Basics of writingFormatting

Writer vs. computer–Part 2

From Rick:

In part 1 I talked about keeping backups, perhaps the single best solution to many of the computer problems a writer can face. Not only will this help you recover from computer hardware disasters, but it can help you when something else goes wrong. What if you accidentally click “don’t save” when closing a document and you meant to save it? Or what if you have a power failure or some other bizarre crash?

You may not be able to save all your latest changes to a file, but you might be able to save most of them. Let’s say you’ve been writing for the past hour and your power goes out (and you don’t have a backup power supply—which is a good idea to have). Windows 7 and 10 ae very good at recovering from a crashes, but that doesn’t mean the file you were working will be saved unless you take some precautions. Here’s how you can.

While you’re working on a file, Windows keeps a temporary file with an .asd extension. If the file gets saved normally and is closed, that backup usually gets deleted. But not always and not necessarily right away. So it may be possible to retrieve the last unsaved version of a file.

One way to help ensure the .asd file is created in the first place is to set Word to autosave. In nearly every version of Word going way back this function exists. The trick is to set the autosave times to be short.

In the recent versions of Word go to FILE/OPTIONS/SAVE. (Earlier versions of Word have the feature, but it might be accessible slightly differently.) Once there, be sure to check to autosave the document and specify the number of minutes to do that. I use 10 minutes, but if you’re a fast typist and paranoid, set it to 5. I don’t think going lower is necessary. Be sure you also check the box under that to autosave the last version if you close Word without saving. Note that you will also see there where Word will save those documents as well as where Word saves files normally if you don’t specify a location. The default location is in your Documents folder unless you change it.

So, if a crash happens or you fail to save, you can find that autosaved file. When you open Word after the disaster, go to FILE and click “Managed versions” on the left (in Word 2010 and higher). There you will see the option to recover unsaved documents.

Alternatively, you can go to FILE and RECENT and almost hidden at the bottom of the screen is an option to click to “recover unsaved documents.”

Hopefully your document will be there and recoverable. If it’s not, all is not lost.

Next, search for .asd files. In your Windows explorer click on your C: drive and in the search box (normally at the upper right of the screen), enter *.asd (the asterisk tells it to look for all files with the .asd extension).

NOTE: If you do experience a crash, the autosaved files do not remain forever, so be sure to recover them as quickly as possible. Word will delete them after a period of time. In Word 2010 I’ve read that it’s set to four days and it’s not something a user can change.

If that search for the .asd file comes up blank, you can try accessing the save location directly. By default certain Windows folders are hidden normally, one of which is the app data folder where the those are saved. To unhide hidden folders, go to the Control Panel and Folder Options. Under the VIEW tab, you’ll find Hidden Files and Folders mentioned. Click the button to show them, click OK, then close the window and the control panel.

Next, go into Windows Explorer and navigate to this location:

C:\users\(your username)\app data\roaming\Microsoft\Word

You should see your unsaved files there. If not, you can try the following alternate location for the files:

C:\users\(your username)\app data\local\Microsoft\Office\unsaved files

Don’t ask me why this second location is used. I did a brief Google search for it and came up empty for a reason.

If you’re using a non-Word program, such as Open Office, a Google search like “recover unsaved documents in Open Office” should point you in the right direction.


While some of the biggest fights we’ve had with our computers involve lost files, we’ve all likely had numerous smaller fights with Word and other programs. Here I’m only going to deal with Word. My experience as an editor has demonstrated to me that far too many writers are woefully undereducated about Word outside of using it as a glorified typewriter.

Word is a very powerful program, but like any piece of software, it requires an understanding of some of its features to make it work for you as a writer. Some of these features will actually help you in your writing and in preparing a clean manuscript.

Spell check and grammar check are two indispensable features that too many writers seem reluctant to use. First of all, you need to understand what the various messages are telling you. A red squiggly underline means a word that is not in Word’s dictionary. It’s not necessarily a misspelled word, just one not recognized. Right mouse click on the red-underlined word to see Word’s suggestions, then decide if it’s an error or merely an unrecognized word. Please be sure to look up the choices in a dictionary to be sure you’re picking the right one. Legitimate red-underlined words can be added to the custom dictionary, but be careful when doing so. If the word you add is a possible misspelling of a legitimate word, you can cause yourself problems in the future.

For example, if you name one of your characters Yuo, Word will suggest “you” as the correction. If you add this new word to your dictionary, and later accidentally misspell “you” as “yuo,” then Word won’t catch the error. So be careful.

You can always edit your custom dictionary to delete words you’ve accidentally added (Got to FILE/OPTIONS/PROOFING and click on Custom dictionaries. You can edit add or deleted wrong words that way. You can also create new custom dictionaries for specific documents. I did that with one manuscript I was editing because the author used so many invented words and names that I didn’t want to add all of those to the regular custom dictionary. Since I will be editing further novels for him, I wanted to keep that dictionary for that purpose. If you elect to create such a new custom dictionary, you need to make it the default while you edit that document, then change the default back to the regular custom dictionary for adding new words from other documents. Word will still be able to use your new dictionary for spell checking, but any words you elect to add will go inthe regular custom dictionary. I hope I didn’t confuse you with this, but it’s one way to use Word’s features to your benefit.

One caution here: If you add an invented word or name to a custom dictionary, be sure the added word is spelled correctly. If you accidentally misspell your own word and also add that incorrect spelling to the dictionary, then Word won’t pick up on the error. While editing that one author’s work, I did find a few cases where he misspelled some of his character’s names (it’s a fantasy novel). It’s good practice if you’re not sure if you already added the word to right click on the word. You’ll get suggestions from all the dictionaries and you’ll catch if it’s in the custom dictionary already with a different spelling.

Green underlines show potential grammar errors, and blue underlines indicate potential formatting inconsistencies (such as two periods or two commas together).

Some writers, once they’ve completed editing and don’t want to see any squiggly underlines may want to turn them off to eliminate the visual annoyance. You can turn these off in a document, and you can also turn them off for ALL documents, something I strongly advise against.

To disable spelling and grammar error check for a given document, go into FILE/OPTIONS/PROOFING and at the bottom you have options to make turn off spell check and grammar check separately. Just be aware that if you edit the document later and make errors, Word won’t flag them unless you turn the spell and grammar check on again. I’ve edited a few manuscripts where the author had these turned off and I wondered why I wasn’t seeing a clearly misspelled word red underlined. I’ve become watchful for this in the future. If you turn these off and send the document to someone else to edit, you are depriving that editor of a useful tool, and the editor may not be aware of what you’ve done. A good editor should still spot the errors, but why turn off a useful tool?


I’ve mentioned previously that Word has a Show/Hide command to make formatting marks (like paragraph breaks, tabs, and spaces) visible. You should make use of this feature to inspect your manuscript for garbage. I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I receive for editing (but it’s most of them) that contain at least some excess garbage that could have been found and fixed before I got it.

In the ribbon at the top of Word is a little symbol called a pilcrow that looks like a backward P with an extra vertical line. You may know this as the paragraph symbol. Click it and you’ll see your manuscript light up with a bunch of marks:

—A raised dot represents a space. You should NEVER see more than two in a row anywhere in your document, and no spaces at the especially at the start of a paragraph and none at the end of one (something I see all the time). Note that indents for the first line of a paragraph should be done with the first line indent, never with spaces. This will help you spot and remove them.

—A small arrow point right represents a TAB. If you plan on publishing your manuscript as an ebook, then you should never use tabs to indent. Use the first line indent only.

—Pilcrows in the document represent a new paragraph.

—An bent arrow that points left represents a linefeed. You do not want these in your manuscript. While the result on the page is to look as if they’re the same as a paragraph return, they are not the same, and they will mess up an ebook. Replace them with regular paragraph marks.

These are not the only formatting marks you could see, but these are the important ones. If you see others, you should look up what they mean and determine whether they should be there.

If all authors took the time to inspect and clean up their manuscripts, editors would be a lot happier, and you will end up with a cleaner manuscript and likely reduce or eliminate many of your manuscript problems. As a matter of course, I clean up all manuscripts of extra spaces, tabs, etc., in the beginning, before I start to edit. Keep in mind that not all editors will do that, seeing it as a job for a formatter, not an editor.

In the future I may add to this series, but for now, I hope these tips make your writing life a little easier and help you and your computer to work better together instead of fighting one another.