Help! My edit is choking my computer!

Bad news: You just got your manuscript back from the editor, and your computer has collapsed in a pique. Every time you open the document, Microsoft Word stalls out. The only thing still moving is your cursor, which is chasing its tail like an eternal puppy. How can you process your revisions if you can’t even scroll through the document to look at them?

Your computer might need more RAM for a big edit.First things first: Don’t blame Word—well, probably not. MS Word has earned its status as the industry standard editing tool for writers and editors for good reason. It powerful features and collaborative tools for professionals who work with words are unparalleled. But even so, Word has gained a reputation for being, as they say, notoriously quirky.

The good news is that this quirkiness shouldn’t affect your ability to open and work with your edited file. Word takes a lot of ire for choking on big documents when it’s really the user’s computer hardware at fault. The little laptop or older computer that’s served you so loyally for writing may not be able to keep up now that you’re showing and hiding tracked changes and formatting marks and forcing your system to repaginate on the fly again and again.

It’s not uncommon for a line edit to increase the file size of your manuscript by double or more. You know how computer sales copy always claims their systems should work well for you unless you’re working with large spreadsheets or video? With a document that’s been through a huge line edit, that’s exactly the kind of file you’re working with now.

Give your computer a hand

The first thing you should suspect when you notice your computer is crawling is actually thirteen things: 13 reasons your computer is slow. A lot of the browser-related problems won’t apply to your little puddle of manuscript, but you’re likely to get a significant boost in performance by tidying up these issues.

Does your computer have enough working memory? If you’re serious about writing, 4GB of RAM isn’t going to get the job done. To handle a fat manuscript document file full of tracked changes, you’ll be more comfortable with 8GB of RAM. It’s a relatively affordable, straightforward upgrade that’s likely to be as simple as plugging in a new memory stick. Keep in mind that editing large documents doesn’t really fall into the realm of typical word processing tasks; consider your needs on the higher end when you’re deciding how much RAM you need.

What to do if Word is still “Not Responding”

So back to the moment of editing: You’re starting at that little cursor circle going round and round and round, and the message at the top of the screen has kindly informed you that Word is Not Reponding.

1. Turn off the Revisions pane. That thing is the devil, and it gobbles resources like souls. If it’s already showing on your screen (probably in a tall column on the left side, or possibly horizontally at the bottom of the screen), click the X on its top right corner. Begone, foul Revisions Pane.

Instead, send comments to the balloons. On the Review tab just to the right of the big Track Changes button, click the second dropdown menu, Show Markup, and select Comments, Insertions and Deletions, and Formatting. Then go back and click the arrow on the Show Markup dropdown, scroll down to Balloons, and select Show Only Formatting and Comments in Balloons. It should look like this:

Set MS Word Track Changes

2. Be patient. When Word tells you it’s Not Responding, it may simply still be working. My own system (a beefy, gaming-quality custom rig) doesn’t typically give me this message when I’m using Word, but some of the other software I use during an edit gives it a tough enough workout that it throws up the white flag while it’s working.

Listen to what your computer is trying to say. Clicking on the screen “just to see if it’s still responding” tells your computer to stop what it’s doing right this second and refresh the screen to respond to you—which of course takes up even more of its taxed resources. At that point, you’re begging for a complete crash. Let it do its thing.

Of course, Not Responding could mean exactly what it says, and you could be headed for a crash regardless. Give your computer the benefit of the doubt and get up to make yourself a fresh cup of coffee or tea. If it’s still struggling when you get back, you probably need to reboot your whole system.

3. Reboot. A fresh start cures many, many ills. Any time a program (not just Word) is giving you fits, close it out and completely reboot your system. Yes, your whole system, not just Word. It really works.

4. Divide the manuscript into smaller sections. The solution of last resort when your computer chokes on a large edit is to chop the edited document into smaller documents. You may need to ask your editor to do this for you if your computer is having trouble opening and moving through the file. This obviously isn’t an ideal solution because you won’t be able to run global search and replace functions or easily move or find text between different sections of your manuscript. But as a short-term fix, chopping up your doc may help you get through a tight spot until you can address your long-range computer needs.

Related: How to use MS Word Track Changes with your edited manuscript

Nib_100Uncertain your manuscript is ready for editing? Test your writing with a new author evaluation or a plot checkup.

Image: Ben