After we’ve finished writing, it’s time to revise and edit. Beta readers and developmental editors can help us with big-picture revising, like bringing out our story, plot, and characters as much as possible.
Next, we edit for improvement, as we focus on the words themselves, like showing vs. telling, repetitiveness, clarity, etc. Feedback from beta readers and developmental editors often helps with this step as well, as they might comment on confusing sections and the like.
Finally, we narrow our focus to the nitpicky stuff. Beta readers, at least most I know, don’t often comment on these items because it’s about the little things rather than the story or the characters.
Despite that, we want to clean up our story the best we can, as freelance copy editors often charge a “messy manuscript” premium. Yet it can be difficult to self-edit at this “polish” stage.
For one thing, this step can be tedious to the extreme. Even with MS Word’s “find and replace” functionality, many words can flag problems that we should check, and it takes time to search for each of them.
Honestly, I hate this stage of editing and would skip it if I could. But I have several stories that need polishing, so I looked into what I could do to make this stage, if not easier, at least more efficient.
Enter MS Word macros. *cringe*
What Are Macros in MS Word?
At their simplest, macros are recordings of keystrokes and mouse clicks to automate tasks and settings within MS Word. We can save ourselves hundreds of steps by playing a macro with a few clicks.
My friend Jordan McCollum, who’s guest posted here about MS Word Styles and Templates, uses macros with her editing, so her blog was the first place I started. Soon, I was searching for macros others had written that could be used by storytellers.
Macros can be intimidating at first. They live in an area of MS Word called Visual Basic that most of us have never ventured into and don’t have a clue about what any of it means. However, there are so many macros in existence already that we usually wouldn’t need to learn programming to make one do what we want.
That said, we have to be careful about where we find other macros. Macros are mini-programs and can do bad things to our computer if they contain malicious code. Also, if we have an older or slower computer, macros might crash MS Word or our whole computer. (On some machines, running a macro on a full novel might take an hour or more.)
How Can We Learn the Basics about Macros?
YA author Abby Annis has a great post about how to set up our MS Word application to handle macros. As she mentions, once we have macros set up, we can access our existing macros through the “Macros” button on the “Developer” tab, through an icon we set up on our MS Word toolbar, or through a set of keystrokes we assign.
That last option is often the quickest, especially if we use the macro often enough to remember which keys to press. Many of us already use keystrokes to copy and paste (Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V) or undo a mistake (Ctrl+Z).
Abby’s post explains how to record our own macros, but what if we want to copy already-existing macros? Paul Beverley, a UK non-fiction editor, offers a free book of over 400 macros and basic instructions.
Most of the macros in his book are geared more toward editing technical and non-fiction documents, but pages 7-16 are a good introduction to building our macro collection beyond our own recordings. He explains how to allocate shortcuts and add, install, run, and update macros.
Basic Macros for Empowering Our MS Word Searches
Even if we stick to MS Word’s manual find-and-replace function for highlighting or changing the text color of potential problem areas, we might still like automating some actions. It is possible to manually search for highlighted or colored text, but it requires setting up formatting within the “find” dialog box.
An easier option might be to use a macro that automatically jumps to the next highlighted or colored text section. Or maybe we want a count for how often a selected word or phrase appears in our story.
Paul’s book offers these basic macros:
- FindHighlight: Finds the next section of highlighted text down from the current cursor position. I assigned a keystroke of Alt+Ctrl+F to this macro on my computer.
- FindColouredText: Finds the next section of colored (note Paul’s UK spelling in the macro name) text down from the current cursor position. I assigned a keystroke of Alt+Ctrl+Shift+F to this macro.
- CountPhrase: Pops up a dialog box with counts for how often a selected word or phrase occurs in the whole document. It also gives the number of capitalized, italic, bold, and whole word counts. I assigned a keystroke of Alt+Ctrl+? to this macro.
Macros for Each Step of Final Editing and Polishing
Okay, let’s say we’d like to try expanding our macro collection. Which ones might be helpful to us as we progress through our editing process?
- GrabbingCrutches: Jordan McCollum shares her macro, which pulls out the sentences that mention body parts (i.e., sentences where we often fall back on cliché gestures) and pastes them into a new document for analysis. With that document, we can look for repeated descriptions, decide which ones to punch up or expand, etc. Jordan shares her tips for how to tackle these clichés here and here.
- Highlight_ly: Karen Woodward shares her macro, which highlights “ly” in words, like all those dreaded adverbs. Note that we can edit the macro to highlight words in a more noticeable color, such as turquoise (change “wdYellow” to “wdTurquoise”).
- General Word Lists: The bottom macro example here (via a link from Karen) allows us to create any list we want for highlighting several words in one pass. Note that we can change “MatchAllWordForms” from “False” to “True” to catch “look” and “looked,” etc. With help from Angela Quarles and Janice Hardy for some of the word lists, I created several macros for myself:
- NamedEmotions: Naming emotions often indicates telling rather than showing, like “She was sad.” I have over 80 words in this list.
- TellingWords: Words that often flag for telling rather than showing, like “realize,” “knew,” “felt,” etc. I have over 35 words in this list.
- PossibleWordsToCut: Often extraneous words, like “that,” “very,” “just,” etc. I have over 30 words in this list.
- OverlyWordy: This highlights prepositions, as multiple prepositional phrases in a row often indicates sentences that can be tightened. I have over 40 words in this list.
- WeaselWords: Words that often indicate weak writing, like to-be verbs, “need,” “suddenly,” etc. I have over 50 words in this list.
- CheckUsage: Frequently misused words, like “farther” vs. “further,” etc. I have over 25 words in this list.
- WordsInCloseProximity: Gregory Mark Henry shared his macro for finding word echoes. Note that he provides this in a .zip file with other add-ons, but the macro can be saved without the rest of the programming.
- Additional Verification Passes: Several other macros in Paul Beverley’s book might be useful for stories:
- HyphenAlyse: Checks for consistent hyphenation
- SpellAlyse: Checks for proper spelling with a customizable word list
- ProperNounAlyse: Checks for consistent spelling of proper nouns
- SerialNotCommaHighlight: Highlights areas that might be missing a serial comma.
- FRedit: The “FR” refers to “find and replace.” This program, also from Paul Beverley, is a scripted find-and-replace macro that allows us to run a find and replace on virtually any number of things at once, all while highlighting or changing the formatting of the replace text if desired. It runs in tandem with an open document providing our find-and-replace instructions, giving us unlimited flexibility. I created a script for a “final polish,” fixing the formatting of smart (curly) quotes, em-dashes, stray spaces and tabs, etc.
Want My Macros?
Over the past few days, I installed every macro mentioned in this post and have customized many of them:
- Jordan’s GrabbingCrutches macro is populated with her full word list.
- The 6 macros mentioned under General Word Lists are each populated with a decent word list.
- I wrote a “polish” script to run with FRedit, as well as a sample text for practicing.
I can’t share the full file on my Worksheets page because many of these macros require extra explanation. (“Why is ‘oblivious’ highlighted? What’s wrong with that word?” etc. And no, there’s nothing wrong with using “oblivious,” but we do have to ensure we’re using the correct preposition after it.)
In other words, to do this right, I’d have to create one of my mini-ebooks, like I offer with my workshops, for all of the instructions, explanations, and editing tips. And that means I’d have to charge for the ebook and file combination to make it worth my time. (I’m guessing the mini-ebook would be 30-50 pages long, so it’s not something I could quickly whip together.)
Still interested? Let me know in the comments, and let me know what you think a fair price would be. Install once, and get the complete set of macros instantly accessible on your computer, along with a “Using Macros to Edit and Polish Our Story” ebook, providing installation instructions and walking through the editing process and each macro step-by-step.
I don’t know how many people edit their stories to this level, so I don’t know if this would be something others are interested in or not. But if you are, let me know so I can add this project to my list. Or if you’re interested in just a couple of the macros, let me know which ones, as some might be easier to share for free.
Otherwise, I’ve linked to all the public sources I used over the past few days to create many of the macros. Feel free to experiment with these macros on your own and share what you’d like to automate in your editing process. If I know of a way to accomplish it, I’ll let you know. *smile*
Do you use macros in MS Word? If not, why not? If yes, what have you used them for? Do any of these macros mentioned here sound interesting? Do you have any questions about macros? (Would you be interested in my full macro file and ebook? What would a fair price be for that?)
P.S. I wrote a follow-up post with more details on how to use macros, especially how to search for “telling” words.