How to Get the Most out of Google Docs When Writing Your Novel

Use Drive here to get to Docs

I’m using Google Docs to write my novel. When I first sat down to write it, I didn’t consider using any other program. Docs has the basic functions you’d expect from a word processor, plus a few other features and tricks I’ve come across that are very useful for novel writing. 

What is Google Docs?

For those of you who haven’t used it much or at all, Google Docs is a free word processor from Google. It’s part of its Drive suite and storage package. If you have a Google account, click the Drive function and you’ll be away.

Use Drive here to get to Docs

What is good about it?

  • Table of contents

When I first got going, I envisioned writing each chapter in a different document. My reasoning was that the document would quickly become too long and unwieldy if I tried writing it in one document.

I canned that idea fairly quickly because I kept having to refer between different chapter documents. My draft is at about 50,000 words now, but a table of contents makes it manageable.

Put the table of contents at the beginning. Make a heading every time you start a new chapter. Clicking ‘refresh’ on the table of contents will create a new link to your chapter. Click on the link to take you straight to the start of that chapter. This cuts out a lot of scrolling.

Using chapters in Docs
Using chapters in Docs
  • Store your secondary documents

In the last post we discussed character biographies. Google Drive is a useful place to store these profiles, chapter plans any other source material you have for your novel, all in one place.

  • Comments

Using comments is something I’ve started doing fairly recently and it’s done wonders for my productivity. As the draft has got longer and longer, I was starting to spend increasing amounts of time cycling back and forth between different sections, even with the chapter links.

My plan was not as comprehensive as it should have been. That meant I rewrote a lot of the beginning. It was becoming genuinely harder to remember what I’d already written – what stayed, what had been cut, and where it all was.

This is where comments come in. You can use them like notes in the margin. Put a comment in a paragraph to explain what happens in it, and you save yourself time having to re-read it.

Hadi description
A description of one of the characters in my novel, Hadi Ghazzali
  • Autosave and offline editing

Google autosaves everything you do so you don’t have to worry about losing any unsaved changes. It also has the revision history option that allows you to restore an earlier draft if you dramatically mess up.

I’d also enable offline editing, especially if you have multiple devices. This means that you can get some work done on your phone or tablet if you have some spare time on a train or a bus. You have to do this for each document; it doesn’t come on by default.

Wrap-up

These are some of the tricks I’ve used to get the most out of Google Docs when writing my novel. I’m sure that’s not even all it can do. It’s easily the best program I know of with which to write a book.

  • Further reading:

How I Use Google Docs for Writing by Jamie Rubin

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