Create, Organise, Rearrange with MS Word

G. Kaye wrote a post not long ago regarding Scrivener, the software that is meant to make our writing life easier. Like me, however, many writers have found the program’s large learning curve frustrating and time-consuming.

Some writers love it, wouldn’t write without it, but my brain—and obviously those of many others—don’t function the same way as those lovers of Scrivener. So Scrivener not only looks confusing, but it also becomes illogical to use because other programs work better for us.

Personally, I organise my ideas—including story lines—through memory and patterns. I’m a visual person. I see words in my brain as shapes, and when I see a misspelt word, I recognise it as such because it’s not in its correct shape.

My brain records all things—words, people, places, feelings—in shape form. Yes, you are a blob that floats through my brain, but a blob I recognise easily if your aura has left a marker in my subconscious.

Being a visual person with blob properties, I have to see either the big picture or a large section of it to work efficiently. Scrivener doesn’t allow me to do this easily. It’s like their windows have curtains over them. MS Word allows me to have curtainless windows, giving me a perspective on the entire project while closing off those unnecessary to a particular section of work.

Because here’s the kicker: too much information amounts to clutter. Too many blobs floating around my peripheral vision confuses my brain and reduces my ability to concentrate. That’s the downside of having a wide peripheral view of the world. Narrow glasses drive me nuts because my eyes keep focussing between what I want to look at and the frames. I’m a ‘John Denver, wide-rimmed glasses’ kinda gal.

So while Scrivener may be the cat’s meow for some writers, it doesn’t correlate with my brain. MS Word does, and I can do everything in Word others can do in Scrivener, including rearranging scenes and chapters. Here’s how you do it.

1. Styles: If you don’t know how to use Styles in Word, then you’re missing out on more than rearranging blocks of text with a click and drag. Styles sets the formatting for your words. It’s located on the HOME menu. I won’t go into further details here about the basics of it. I’ve already written a blog post about using Styles, so if you’re unsure of how to use this feature in MS Word, check out Creating a Clean Manuscript. The information about Styles starts about half way into the post.

2. Putting Styles to Use: Once you know how to use Styles, build your story by putting scenes and chapters under easily identified headings. MS Word has four different headings already in place. You can modify them to have the format you feel comfortable with or create new ones.

I find it quick and easy to modify the ones already in place. Instead of the pre-set size, type and colour font, I choose something plain: Bold, black Times New Roman 12 point font. This makes the headings easier to spot in a manuscript but not intrusive. And if I want to print the pages, everything looks tidy in black ink.

Heading 1: This pre-set heading could be used as a chapter heading. Scenes could be designated below Heading 2. Mini scenes could be placed under Heading 3, and paragraphs or blocks of text could be beneath Heading 4.

Here’s a mock-up of what it might look like creating a novel. For the sake of this exercise, I used the pre-set settings on the headings, so they’re easy to identify. Here’s what they stand for:

Heading 1: Chapter

Heading 2: Scene

Heading 3: Block of text, mini scene

Heading 4: Paragraph

Styles and Organising

The diagram shows how the Navigation feature (the window on the left) allows the user to keep track of where everything is in the story, from chapters to paragraphs. It also shows the Style used for each.

TIP: To open the Navigation window, go to the HOME menu and choose FIND on the far right. Choose the first tab in this window to reveal the headings. The other tabs are great for searching the document for a specific page or word.

Headings work well for non-fiction books too. Sections or ideas can have individual headings. Don’t worry about the heading names. They are used only to identify the sections that make up the manuscript. They can be changed or removed at any time.

3. Rearranging Blocks of Text: Now that individual blocks of text are under appropriate headings, the document can be rearranged in seconds. Place the cursor on the heading (in the Navigation window) you wish to move. Click and drag the heading to where you want to put it in the document according to the other headings. A bold line will appear between two other headings when you have it placed right.

The dragging is done within the Navigation window, not the document, so you don’t have to worry about drifting through dozens of pages of text to move a section of writing. If you have dozens of headings, you can close multiple subheadings by clicking the arrow beside the heading.

In the example below, I moved “Scene 1, Chapter 2” to below the heading “Chapter 1”, just after the “Mini Scene: Escape Alive”. All the paragraphs below the heading “Scene 1, Chapter 2” went with it. This was done just by clicking and dragging.

Styles and Organising MOVE

Here are the results of several moves in just seconds.

Styles and Organising MOVE 24. Word about Headings: Heading 1 is what I call a Master Heading. Headings 2, 3 and 4 are subheadings. When a Master Heading is moved, all subheadings (2, 3 and 4) go with it. When Heading 2 is moved, all its subheadings (3 and 4) go with it, and when Heading 3 is moved, all its subheadings (4) go with it.

In other words, if I moved Chapter 5, all the scenes, mini scenes and paragraphs below it would move too. The Master Heading keeps all the subheadings together.

Using four headings would be ideal for non-fiction because related blocks of information are usually grouped under similar categories. For the most part, when a block of text gets moved, the writer wants it all to go together. If not, subheadings can be moved individually.

Fiction writing might be better served with only two headings: Heading 1 (Chapters) and Heading 2 (Scenes). This makes rearranging chapters and scenes within chapters or moving a scene to another chapter easier.

As I mentioned above, headings don’t make the final cut. They are there only to serve as identification markers for blocks of text, so create as many as you want and label them with names to help identify them. I remove all headings once I’m happy with the document arrangement.

5. Play: If you’ve never worked Styles and Headings like this before, I suggest creating a ‘fake’ document and playing first before you rearrange a ‘real’ document.

Have you ever worked a document like this before? Did you know you could do this with MS Word?

You can read D. G. Kaye’s post that inspired this post #Scrivener, #Audits, #Revisions and #Publishing on her website.

11 thoughts on “Create, Organise, Rearrange with MS Word

  1. Hi Di! Fantastic post, and thanks for linking to my article. Your description here of Word is great! Although I get the concept, I’m still a bit confused. Have you considered doing a more in-depth tutorial, or perhaps offer a little course on it? I’d sure sign up! Lol, I like the reference to the blob in your head, very similar to he way I see things, I’m extremely visual, I need to see it all in front. I’m also wondering what happens when you’ve created this file full of headings and subheadings, and we’re ready to make real full chapters from our notes; how would we move them into a new manuscript document? Thanks for your great post. 🙂


    • You’re welcome, Debby. Your post inspired this post.

      As for a more in-depth tutorial, perhaps in the future.

      With regard to the organising of the final manuscript, I haven’t reached this stage in my non-fiction book I’m using headings to create. However, I’ll probably do it similar to when I format/organise other material: click SAVE AS and create another file with the same material. Then I can make changes and rearrange things without fear of losing anything. if I mess up, I have the original to refer to.

      I wouldn’t cut and paste unless I had to. Otherwise, I’d just shuffle the headings. That said, I just checked, and you can right click and SELECT HEADING AND CONTENT. There is no COPY selection, but after selecting the text, I just held the Ctrl key while pressing the C key and copies the material to a new document.

      The same rules apply when copying as when dragging: the master heading goes along with all the subheadings. If you select Heading 3, Heading 4 will also go.


  2. Admittedly I’m a Scrivener person (and before that an OpenOffice person, so I never really used Word), but this is such a great post. Thank you for sharing! It seems that Word can do a lot more than I thought. 🙂


    • Thanks for visiting. I used WordPerfect for 12 years, unwilling to make the change to MS Word until the 2010 version. I like tinkering and I like control over my document, so I play with a lot of things to see what I can do manually. It’s through playing that I learned to do this and many other things, like create book covers using PowerPoint.

      Scrivener is great if it works for you, but if you self-publish, knowing the basics of Word to get a document formatted for print or eBook saves a lot of time and money. And, of course, you can’t make a cover using Scrivener. I admit, I like learning, but I don’t like learning several programs when I can get what I need from one. There’s been a few programs I spent hours on trying to learn, only to give up because I felt I was wasting my time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I like to play around with things too. I’m not self-publishing, but I’d have to look into that if I decide to do it at one point. And I agree about control. – Especially when it comes to covers and promotion graphics, so in order to get exactly what I want, I use Photoshop. I used to work with that and Illistrator at a previous job, so I have an advantage there because I haven’t needed to learn it from scratch. 🙂


  3. Wow, I find this just as confusing as Scrivener, which I tried (even took a course) and hated. I just sit down to a blank word document and write, one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page, one chapter… No fancy fonts, no colour-coding etc. I do cut and paste 🙂 I guess the moral of this story is whatever works for us as writers is what we need to do!


    • Judy, I’m with you. I write fiction from start to finish. I don’t jump around, write scenes three chapters away, or rearrange chapters and scenes. I write novels as I would read them, from start to finish. I don’t use headings or coloured, fancy fonts. I write the word ‘chapter’ and chapter number before each chapter, and that is the only thing that divides the writing. If I want to find a certain chapter, I use the search engine (entering ‘chapter’) to navigate quickly through the document. There is minimal formatting. This makes it much easier for formatting into a published document later.

      But that’s fiction. I’m working on a non-fiction genealogy book at the moment, and using headings is really helpful. My genealogy column will be ten years old this October, so I have 10 x 52 columns to organise. Whether I choose to organise them by topic, importance or chronologically, the ability to see their titles and switch them up by dragging them makes life easier.

      It doesn’t stop there. I create headers for my research. When I want to see or add information to a document, I click on the heading in the Navigation window and I’m instantly there.

      Although you and I write from start to finish, I’ve known others to bounce around a story. Writing chapter 6, then chapter 2, then a scene for chapter 1. Then they decide to put that scene in chapter 7. Writing like this would make my brain flip, but it’s how some work. So the ability to organise all this writing quickly and to see it in condensed form (using headings), is crucial.

      The biggest learning curve in this is knowing how to use Styles. Anyone who self-publishes should take the time to learn it. We need it to format eBooks for Smashwords and Kindle, and to create a paperback copy for CreateSpace.

      Yes, we need to use what works for us, but unless a self-published author plans to pay others to format their eBooks and paperbacks, they need to know how to use Styles. It will make their lives much easier and their published books more professional looking. They don’t need to know how to drag and drop headings, and they don’t need to know how to use Scrivener.


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