How to fix a buggy Word document

You’re a writer, and that means you spend a lot of time — I mean a LOT of time —revising documents in Microsoft Word. Or maybe you work in Scrivener, but even so, at some point you have to work in Word. And one of the things we know about Word is, it loves to break your heart.

Documents that go through lots of edits and revisions — especially with Tracked Changes — tend to get buggy. Here’s how to avoid it, and how to fix it if you can’t avoid it.

The simplest solution: Avoid bugs in the first place with “Save As”

This is easy. You’ve trained yourself to hit CTRL+S to save your document every few minutes, right? Now train yourself to occasionally use Save As instead of plain old Save.

Save As rewrites your document from scratch, which helps clean out potentially bug-creating history and metadata. When you use Save As, you can use the same file name you’re currently working with, or make a version of the file with a new file name — doesn’t matter. Both work.

To Save As, use the key command CTRL+SHIFT+S, or choose Save As from the File menu. You don’t have to do this very often, depending on how complex your document is. Maybe once a week.

Use “Save As” when you get a document back from an editor with tracked changes

When you receive a document from an editor and it contains a lot of tracked changes or notes, use Save As to make your new working copy. And as you work through that new version of your document, use Save As occasionally to keep everything working nicely.

Help! My manuscript is buggy!

How do you know if your document is buggy? It starts acting sluggish or erratic. Sometimes both. It refuses to show red lines under misspelled words. Some pages may refuse to display. It also might take a very long time to save. No problem — we can fix this.

What’s happening? Well, Word saves a lot of document history information that you can’t see on the page. With a big document like a book manuscript, which gone through thousands of small changes, this can be a lot of unnecessary info. What you want to do is copy your document contents, without the metadata, and paste it into a new fresh document. Here’s what to do:

  1. Hit CTRL+A. This will select everything in your document.
  2. Hold down the SHIFT key, and hit the back arrow once. This will exclude the metadata at the end of your document.
  3. Open a new document and type a few spaces.
  4. Hit CTRL+V. This will paste your content into the new document.
  5. Hit CTRL+S and save your new document with a new name. This will be your new working document.

Now your new document should be working well. Depending on how the document styles have been set up, some formatting may be odd, but it should be easy to fix.

What if this doesn’t work?

Some documents are so buggy that this doesn’t work. In this case, you can use the same steps, except copy and paste the content as unformatted. text.

With a fiction manuscript, losing formatting shouldn’t create too much of a problem, since fiction doesn’t generally include complex formatting. You will have to redo all your italics and bolding, and any formatting for chapter headings.

Here’s the ultimate weapon:

  1. Hit CTRL+A. This will select everything in your document.
  2. Hold down the SHIFT key, and hit the back arrow once. This will exclude the metadata at the end of your document.
  3. Open a new document and type a few spaces.
  4. In the Home tab, click the arrow under the Paste icon. The Paste Special dialog box will appear. Choose Unformatted Text, and hit the OK button.
  5. Hit CTRL+S and save your new document with a new name. This will be your new working document.
  6. Go through the document and fix your formatting.

Good luck! Hope this helps!

Speculative fiction writing workshops – a list

A list of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror writing workshops (updated March 4, 2020). Thanks @outseideNavah WolfePatrick Neilsen Hayden, Rebecca StefoffJennifer Marie Brissett, Sarah Berner, Cat Rambo, John Appel, Patrice Sarath, Nino Cipri, Erin Brown Conroy, Grayson Morris,  Karen Junker, and Kij Johnson for corrections and additions!

News about workshops can be found on this page at Locus.

Workshops for new, emerging, and established writers

Cascade Writing Workshops, Seattle, WA
Three days in July, plus one day workshops through the year

Clarion, San Diego, CA
Six weeks in June-August

Clarion West, Seattle, WA
Six weeks June-August
Also holds one-day workshops throughout the year

FutureScapes Workshop, Sundance, CO
Three days in April

Gotham Writers’ Workshop, New York, NY
Ten week classes, online and in-person

Gunn Centre SF & Fantasy Novel Writers Workshop, Lawrence, KS
Two weeks in June

Gunn Centre SF & Fantasy Novel Writers Workshop, Lawrence, KS
Two weeks in June

Locus Writer’s Workshop, Seattle, WA
Two days in June, bookending the Locus Awards weekend

Locus Master Classes, Oakland, CA
One-day classes are held throughout the year

Milford, Wales, UK
One week in September

Odyssey, Manchester, NH
Six weeks in the summer

Readerfest Writers’ Master Class, Tacoma, WA
Three days in July

Taos Toolbox, Taos, NM
Two weeks in June/July
I was at the first one (2007) and loved it

Viable Paradise, Martha’s Vineyard, MA
One week in October

Villa Diodati Workshop, various locations in Europe
Two five-day retreats each year, spring and fall

Writing Excuses
Runs courses and retreats (including a cruise!)

Workshops for youth

Alpha, Pittsburgh, PA
Only for people aged 14-19
Two weeks in July/August

Shared Worlds, Spartanburg, SC
Only for teens
Two weeks in July

Online workshops

Odyssey Online
Offers month-long classes through the year

Online Writing Workshop for SFF
Online workshopping community

Offers an array of online classes.

Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers
Live and on-demand classes through the year. Scholarships available.

UCLA Extension Program Online
Offers a certificate program in fiction writing. My wife Alyx teaches Speculative Fiction writing here.

Writing the Other
One day seminars, on-demand master classes, and weekend intensives

Post-secondary studies

Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, University of Kansas
Offers courses in Speculative Fiction Studies (also MFA and PhD, see below)

UCLA Extension Program
Offers a certificate program in fiction writing

MFA programs

I’ll only list the MFA programs that are specifically friendly to speculative fiction. This list is surely not complete. More info at Michael Underwood’s blog.

Graduate Program in Creative Writing, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
MFA and PhD programs – Faculty includes Kij Johnson

Creative Writing MA, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
Faculty includes Helen Marshall

Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing, Portland, ME
Low residency
Faculty includes James Patrick Kelly, Theodora Goss, Elizabeth Hand

Temple University MFA in Creative Writing, Pittsburgh, PA
Samuel R. Delany is on the faculty

NC State MFA in Creative Writing, Raleigh, NC
John Kessel is on the faculty

Seton Hill MFA, Writing Popular Fiction, Greensburg, PA
Lucy A. Snyder is on the faculty

Western Colorado University Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Concentration in Genre Fiction, Gunnison, CO
Fran Wilde is director

SF-related Masters of Arts

Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL
Offers an MA in English with a concentration in SF and Fantasy

Other workshops

Many established writers are passionate about paying it forward. Check out the websites of your favorite authors. Chances are good they sometimes teach.

Many Science Fiction conventions offer workshops, master classes, lectures, and/or manuscript critiques from established writers.

The Surrey International Writer’s Conference embraces all genres. It’s a superb professional development conference that offers access to editors, agents, and superstar authors.

What have I missed? Email or tweet me.

About impostor syndrome

I was a rodeo princess.

Whiskey and me

When I was a teenager, we lived on an acreage west of Hinton, Alberta, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s beautiful country, but not a great place for a bookish kid to live — especially pre-internet.

I wasn’t naturally athletic. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I was naturally horse-crazy. I competed in the local rodeo and summer gymkhana meets, riding in the barrel racing competitions along with a variety of other timed events. I did steer riding only once. It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done, next to driving in Sicily.

When I was 14, I lost the rodeo queen competition. Yes, there were tears (I was only 14!). The next year, I was first runner-up, which officially made me Rodeo Princess. Always better to be the princess than the queen, if you can manage it. All the glamour, none of the responsibility.

Lucky and me

But despite all this outdoorsiness, I was a nerdy kid at heart. I never felt comfortable in my rodeo princess skin. I always felt like an impostor, a poseur, a fake.

Writers talk about impostor syndrome a lot. We don’t often acknowledge that it’s not a phenomenon confined to the writing world. Impostor syndrome happens to everyone who’s actively working at getting better at something that most people don’t have the guts or the ambition to try. It happens whenever we’re taking risks.

One of my barriers to becoming a better barrel racer was psychological. I was too scared of getting hurt to really push the speed. Plus, I was working on learning the skill by myself, so I could never see what I was doing right or wrong. And, crucially, I didn’t have anyone to coach me through my fears.

Writers don’t take physical risks, but we take psychological and emotional risks that are just as scary. We have to, or we don’t get better. This is why most of us crave relationships with other writers. We need peers and (occasionally) teachers or coaches to show us the risks are worthwhile, tell us what we’re doing right and wrong, and reassure us that we will get better if we just keep working.


What editors want

A writer actively submitting stories to market might spend a lot of time wondering what editors want. I just came across this lovely group interview on Clarkesworld, grilling a bunch of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror editors on just that topic.

The story’s almost six years old, but it’s not that much out of date. Gordon Van Gelder isn’t editing S&SF anymore, for example (though he’s still the publisher and owner). Fantasy Magazine is now merged with Lightspeed.  Jim Baen’s Universe is defunct, and so is Weird Tales. But most of the editors are still powerhouses in the field, and their answers are fascinating.