The horrors of formatting

Argh, the ugliness, it burns my eyes!

That was my reaction on seeing my first attempt to compile an e-book via Scrivener. The indentation was inconsistent. There were weird symbols where speech marks should have been. It looked like a typesetter had eaten his work and then vomited all over my screen.

Hundreds of Euro symbols died in the making of this mess.
Hundreds of Euro symbols died in the making of this horror.

It’s not the fault of the stories in the book – some of them are old and I’d write them better now, but I’m still proud of them. Nor was it Scrivener’s fault – I love that program almost as much as I love Shelley the laptop or Muke the car, my main sidekicks in the great adventure called Andrew Gets His Shit Together.

No, it was my own fault, and I should have known better.

You see, I just copied and pasted those stories into Scrivener from the original documents. And let me tell you, when I started writing I did not understand how proper electronic document formatting works. They don’t teach you that sort of thing in university, even though it’s a vital writing skill. Hell, I was writing this blog for years before I found the settings for headings, instead of just using bold text. And as I learned while formatting documents in my last office job, this stuff does matter.

It might feel like a waste of time to learn proper document formatting. You can just hit ‘tab’ to indent a paragraph and go for bold when you want a title to stand out, right? Wrong. Every time you format a chunk of text you add more information, information that most people don’t know is there. And every time you copy and paste things around or transfer a document from one format to another, that information gets more complicated. If you don’t take the right approach, that garbage starts cluttering up your documents.

If you use best practice you can save yourself a lot of pain, letting software like Scrivener, WordPress, or Word neatly change the look of your story or article at the touch of a button. If you don’t it can take hours of editing to make changes, and you’ll still have traps hidden for when you, for example, compile it into an e-book.

So please, whatever you’re writing for, whether it’s books, magazines, your blog, or just your team at work, take an hour now to learn more about how to format your documents, including indentation and header text. You will save yourself and those around you hours of frustration further down the line.

I’m giving up on this document for today. Tomorrow I’ll be starting again, using .txt documents to purge all that rotten formatting and then putting the stories into a nice, new, clean Scrivener template. So remember folks, do as I say not as I do. Start by learning about formatting.