When I write, I use methods that help me be accurate and efficient, methods that help me find and fix errors, methods that help me avoid typos and blunders. I created a document format to help me accomplish this. What started me down this path were opportunities to see how a few successful writers worked. I felt encourage to experiment and develop a method that works best for me.
My writing format is as follows.
• 12-point Courier
• One-inch margins
• 25 lines per page
• Two spaces after sentences
• Two hyphens (‐‐) for em dash
• Underscore for italics
It shouldn’t have surprised me that this generated outrage from some people.
I was told “Courier is obsolete and no one uses it anymore and therefore I am wrong to use it.” There’s nothing wrong with Courier, and a monospace font makes the text visually easier for me to edit.
“Double-spacing is archaic and a waste.” I find double-spacing’s white space helps me concentrate on what I’m editing and it provides space for making notes on the page when I edit a printed version of the manuscript.
“One-inch margins are a waste of space.” I find one-inch margins provide the same benefits as double-spacing.
“Twenty-five lines per page is stupid.” Well, that’s what 12-point Courier, double-spaced, and one-inch margins gives me.
“Two spaces after sentences is archaic and outright wrong in this modern age.” I use two spaces when I’m writing because it helps me see the sentences better, which helps me edit better. I would use five spaces after sentences if it helped me write and edit better.
“Two hyphens (‐‐) for an em dash is so wrong. The word processor can change those to an em dash for you as you type.” That’s true; except, I sometimes miss that I typed a hyphen where I intended an em dash. By using two hyphens, I can see when I’m editing that I made a mistake and can fix it.
“Underscore for italics is an abomination. Just make them italics to start with.” It’s easy to mess-up italics when writing. By clearly marking them, I reduce my error rate as I write and edit.
I decided the problem is these complainers conflate submission guidelines with how one’s computer screen should look as one writes. They say one should write in the format one’s target audience wants the finished product to be in. Why? Moreover, I don’t necessarily know what the submission guidelines will be for the different markets where I might submit a manuscript. How am I to know which guideline is the proper guideline to follow when I’m in the writing phase of a spec project. I’ve been told there’s a standard. No, there’s no standard. Different venues can have different guidelines.
It’s strange, though, that it seems these same people who are so zealous about what is the proper way for a writer to write on a computer don’t have the same complaints when the writer writes by hand. If you write by hand, you can write anyway you want. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone said there are rules about what kind of pen and paper a writer must use.
I believe writing and submitting are two different steps in the process. One does not dictate the other’s format. My method is to write in a format that maximizes my productivity and the quality of my work. That version is my “golden document.” It is the original. When the manuscript is finished and it’s time to submit it, send it to an editor, or deliver it to a client, I format a separate copy that meets the specifications the recipient provides.
Of course, it helps that I’m a master of my tools. A tweak to the document’s style settings and a few easy find-and-replace commands makes the needed changes. This might be a problem for some people because they haven’t mastered their tools and can’t make these simple changes. The solution to that is to master one’s tools.
My recommendation is to write using a method that works best for you to maximize the quality of your work instead of adhering to a style someone else dictates about how your working document should look. You don’t have to write in the format others want the finished product to be in. Make a copy of the finished version and adjust the formatting to meet the guidelines where you’re sending the manuscript. Always keep your golden document in your writing and editing format in case you need to go back and edit.
Each writer must find the method that works best for them. Everyone is different. One solution for all does not exist. What is your method?