself a favor – put your MS under the scrutiny of EditMinion (or Autocrit) before you query.

Meet Riker Irin

Riker Stats


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: