The importance of manuscript formatting/I admit to being a nerd!

As a new faculty person, I am learning about a thing I refer to as “Thesis Season.”

It’s fascinating and exhausting.  I’ve read a bunch of creative writing manuscripts in the last few months, sitting right next to to sentences, words, and images.  (Luckily, the writing is often beautiful, lyrical, strong, clean, titillating, and compelling.  I do love my job.)

One thing, though, that has got me all het up, is the importance of following instructions.  Some writers are more comfortable with computers and word processing than others: writers are like other humans in that way.  If I could, I would take all these writers into a room and together, we’d go through each step to achieve proper formatting.  Margins, line spacing, consistent typeface, point size, page numbering.  I know that these details can be really hard to face if you’re not adept at digital technology.  I’m lucky that my previous job was all about showing students and faculty how to navigate the word processing jungle.  I’m a nerd about this stuff.  According to Microsoft, I am a “Word Expert.”  (This always amuses me, especially when I’m writing, because the last thing I feel like is a word expert!)  For this reason, however, I harp on formatting.  My students might be tired of hearing it, but I am trying to help them as they approach the larger world where their work will be judged by someone who doesn’t care about them nearly as much as I do.

As writers, it’s in our absolute best interest to follow guidelines EXACTLY.  If a publisher desires certain formatting, we better pay attention.  If the goal is to impress the reader with our lovely words, sentences, images, then having the manuscript itself not distract from that seems essential.

Teachers, but more importantly, future editors, are easily distracted by a writer’s inattention to these details.  They are looking for a reason not to read our work.  Let’s not give them the one that is, in some ways, easiest to avoid.

If a writer wants to be taken seriously, is in her best interest to gain control over the “physical” aspects of manuscripts.

The Word Expert has spoken.

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5 responses to “The importance of manuscript formatting/I admit to being a nerd!

  1. Hear, hear! While it can be annoying to learn (and follow) non-standard guidelines, why give editors or first readers a reason to toss your work without actually considering the content? I’m working my way through the manuscripts for next month’s AWW intensive, and the formatting runs the gamut from good to awful. This reminds me why it’s probably NOT a good idea for me to try teaching…my students would kill me ;-)

  2. Word up to that, you Word Expert you!

  3. I’m right there with you! Formatting: yes, please! It’s like good manners for the writing.

  4. Cyndi, your students would thank you. :) Sharon, I agree. It is good manners. Another TOTAL pet peeve is when people are supposed to submit double-spaced prose for a workshop and they send it in with 1.5 spacing (thinking no one will notice?) because they somehow think it’s okay to ask everyone else to read 1.5 times as much of their work. I was in a workshop once with a wonderful mentor and friend, and I could see her barely being polite to someone who did that. She was exploding inside, I could tell (and so was I!) The student acted like they didn’t realize it. (Since when is 1.5 line spacing the default for anything! She must have done it manually! I’m getting all het up again just THINKING about it!)

  5. Arden, thanks for confirming my expert-ness. I needed that today! ;)

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