Microsoft Word has been a go-to tool for authors for nearly forty years. Not only is it the industry standard for editors and agents, but it can also be used to format your book (although I wouldn't advise it).
And since most people already have Word on their computers, it's often the first stop on the book-writing journey. And in this post, I will show you how to write a book using Microsoft Word.
- Pros and cons of using Word.
- Basics for writing using Word
- Advanced features for using Word
- Whether Word is the best book writing tool
The Tool Built for Writing Books
I feel like Word is…adequate for writing books. But for indie authors, it’s certainly not the best tool. Even after you write your book in Word, you’ll need to format it before you sell any copies. And formatting requires either a separate tool or a professional (and expensive) formatter.
This is why I created Atticus as a better alternative to Word and other basic tools like it. Atticus is a word-processor, formatter, simple design tool, and a goal-tracker all at once. It’s a powerful but easy-to-use tool that can allow you to see how your finished book will look as you write it! These are just a few of the features Atticus offers. Plus, I and my team are working on a ton of new features like collaboration and editing that will be out soon.
There’s no subscription. Just a one-time price that includes all future updates.
If you want to see Atticus in action, check out this article. And if you want to see how to write a book using Word, keep on reading!
Pros and Cons of Writing With Word
I've encountered many word processors designed for book-writing. With so many choices, how does Word compare for me? Well, there are some clear pros and cons that have guided my decision.
- Often included with your computer.
- Plenty of options for a tailored writing experience.
- Provides an auto-save function you can use.
- Has a good grammar and spelling tool included.
- Track Changes is used by most editors.
- Expensive if you have to buy it.
- Can be distracting with all the options.
- Not ideal for ebook or print book formatting.
- Long documents can get cumbersome.
Video: How to Write a Book in Word
For a nice summary of this article, along with a few of my own personal thoughts on the subject, be sure to check out this video on how to write a book in Microsoft Word.
Want more videos like this? Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel for weekly videos!
What Qualifies Me to talk about Microsoft Word?
This is an excellent question. The bottom line is that I've been in the publishing industry for well over 10 years, and I have a lot of experience working with various writing tools like MS Word, Scrivener, and a lot of others.
Plus, I've worked with hundreds of authors, many of them well known, and have a decent sense from what they've told me, and what others in my audience have mentioned in surveys, about what book writing tool they like the most.
So with that, let's take a closer look at how to write a book with Word.
The Basics of Book Writing in Word
In my experience, MS Word has a ton of features. This is good because it gives you options, allowing you to choose how best to build your writing experience. But there's such a thing as too many options, and it's easy to get bogged down in them.
Fortunately, I didn't have to dive deep into all of Word's features to begin. In fact, I've found that sticking to the basics works perfectly for me.
For those who crave a simple, uncluttered writing process (like I do), the basics will be more than enough.
Font Size and Style
When you open a new Word document, you'll see a default font style and size on the Home tab. Usually, this is Calibri or Times New Roman for the style, and 11 for the font size. Feel free to change these. Times New Roman and 12-point font are the widely accepted standard manuscript format.
If you are querying a literary agent or sending the document to an editor, they may have their submission guidelines, so remember to check.
If you're going to self-publish (and you totally should), then simply choose a font size and style that you like. You'll likely change it during formatting, anyway.
You'll want a way to navigate easily through your document when the word count gets high. To do this, use the Styles option on the Home toolbar in Word.
You can highlight your chapter heading or number, which will bring up a toolbar with the Styles option in it. Or you can simply place your cursor in or next to your heading and then select the Styles option from the toolbar near the top of your screen.
I'd suggest using the Header 1 option for chapter headings. This way, you can use Header 2 for subheadings or scene breaks.
You can also pick “Create a Style” and make your own headings, using a color and font of your choice if you don't like the defaults. But since you'll likely end up changing the chapter styles later anyway, it's not necessary.
Once you start using Headings, you'll want to activate the Navigation Pane so you can click around your book easily. When you're working on a long document, this is a massive time-saver.
To do this, click on the View tab from the top toolbar. Just left of center, you'll see an option that says “Navigation Pane Show.” Simply click the box. If you don't have any headings yet, they'll automatically populate there once you do.
If you don't want to have the Navigation Pane up while you write, simply click it off and click it back on whenever you want to use it!
Find and Replace
Using the Find or Find and Replace feature in Microsoft Word can make your life easier when editing or trying to remember what color a certain character's eyes were. (If you’re not using character profiles, that is.)
On the Home toolbar, you'll see the Editing feature next to the Styles feature. Click on this to use the Find or Find and Replace tool, depending on what you need.
If you're writing to meet daily goals (which you totally should!), then it's important to know your word count. Luckily, Word makes this easy by automatically displaying the word count at the bottom left corner of the window. (It displays the page number, as well.)
If you want to know how many words are in a certain section, you can highlight that section, and the program will automatically count them and display them in the bottom left corner. Easy!
That's it for the basics! With those four foundational tools, I've been able to craft my book in Word. But what about those of us who are plotters or those eager to dive into formatting? Or perhaps you're curious about other available features. Keep reading for some more advanced insights!
(If you're writing a book for something like National Novel Writing Month, I'd stick with the basics above. NaNoWriMo is all about getting the words down. You can worry about prettying them up later!)
Advanced Word Book Writing
MS Word is a word processor. It's a powerful one, but it's still mainly a word processor. Now, that doesn't mean you can't do other things with it, like format for submission to a publishing house. You can.
But if you're mainly concerned with formatting your manuscript for submission to traditional publishing channels, check out our in-depth article on manuscript formatting. In it, we cover things like title page creation, margins, and headers and footers.
If you want to know a bit more about Microsoft Word features that can help you write your book, read on!
When ending a chapter, it's a good idea to use the Page Break feature instead of hitting enter a bunch of times to get to the next page.
To do this, click on the Insert tab on the top toolbar. On the very left-hand side of the bar, you'll see the Page Break option at the bottom. Just make sure your cursor is beyond the last character at the end of the chapter!
Using a Template
There are plenty of templates you can use with your Microsoft Word document. When you first open the word processor, you'll see some Word templates offered next to the basic Blank Document option. You'll also see a More Templates option so you can search for a specific type of Word template.
Most of these aren't great for books, although you can likely find one or two with most (if not all) of the standard manuscript formatting in place. But if you're making a booklet or you know there's a book template available online, feel free to use them.
Just be aware that your Word document will probably still require you to use a book formatting software if you want a professional-looking book for self-publishing.
The Layout Tab
The default page size in Word is 8.5 by 11 inches. Most books are much smaller than this. So if you want to change your document to reflect the smaller page size, you can do so in the Layout Tab.
This is also the place to change your margins with the Margins tab located in the Page Setup section. You'll also see options to change the paragraph indents and spacing if you want.
Editing Your Word Document
Word has a built-in spelling and grammar checker under the Review tab. It's a good idea to do at least one pass with this. You can also access the Editor at the right side of the Home tab. It's also worth doing another pass with a proofreading tool like ProWritingAid, Grammarly, or one of the many other options available.
The Review tab has a lot of useful stuff for editing. You can use the Read Aloud feature to help you find awkward sentences or minor mistakes you didn't see on other editing passes. After sending your polished manuscript off to an editor (every writer should hire an editor!) you'll likely use the Review tab to accept or decline changes made to the document.
Should You Use Word for Book Writing?
If you're planning on self-publishing your book, Word is an adequate option. But if you want to make things (a lot) easier, we recommend using a writing tool that's designed for writing books.
As mentioned above, I recommend Atticus. It is an all-in-one writing and formatting software made by yours truly with help from some truly awesome developers. With Atticus, you don't have to worry about setting margins or page size — or even font type. This is all stuff that you can do with a few clicks of the mouse when you're ready to export your finished product.
It includes a bunch of templates that will automatically format your book with the click of a button. And you can export it as a PDF file, a DOCX document for use in Word, or the industry-standard EPUB file for selling your book through online retailers.
Essentially, it's like Word but without all the unneeded options — and a bunch of other options that you’ll actually use! It's easy to use and makes everything from writing and editing to formatting and exporting a breeze.
But we know Atticus might not be ideal for everyone. You can check out our article on the best book writing software here for more options.
If you're writing a blog post or a short story for online publication, Microsoft Word is a pretty great option. But things start to get a little unwieldy when you're working on a long document. Plus, you'll need to use a book formatting software for a professionally formatted book.
But if Word is what you're comfortable with and you just want to get the words on the page, why wait!? Use the basics above and get to writing today!