BE The Formatting Genie…Make a Manuscript Template!

Welcome to Techie Tuesday here at More Cowbell! This is the day each week when I unleash my inner geek and we talk about some groovy piece of technology or a technical point of writing.

Last week we discussed Microsoft Word’s paragraph dialog box and how to get 25 lines per page if an editor asks you for it.

I have friends who angst every time they start a new manuscript. Formatting tasks such as margins, font, headers and footers and, yes, that 25 lines per page setting make them long for a Formatting Genie. (Or some really strong cocktails.)

My fellow software trainers have long called me the “Word Dominatrix” and I’m here to show you how to MAKE Word give you a great looking new manuscript every time. My goal for you after you finish reading this blog: no more fretting about setting up a manuscript properly!

Make a template.

How do I do that, some of you ask?

In fact, when I told one of my writing friends I was doing an post on templates, I was appalled at her response. She said, “Templates are for people like legal secretaries or whiz kids like YOU, not for an old computer klutz like me.” She gave me hairy eyeball, and ATTITUDE!


Photo from

I’ll tell you what I told her (though you get the cleaner version): “Pucker up them lips and prepare to kiss my very cute toes. Templates are HUGE for writers and I’m going to show you 10 easy steps to make one in Word. You will build a shrine to me by the time I’m done.”

Here’s the 10 Easy Steps to Template-making in Word. (I’m hoping Gene Lempp will do a post on how he did this in Scrivener…if he doesn’t, I’m gonna have to figure it out.)

Step 1Open your current work in progress.
Make it look pretty. It is so much easier to format a document with a few chapters in place than it is to format an empty document where you can’t see the results. Here is your chance to make it double space, change the font to the one your editor loves, add in the first line indent and do the twenty-five lines per page setting. When you are done formatting and you have completed the next step, you can delete all the text (after you have completed Step 2).

Step 2Save these great changes to the current work in progress, before following the rest of the steps to create a template.
This document is going to be the basis of your new manuscript template but you have to be certain that you’ve saved your writing before you proceed. Any of the following three methods will allow you to save your changes to this document – pick the way you like best:

1) Hit the Ctrl + S buttons on your keyboard (you don’t type the plus)
2) Click on the little blue disc icon (fourth button down in the Circle menu in Word 2007 – it’s located on the Quick Access toolbar in version 2010)
3) Go to the File menu and choose Save (again, the File menu is in older versions of Word…this also applies if you are using a MAC)

Important Note: Be certain that you have saved all of your writing before you delete it!

Step 3Go back to File and choose the Save As command. If you are a keyboard person, hit the F12 key – this takes you directly to the Save As dialog box.

Step 4Click the drop down arrow to the right of the “Save as type” box at the bottom.

Step 5 – Choose the Document/Word Template (*.dot) option.
Word will automatically take you to the place on your computer where Word templates are stored.

Write this down if you feel the need to know this but I can promise with 99% certainty that your computer is the only one who needs to know where the templates are stored.

Step 6 – Name your template and click Save.
Now comes the most important part, mainly because this is the step where people think they are home free so they leave the next four steps off!

You are still in your template…don’t forget this. Everything you do from this point on is done to your new template, which is still open.

Step 7 – Save any additional changes you want to add and close the template.
You must close this document before you begin to use it or all the things you type will be part of your template. You have no idea how many times I’ve forgotten this and pounded my forehead against my desk in exasperation when I open a new template with a bunch of text in it.

Step 8Go to File and choose the “New…” command.
This is always located in the File menu (Circle Menu in version 2007) and will get you to the template you just saved.

In older versions of Windows, you will see the list of templates and the name of the one you saved will be right there. If you use Windows XP, the New Document Task Pane will show up on the right side of the screen and give you options. You want to choose “On my computer.” (Newer versions just say “My Templates.”)

Step 9Choose the new template that you just named (I recommend New Manuscript or New WIP as a title) and click OK.

Step 10Save the document immediately as the name of your new manuscript, the same way you would any document.

Picture from

You may now begin creating your new bestseller without fretting about all those pesky details like font and whether you have the 25 lines per page setting done correctly. Enjoy your writing!

Are you feeling your Techie Roots growing? Are you gonna turn into your very own Formatting Genie now? What tricks do you use to save time at the beginning of a new manuscript? Enquiring minds always want to know here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
This entry was posted in Techie Tuesday, Word for Writers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to BE The Formatting Genie…Make a Manuscript Template!

  1. K.B. Owen says:

    Woot! Such helpful tips, Jenny! (Love how you say “don’t type the plus” for a ninny like me, haha). This is fabulous – I’m bookmarking it for when I actually have a new manuscript to send. It’s a shame you can’t help me with that part, LOL.

    Merry Christmas!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You know, Kathy, whenever I say “Ctrl + A” someone invariably types the plus and then tells me it doesn’t work. I’ve just learned to state it. 🙂

      I’ll be happy to help you with your new manuscript! (By doing word sprints with you!)


  2. Gene Lempp says:

    As soon as I saw the title for this post in my email, I thought, “hey, I just did this in Scrivener, maybe I should do a post on it.” So, imagine how I laughed when I saw your note up above *smile*

    I’m not sure I can do the same thing in a single post, but I will plan out a short series of posts for early 2012 to cover what I learned building my own Scrivener template. I’m currently using it, so by the time I write and put them out I’ll know where things work and don’t (always important to test it out before sharing it with others).

    Great post, Jen.


  3. Sherry Isaac says:

    Thanks for the cupcake mug photo, Jenny. Must get that for my daughter!, here I come!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL…that cupcake mug is the serious bomb, eh?? I found it when I went to Google images and ran a search for “Techie” so if you have a hard time finding it, do that. 🙂


  4. Great post, Jenny!

    When I open a new document for my WIP, I kind-of-sort-of LIKE doing all those format thingies. Why? Because, I’m doing something other than typing…

    The (delete, delete, delete), when (delete, delete, delete, delete). With this knowledge you force me to curtail procrastination. A gift in disguise.

    Drat! (delete, delete, delete, delete, delete) Thanks!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It’s not a marvelous thing if you’re using it to procrastinate, Missy! If I didn’t know that Sherry and Jessica would keep you in line, I’d have to whip out my can o’ writing whoop-ass, but those ladies have it covered…


  5. Stacy Green says:

    Thanks so much! I’m using Scrivener a lot now, but I’m still copying into Word for my crit partner. Knowing how to have a template will make it much easier.


  6. Fannnntabulous!!!! I had no idea and I’d like to think I am pretty good in Word. This will be so useful. I am definitely considering purchasing Scrivener so a post by Gene would rock!


  7. Carrie says:

    great step by step. I’ve been terrified of trying to do this aspect so this post will be saved FOR SURE!


  8. “Save As” is my friend 🙂 Great post Jenny.

    @ Gene – Definitely looking forward to a template post/series for Scrivener!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      My F12 key is like my own personal love machine. It’s my verrrrry favorite key on the keyboard. 🙂 (And that’s right…give Gene all kinds of encouragement to get us that Scrivener post!!!)


  9. amyskennedy says:

    Have I told you, I love you? No? Well, I LOVE YOU!!!


  10. Great post! I’m definitely bookmarking for future reference 🙂 (or in a few minutes when I open my WIP). Thanks!


  11. Love. You.

    Bookmarking now so I have this for all eternity.

    Love. You. To. Pieces.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You. Are. So. Funny!!! I think you’re the serious awesome sauce too. I got your HOMEMADE gorgeous card today and am wildly impressed with your creativity. My cards aren’t even out yet…


  12. I loved the warnings about savings. One time I saved a whole ms as a template file. Nearly died when I couldn’t find it in my regular directory. Yikes!!!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Eeeewwwww, Louise….that is a bad day when that happens. Seriously bad writing juju on those days. I’ve done it too, and it sucks. It sounds like you already knew how to do this and I’m just delighted for you. (We don’t like bad writing juju!!)


  13. Thanks for great step-by-step Jenny! This is soooo useful.

    Merry Christmas!


  14. MerceyV says:

    Lady, you’re a legend 🙂 This is exactly what is needed sometimes for those of us who don’t talk tech. I’ve been formatting for ages now and WHAT a difference it makes! Good ol’ KISS strikes again 🙂 And if it’s what publishers are chasing, all the more reason to do it of course.
    PS~ too funny about the Scrivener!


  15. Amusingly, this is the FIRST thing I do when I install Windows on a new machine. (I hate their preloaded templates, none of them are my style.) I being able to open word and pound out a piece in manuscript format without thinking about it. (Yes, have you told them they can make manuscript format their ‘default’?)


    • I meant Word, not Windows.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL, Patrick! Actually, I’ve got plans for getting out the default settings but they involve screen shots and I haven’t had time yet. You are Awesome Master Tech…it’s nice to see you over here with us at More Cowbell. I’ll have the posse on you like savages, you wait and see. 🙂

      (Hey everyone, click on Patrick’s name and go scope out his TweetDeck Tutorials – AH-FREAKING-MAZING!!!!)


  16. tomwisk says:

    Saving this post and link to 25 line post. I needed this real bad. Thank you and I hope whoever delivers gifts to you on the coming holiday brings you a five pound bag of happy.


  17. Okay, you know what? I think I need private lessons! LOL!!!

    You lost me half way through Jenny. I’m not a techie at all.

    It’s a miracle that I have my ms saved in a word document.

    Other than that, don’t ask me. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Nope, not falling for it, Karen. You can absolutely do this if you pick your freshest time of day and read the steps again. I totally understand Technophobia (I feel that way about programming) but I know you are a genius so my money’s on YOU. 🙂


  18. Sharla Rae says:

    Thanks for another great how-to Jen. I love the way you lay out the steps so that even the tech-challenged like me gets it. I have NO patience with this stuff and have been known to have hissy fits over it — as you know since I then make a 911 call to you.


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  20. I love those “step-by-step” instructions. Very helpful even for those who are proficient in Word.

    Now I wanna read Gene’s post on Scrivener!


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