How to count items in a Word doc?

faraway places

Q. I write alphabetical lists in Microsoft Word.

Like the movies I love or the members of the committee or the company’s human resources policies. Is there an easy way to count how many entries I have?

A. Here’s how.

  • Open the Home tab of the ribbon on top.
  • Highlight all the items you want to count.
  • Go to the Paragraph section at the top.
  • Click the Numbering tool. (If you mouse over, it says Numbering).
  • Presto: All your items have numbers.

When you’re done, press Ctrl+Z to undo.

The best time to write

When is the best time of day to write?

A. Whatever time works for you.

When teaching adults to write nonfiction, I often ask when they prefer to write. The most common answer is 2 hours after awakening. The second-most-common time is late at night, when most other people are snoring. Occasionally people set an alarm for 2 a.m. and write until their eye-drops run out.

Morning is best for me, by the way. But it’s also the best time for me to go to the gym. If I don’t walk the treadmill first thing, I never do. If I delay writing in the morning, though, I always make time later. So I go to the gym as early as I can, then write.

The only reason to think about your best writing time is so that you can articulate it. Then build your life around it.

Now a question for you. What is your best time? How can you build your day around that time? Can you post a sign on your cube from 8 to 9 a.m. – or 3 to 3:45 p.m. – that says, Writing in progress? Can you find a quiet corner near your office or office building where you can hide out frequently?

Most important: Find the best time of day for you to write. Then write then.


Evaluate professional journals

Chances are

If you write about professional services – architecture, law, medicine and more – you might write articles for professional publications.

First you want to know what the publications want of their authors. If you write to suit their specifications, you have a far better chance at acceptance.

Recently I evaluated professional journals for a university medical department. At each of 9 periodicals, I checked on the requirements concerning length, voice (first- or third-person), graphics, footnote formatting, subheads and writing styles. I asked if they wanted a query letter first. And, perhaps most important, I searched their website for a set of writers’ guidelines.

All the journals require that authors use the American Psychological Association’s guide, called APA Style. At all 9 journals, sadly, editors allow articles written in the passive voice. I recommend writing in active voice anyway, simply because it’s stronger. Here are the facts for 3 journals.


Journal  1

Length           Up to 3,000 words.

Graphics       Yes.

Footnotes    Up to 10.

Subheads      Yes, 4 levels.

Query first?  Yes. Complete “Author interest form” on site.

Guidelines     Yes


Journal  2

Length           Up to 4.500 words.

Graphics       Yes.

Footnotes     Yes.

Subheads       Yes.

Query first?   Yes.

Guidelines      Does not address this question.


Journal  3

Length           Optional.

Graphics       Yes.

Footnotes    Yes. Follow Chicago Manual of Style.

Subheads     Yes.

Query first? Yes.

Guidelines   Yes.

In your field, choose the periodical that best suits your intended readers. For instance, if you write about real-estate law, avoid journals on corporate tax law. If you design gardens for suburban office parks, don’t waste time submitting to a magazine for urban high-rise gardeners.

Think laterally to write bright

10-ish to 6-ish

As children we add 2 and 2 and get green triangles. We free-associate, putting that ball into this box and resting it on the kitchen table before covering it with 3 napkins.

When my young son wanted to wear his turquoise monkey-print shirt with his yellow-and-red plaid pants, I thought he was trying to tell the neighbors I had bad taste. Not so. He was expressing his own creativity. Loudly. I didn’t listen.

It took me a long time to realize that he thought – thinks – outside every box he ever saw. After that, I bought only solid-color pants.

Sadly, for both the child and society, adults who think “rationally” or “logically” reprimand kids into compliance. And sameness. And not-thinking-for-themselves-ness.

Writers encounter similar restraints when managers shoot down our written ideas. For them, creative people like us are a nuisance. We’re out of line, out of synch with the norm. Indeed we are. And proud of it.

Enter lateral thinking: a way to contemplate creatively, to turn problems into opportunities, to find alternative words and phrases. By thinking laterally, or unconventionally, you dramatically increase your creative quotient.

Here’s how

  • Go to the art museum and look at hardware: thermostats, lights, cooling vents.
  • Go to the hardware store and look at art: color-coded stacks of identical fans, hammers and paint cans.
  • Learn about Prozac from the hairdresser and about Clairol from the doctor.
  • Fran Lebowitz writes about someone who’s audibly tan.
  • Describe a flock of engineers, a litter of French fries.
  • Keep an ear to the grindstone.
  • Name the 4 seasons in California: earthquakes, fires, mud-slides and protests.
  • Write not about a third-degree burn but about a third-degree hailstorm.
  • Mention not a 100-proof bottle of scotch but a 100-proof courageous act.
  • Give someone not a black belt in karate but a black belt in balancing budgets.

Logic, chronology and other assumptions lead us to act certain ways, follow predictable paths and stay within chain-link boundaries. We are hard-wired to be uncreative. Let’s break the mold and go for a new view. Look for ways to think laterally – in order to write readable, scannable copy.

Write about 9/11

Write everything you can remember about September 11, 2001: Where you were when you heard the news, what you thought, what you felt.

Go deep into the details: What you wore, where you were heading, how your day changed. Begin at 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Include your thoughts after 9:59, when the second tower crumbled.

Write only about yourself. If you were not alone when you learned the news, mention the people with you. Focus, though, on your own thoughts.

You have told this story a hundred times. Now write it with at least as much flair as you tell it. You can use the present tense to feel the immediacy of that dreadful, horrible, no-good, beautifully sunny day.


It’s something you experienced that you can save for younger people. It belongs in your memoirs. Whether you write for yourself or to share with a larger world, September 11 – that September 11 – probably shook your world.

When you write memoir, it’s the little stories, like what happened one unforgettable day, that demonstrate who you really are.

Writing the stories you often tell is a superior writing exercise. Skip the exclamation points and choose precise words to convey your excitement, enthusiasm or chagrin.

Those details? Prod your memory about feelings, which are more important than the facts – because your feelings belong, or belonged, to you alone.

Just keep writing.