Monday, February 12, 2024

Using Macros in Your Writing Process

 A more efficient way to write and edit - by Lynda Dietz

For every person who uses macros, there are probably at least two who have never heard of them or who think they’re too complicated—and therefore scary—to bother with. But have no fear! There are a good number of them out there, ready to install and use in Microsoft Word, that can help your writing.


What is a macro?

A macro is simply a string of computer commands that allows you to run a set of tasks easily and automatically. You can write your own, or you can install macros that have been written by someone who loves doing that kind of stuff.


As a fiction editor, I receive manuscripts that range from neatly formatted to mildly chaotic, and starting with a level playing field can make all the difference in the world. The distraction of having to stop reading every few minutes to change a random straight quote to a curly quote, or something equally tedious, can really slow down progress and break my train of thought.


Who can use macros?

Many book editors use macros to streamline the editing process, often as a “clean sweep” type of tidying before getting down to the nitty gritty of reading through a project. Others use them at the end of a writing session to clean up any lingering errors.


Writers can use macros too! They can be a helpful tool for writers of all types at any stage of writing.


If you’d like to start off with some simple macros you can get for free, Paul Beverley is the guy to go to. He has written hundreds of macros that are easy to use for writers in all fields, and not only does he make them all available for free—really free, not even a “sign up for my mailing list to get these”—he also provides tutorials on YouTube and in the macro downloads.


Wisely, Paul suggests starting slowly to get used to using the ones you need most. In his downloadable (and regularly updated) book, Macros for Editors, he breaks down the favorite macros based on user feedback, work type, and more. He also provides a “macro menu” that lists the macros by function, and also dates the newer macros, saying “the chances are that the more recent macros are (a) better programmed and (b) likely to be more useful.”


My most-used macros

As you’d expect, I have a handful of macros I’d rather not live without. As per Paul Beverley’s advice, I installed only one at a time, getting used to using each before installing another.


I’ve programmed most of my macros with the keys shift + alt + [letter] because I don’t tend to use the shift + alt combo for other things, and they’re often not assigned already on the keyboard.


My favorites are DocAlyse, ProperNounAlyse, MerriamFetch, SwapWord, CatchPhrase, and WordPairAlyse. I probably should say “my favorites so far,” since I plan to install more over time. If you’d like to find out more about what these six do and how I use them, visit my blog post “Using Macros in Your Writing Process” for the full explanation.


Benefits of using macros

If you’re a writer, one of the best benefits of using macros is that you’ll be able to clean up your document really well before hiring an editor. A cleaner manuscript can often mean a difference in editing costs.


Macros can ensure consistency when styling headers, spelling names, or formatting tables, to name a few applications. Macros don’t get fatigued when reading through a document, so you’re not as likely to miss anything.


Macros can help prevent repetitive use injuries by reducing the number of keystrokes needed for certain tasks. A few strokes may seem like no big deal, but they add up. Consider the macro EmDashUnspaced, which removes punctuation, adds an unspaced em dash and lowercases the next character. A two- or three-key combo to use the macro is far preferable to all that typing and removing.


Macros can help you speed through tedious tasks. There comes a point in every writer or editor’s life when the larger, hour-saving improvements have been made, and what remains are smaller improvements that may save seconds or minutes. But again, it all adds up.


Most of Paul Beverley’s macros provide a report in a separate document, so you don’t have to go through your entire doc to find highlighted items. You can examine only the ones you need to.


You can find the Macro Menu, which lists all the macros Paul Beverley has included in his macro book (so far), along with a description of what they do, right here. The menu is invaluable for when you’re starting out, listing macros by function and type.


Whether the macro takes care of something simple or complex, they’re well worth exploring. Find one you like, try it out, and I can almost guarantee you’ll go looking for another one that suits your needs.


Lynda has never lost her fascination with the written word, from her earliest years of reading the back of the cereal box at the breakfast table to reading manuscripts of up and coming authors. Book hangovers are a regular occurrence with no regrets. She copyedits in a variety of genres, both in fiction and creative nonfiction. She’s had a blog since 2013, where she encourages writers with advice and a healthy dose of silliness. She works with four assistants: her husband (The Bringer of Coffee), and three cats who are mostly worthless but very, very adorable.

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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks for the detailed rundown on how to use Macros!

Lynda Dietz said...

Alex, thank you for the opportunity to share what I've learned!

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - I didn't know a thing about macros before now. Very interesting!

Lynda Dietz said...

Jemi, they were always such a mystery to me until I just made myself sit down and try one. Now I'm hooked on the ones I use the most, and am looking to add more.

Señorida Anastasia said...

Tnx for this🖤!

Lynda Dietz said...

Señorida Anastasia, you are very welcome!

cleemckenzie said...

Very well done and interesting. Thanks, Lynda.

Lynda Dietz said...

Thank you, Cheryl!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lynda - great to see this post - and I need to come back to look, learn and understand properly ... so I'll be back anon. It's so good to see you here ... cheers Hilary

Lynda Dietz said...

Thanks, Hilary! Macros are a lot of fun once you get over the initial fright, haha. Great to see you!