5 Ways to Create an Em Dash

Pause with Scrabble tiles

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated on January 14, 2017.

I have all-in-one laptop that weighs the same as a tablet. It’s a marvel of a machine except for one thing: because it doesn’t have a numeric keypad (less keyboard = better portability), I cannot create em dashes (—) and en dashes (–) in my usual way.

(You know there are three kinds of dashes in written English, right? Use them correctly in your writing and you will impress a copyeditor!)

1. Use built-in keyboard shortcuts.

On a regular-size keyboard with a number keypad, I can use keyboard shortcuts to create em dashes and en dashes:

  • Em dash (—): Alt+0151
  • En dash (–): Alt+0150

In Microsoft Word:

  • Em dash (—): Alt+Ctrl+ - (minus)
  • En dash (–): Ctrl + - (minus)

Mac users use these shortcuts:*

  • Em dash (—): Shift-Alt-hyphen or Command + M
  • En dash (–): Alt-hyphen

My usual keyboard shortcuts don’t work on my portable laptop, though. Here are few workarounds:

2. Plug in a full-size external keyboard or keypad.

This option will only be appealing to you if you tend to use your laptop like a desktop.

For editing documents, I like to plug my laptop into a massive monitor and attach a wireless mouse and full-size keyboard, complete with a number keypad.

Alternatively, you can plug in a portable USB number keypad and use your laptop keyboard and touchpad. With this set-up, there are no problems creating em and en dashes in my usual way—using Alt codes.

But what if you prefer to use your laptop on-the-go, as it’s intended? Read on…

3. Use Unicode character codes.

Most compact PC laptop keyboards won’t allow you to use Alt codes to create em dashes and en dashes, but you can use Unicode character codes in most instances:

  • Em dash: 2014+Alt+x
  • En dash: 2013+Alt+x

You can look up other Unicode character codes here.

Note: Keyboard shortcuts using Unicode character codes don’t work in Scrivener, Gmail, or Google docs. For these programs, try one of the options that follow.

4. Use your word processor’s built-in autocorrect function.

In Google Docs, if you type two hyphens followed by a space, those two hyphens will be changed to an em dash. Out of the box, Word and Scrivener will do the same.

There isn’t an autocorrect option out of the box for an en dash, though. So, you can try this:

In Word 2010 and up, go to Tools, Options, Proofing, and click on the AutoCorrect Options button.

Select the AutoCorrect tab and add these keyboard shortcuts:

  • Replace: .em  With: —
  • Replace .en  With: –

Now each time you type .em (dot em) in Microsoft Word, it will be replaced by an em dash, and .en will give you an en dash.

If you want to do the same in Scrivener, go to Tool, Options, Corrections, Edit Substitutions. In Google Docs, go to Tools, Preferences.

5. Use your operating system’s character map.

Using you operating system’s search function, type in “character map.” A grid with symbols will pop up, and you can select the em dash or en dash and copy and paste it into your document. In Scrivener, you can access your operating system’s character map by going to Edit, Character Map. In Word 2010 and up, you’ll need to go to Insert, Symbol. In Google Docs, go to Insert, Special Characters.

Be Efficient

There are many ways to create em dashes and en dashes on your laptop. If your only option is to use the character map (the least efficient option), consider inserting two hyphens for em dashes in your document for now. You can then use your word processor’s find and replace function to replace the hyphens with the correct symbol later.

Do you use a Mac? Let us know how you insert em dashes and en dashes into your writing in the comments section below.

*Thanks to John Espirian and Geri J. for suggesting keyboard shortcuts for Mac users.

Image by Dennis Skley

Unlocking the Secrets of the Bestseller

Image of the New York Times Newspaper

by C. K. MacLeod

What are the ingredients of a bestselling novel?

In the book The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers use machine learning and a text-mining tool — the bestseller-ometer — to study the characteristics of the bestselling novel.

What the bestseller-ometer reveals is specific and potentially helpful. Using computers to assess a novel's bestselling potential raises a number of questions:

  • Will acquisitions editors use algorithms and text-mining tools to determine whether a book is worth investing in?
  • Could indie authors use these tools see if a book will sell?
  • Could editors use it to help writers craft a more marketable book?

I’ll leave it to you to decide. For now, it’s worth thinking about what Archer and Jockers’ research has to say about books that sell brilliantly, and those that don’t.

In a nutshell, The Bestseller Code reveals helpful information about bestseller theme, style, plot, titles and characters, as well as something about the kind of education and training that bestselling authors have.

Archer and Jocker's have compiled lists of must-read novels, selected by the bestseller-ometer, that demonstrate bestselling qualities that writers could emulate. If you're suspicious about a computer’s ability to assess bestselling qualities, you could read the books yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.

While I can’t do justice to Archer and Jockers’ research here, I will say this: some of the writing advice on this blog lines up with the characteristics of bestselling novels:

If it’s your goal to best sell, trying the tips and tools in these articles can’t hurt. At the very least, they’ll help you to see ways to improve your writing. In the wider context, the information in The Bestseller Code is worth considering if your goal is to write a book that people will take time to read — and pay money for.

Image by Charles LeBlanc

 

Why Writers Love Scrivener (and Why Editors Will, Too!)

by C.K. MacLeod

Planning map

 

Scrivener has become wildly popular with writers—plotters and pantsers alike—who are working on book-length writing projects. Little know fact: it's a great tool for developmental editors, too.

Scrivener is useful for

  •  planning and writing a novel (especially if you're a "pantser" and you need to do a little reverse planning)
  •  writing and organizing a thesis
  •  planning and writing an online course
  •  planning and writing curriculum
  •  setting and achieving writing targets
  •  writing and organizing blog posts
  •  planning a book marketing strategy
  •  publishing simple, text-only ebooks in mobi and epub formats
  •  developmental editing

Each of the items in the list above involves some planning or organizing. Scrivener is, in fact, the ultimate planning and organizing tool for anyone who works with words.

Scrivener helps you set goals, plan, and organize your writing with

  • virtual note cards
  • a built-in Binder feature that allows you to see each part of your book at a glance
  • symbols and coloured labels 
  • margin notes
  • Project Targets/ word count calculator
  • an Outliner, which can help you see the pacing of your writing
Scrivener Labels
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

Scrivener is for Editors, too!

If you’re a developmental editor who works with writers to develop a writing project, Scrivener can help you (and your writers) to see a book’s structure visually:

Scrivener notecards
Scrivener notecards

And it can allow you to how a book is paced, whether points-of-view are balanced, and alternating time structures:

Scrivener point-of-view labels

Scrivener isn't the best tool for all kinds of editing (Word is still the best tool for copyediting), but it's definitely worth considering at the developmental editing stage of the writing process.

Scrivener Supports

There’s great support for Scrivener, too. Scrivener comes with a 319-page user manual and a walk-through tutorial.

For those who like self-paced online courses, I highly recommend Joseph Michael’s Learn Scrivener Fast video course.

I've created a free downloadable Scrivener Cheatsheet for some of the more common "moves" that writers want to make in Scrivener when they first begin using it.

Scrivener has a free trial for 30 uses, and it’s less expensive than traditional word processing software. See the Literature & Latte site for details.

It’s fun to think about how tools can make some aspects of writing and editing easier—especially planning and organizing.

Image by Sacha Chua

6 Ways to Set Up Scrivener for Writing

Out of the boxby C.K MacLeod

Out of the box, Scrivener comes with features turned off or on. Some of these features are helpful, but others drive me crazy and prevent me from being efficient.

You can customize Scrivener to work with your writing preferences. Below are six things I do to write more efficiently in Scrivener.

Note: I write mostly nonfiction. If you write fiction, tweak your settings to support your writing preferences.

1. Remove or change automatic paragraph indenting.

Go to Tools, Options, Editor, and move the tab slider to the left.

Tab slider Scrivener

2. Turn off automatic capitalization and autocompletion.

I find it distracting when a word processor automatically capitalizes words, or tries to guess and complete words for me. To turn off these features, go to Tools, Options, Corrections, and uncheck Fix capitalization of sentences and Suggest completions as you type.

Turn off autocompletion and capitalization

3. Change the font type and size.

I like to work in Times New Roman. Boring, but effective (it has a complete character set for special symbols. Go to Tools, Options, Editor, and click on the blue A button in the top left.

Change font Scrivener

4. Add a keyboard shortcut for a word or phrase you don’t want to keep retyping. I use .ip to indicate a placeholder for inserting a picture later.

Go to Tools, Options, Corrections, check the Enable Substitutions box, and click on Edit Substitutions. Click on the plus button to add your keyboard shortcut.

Substitutions shortcuts Scrivener

5. Select your dictionary.
I am a Canadian, so I like my dictionary to remind me to spell colour and honour with a "u." Go to Tools, Options, Corrections, select your dictionary, click OK, and then click Apply.

If you don’t see your dictionary in the list of options, click the Download button to see if there’s one available.

6. Customize the toolbar.
Go to Tools, Customize toolbars and add or remove toolbar buttons. Here are the buttons like like to add:

  • Show Invisibles
  • Inline Annotation
  • Comment buttons

You can also rearrange the order of the buttons by clicking on the down and up arrows.
You don’t need to tolerate the out-of-the-box version of Scrivener.  Set up Scrivener so it better matches your way of working.

Image by Kool Cats Photography

Most Popular Writing Tech Posts of 2015

Top 10by C.K. MacLeod

Here are the top 10 Posts on Tech Tools for Writers in 2015.

  1. Hemingway Editor: A Proofreading Tool for Writers
  2. Self-Editing Tools
  3. Retrieving a Back-Up File in Scrivener
  4. How to Create a Keyboard Shortcut for the Snipping Tool
  5. 20-Minute Macro Course
  6. Improve Your Writing with Macros
  7. A 5-Minute Guide to Evernote
  8. 5 Ways to Create an Em Dash
  9. Proofreading Tool: PerfectIt Pro
  10. Consistency Checker: A Free Proofreading Tool

Which tool will you try in 2016? Which tool would you like me to write about?

Stay posted for more exciting writing and editing tools in 2016.

Image by Sam Churchill.

How to Write a Quality Book Fast

Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, you've tasked yourself to write a book in four weeks. How will you do it?

Writing a book can happen fairly quickly, particularly if you know how to create an efficient writing and publishing workflow. I wrote the first draft of the book on the left in about 10 hours and completed the rest of the process in nine weeks. Here's how:

1. Have a System 

To get a book to publication quickly, it helps to know the essential steps in the idea-to-ebook process. As both an author and editor, I’ve discovered a few efficiencies that can save time in the writing and publishing process.

Here are the steps as I follow them:

  • Collaborate (optional)
  • Brainstorm
  • Research
  • Organize
  • Draft
  • Revise
  • Edit
  • Add Images (optional)
  • Clean Up
  • Format
  • Proofread
  • Create a Cover
  • Publish

You don't always have to follow these steps in order, but if your steps are orderly and logical, it'll help you to be more efficient.

2. Use Efficiency Tools

You'll be more efficient at writing books if you use the right tools for the job. Scrivener, for example, is a wonderful drafting tool that can help you organize a potentially unwieldy book.

Trust me, it's never good news to discover at the editing stage that your book's structure isn't working. If you use an organization tool like Scrivener early in the process, you can sort out any structural issues at the beginning, long before the editing stage (where they can become costly). Scrivener can benefit writers in other ways, too. (See Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast for more details).

It's also worth noting that Microsoft Word is currently the best tool for the editing stage of your publishing process (I'm hoping that the creators of Scrivener will remedy that). You may not agree with me, but in Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast, I think I make a pretty good case for why you might want to have Word in your writer's toolkit.

I also recommend over 30 free and inexpensive tools that writers can use to create quality books efficiently.

A Caveat

It’s one thing to publish quickly, and quite another to publish well. Quality matters, and it’s important that you don’t sacrifice quality for speed. Your readers won’t care how long it took you to produce your book—but they will care whether your book is good.

I believe that creating a quality book fast is within every author’s reach. Your “fast” might not be my “fast,” but there are ways to create better books faster.

Want to know more about how to create a quality book efficiently? Curious about how Scrivener and other tools can help you do that? Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast is a quick read, and you'll find it on Amazon for $0.99 during NaNoWriMo. 

Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

By C.K. MacLeod and Carla Douglas

This post first appeared on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer and on July 15, 2015 at Beyond Paper Editing.

In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches...

Approaches to Self-Editing

There are many ways to improve your writing. You can

  • set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
  • get structured feedback from beta readers
  • hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
  • run editing tools on your writing

Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.

DIY Feedback

You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.

External Feedback

The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.

Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.

Editing Tools

Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!

Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.

Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.

Self-Editing Tools for Writers

Tool Word-level Sentence-level Paragraph-level Big-picture level
Consistency Checker* x x
Hemingway app* x x
PerfectIt Pro* x
Self-Editing macros* x
Scrivener’s Binder+ x x
Word’s Navigation Pane+ x x
Split-screen feature in Scrivener+ x x
Split-screen feature in Word+ x x

 

*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.

+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.

As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.

Advantages of Editing Tools

Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
  • If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
  • You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
  • These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
  • If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.

Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.

For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!

Limitations of Editing Tools

Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:

Won’t Think for You

An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.

For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)

But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.

Won’t Fix It for You

Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.

For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.

Won’t Do the Footwork for You

If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.

Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?

Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.

How to Use Editing Tools

As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:

  1. Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
  2. Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
  3. Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
  4. Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
  5. Consult self-editing books for solutions to the writing problems your tools uncover.

Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.

If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)

Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.

Image by Steve Snodgrass

Scrivener for PC Wish List

Wish here

Scrivener is a popular piece of writing software used by many self-publishing authors. For good reason. It’s designed to help you organize and manage a book-length project. It’s available for Macs, PCs, and Linux, but the features are different across platforms. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that the PC version is missing many of the features lauded by Mac users.

Make Your Wish!

Instead of grumbling about the missing features in the PC version on Scrivener forums, I’ve decided to try and be constructive. I’ve created a Scrivener wish list for PC users. If there’s a feature you’d like the PC version to have, document your wish in this interactive document. I will invite the creators of Scrivener to view this list.

I can only begin to imagine how much work it’d be to keep on top of version parity. PC users: Let’s do our part to help the fine folks at Literature & Latte fine tune the software we love.

To be fair, there may be good reasons why Literature & Latte hasn’t addressed some of the features that PC users are pining for. Let's find out what they are.

I’ve gotten things off to a start. Be sure to have a look!

Image by Matt E

Using Split Screen for Editing

4260085353_5c0efc3f39_oby C. K. MacLeod

Word and Scrivener's split-screen functions are handy for editing long documents. At some point in the editing process, you may need to compare facts or details in one section of your book with facts and details in another section. Scrolling back and forth through pages and pages of writing can be frustrating, but with the split-screen function, you don't have to.

Here's how it works in Word and in Scrivener:

Split Screen in Word 2010

  1. In the Home tab, go to View and in the Window area, click on the Split button.
Word split screen button
Access Word's split screen in the View tab

A horizontal rule, or line, will show up across your document. Click anywhere in your document to anchor the rule. You can move the rule up or down at any time.

Note the horizontal rule in Word's split-screen view
Note the horizontal rule in Word's split-screen view
  1. In the split-screen view, the Split button has changed to the Remove Split button.To return to a single pane, go to View, Window area, Remove Split.

Split Screen in Scrivener

  1. Click on the Horizontal Split button in the top right of Scrivener's middle pane.
Horizontal split button
Scrivener split-screen view

The button will immediately change to the No Split button and Scrivener's horizontal split- screen view looks like this:

Scrivener's split-screen view
Scrivener's split-screen view

If you prefer to see your split screens side-by-side instead of stacked on top of one another, you can click on the Vertical Split button to the left of the Horizontal Split button.

  1. Click on the No Split button to return to single-pane view.

The next time you're working with a long document, and you're having to check facts, cross-references, or even write a concluding paragraph, consider using the split-screen function in Word or Scrivener to make the job easier.

Image by Nina Matthews

 

2 Tools for Improving Your Writing

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing.

Learning to write well is a process, and there is so much to consider—from story structure to the words you choose.

In self-publishing circles, there is a lot of discussion about perfecting plot, characters, and dialogue—the elements of story—but comparatively little airtime is given to the building blocks of stories: words.

Sometimes, the words we use can clutter our writing and jolt the reader out of the story. Strunk & White calls these words "needless words." That's good news. If these words are needless, we don't need them, and if your writing will be better without them, the solution is simple!

Needless Words

So, what are needless words? In a nutshell, any word that can be deleted without altering the meaning of a sentence or threatening correct grammatical construction is a needless word.

Strunk and White list some examples in the Omit Needless Words section of their famous style guide. Janice Hardy's Words to Avoid list is another terrific resource for learning which words you can do without.

Hunting down needless words is an easy way to clean up your writing because it often requires nothing more from you than to find the offending words and press the delete button. Excise these words from your writing and you're well on your way to communicating clearly.

Finding Needless Words

I know what you're thinking... Do I have to pick through every word in my 300-page book? You can, but I'm not suggesting that you find needless words manually in a word-by-word manner. Oh, no. There are tools for that. Nowadays, simple tech tools can help you root out those words that muddy your writing.

Below, I've listed two tools that authors can use to polish their prose: one for Word users and the other for Scrivener users.

Word Tool

In Microsoft Word, you can use a simple highlighting macro that will hunt down and highlight all of the needless words in your book in a matter of minutes. I call it the Needless Words macro, in honour of Strunk & White. You can then decide how to address those highlighted words (delete them!).

NeedlessWords macro in action

You can find the Needless Words macro here.

Scrivener Tool

Scrivener's Word Frequency tool is less sophisticated, but still worth a mention. It doesn't highlight needless words, but it indicates words you may have overused. You can then use Scrivener's Find and Replace function to find and scrutinize those words you've used most. In Scrivener, you can find the Word Frequency tool by going to Project, Text Statistics, Word Frequency.

Scrivener's Text Statistics tool

Scrutinizing words is best left for the revision stage of writing, after the the big-picture elements and paragraph-level elements have been addressed. Taking the time to give your writing attention at the word level will ensure a smoother read for your readers.

Image by Matt Scott