Writing in InDesign: Why and how

Back when Fiona started Book Design Made Simple, she decided that writing in InDesign would be easiest. (After all, it was her native habitat.) And now one of our readers has admitted to doing the same. So we thought we’d explore the various reasons why anyone would want to write in a layout program. For us it worked perfectly. How about you?

Reasons for writing in InDesign

Our book is filled with over 200 InDesign screen shots, and most of the pages are a complicated mix of text and illustrations. A huge percentage of the illustrations were produced in the same application. So there are three reasons to write in InDesign right there. Take a look at a couple of our spreads:

Sample 1 showing a reason for writing in InDesign

Sample 2 showing reasons for writing in InDesign

Wow, right? Perhaps you can see why we wrote to fit the space.

On the opposite end of the scale of complexity, some self-publishing authors of unillustrated books choose to write in InDesign for different reasons.

First, many people simply dislike using Word. (There are so many word haters that we couldn’t possibly list all the reasons.)

Also, some find that designing as they go along gives them a feeling of control. They believe that tweaking the design over the long writing period produces a better product.

And a few folks simply find that the InDesign interface is more interesting and perhaps logical to them.

If you’re planning to design and lay out your book in InDesign anyway, this could be the perfect chance to become familiar with the program.

Some #book #authors find it best to write in #InDesign. Does that sound crazy? We don’t think so. https://tinyurl.com/tsmfj6ps Click To Tweet

Some hints for writing in InDesign

For the most part, you can simply use most of the tricks you may know from Word. You can copy and paste, use a spell check, find and replace, make lists with the click of a button, and so on. You can also create your index as you write. But along with all of that, there are some special features that make writing in InDesign a bit more interesting and useful.

Adding illustrations as you go

When using Word, you can of course add your illustrations as you progress. But why do it twice? Since you cannot simply copy your Word illustrations into InDesign when you import the text, you’ll save a step by importing them straight into InDesign as you write. In Book Design Made Simplewe devote 7 chapters to importing and placing images, getting your text to wrap around them, and optimizing them.

Also, if your book is like ours, with lots of images and diagrams, you can create shapes and some illustrations to fit your page. (To get started, review our videos on drawing shapes. Then you might want to advance to adding effects such as shadows and 3D. Explore all of our videos to find what you need to learn.) In other words, you can watch your book come together as you progress.

Using StoryEditor

Story Editor is a feature that we’ve never used, but we did some research and trials and found out that we probably should have! It’s like having a text doc sitting right next to the InDesign screen so you can ignore the layout when you want to concentrate on the words. As you type in Story Editor, you can watch the changes appear in the layout. For many folks this would be a godsend.

A few of the other advantages include:

  • Highlighting changes as you make them
  • Seeing all the text in the same font and color of your choice in Story Editor—it could be larger or clearer than the type in the layout
  • Having spelling and grammar prompts that look familiar
  • Viewing overset (too long) copy that would otherwise disappear from view
Story Editor display in InDesign.

In this example, Story Editor (the left panel) is set up with a light blue background and with large sans serif type. Odd spelling and grammar are underscored, and recent changes are highlighted in orange. Paragraph style names are shown at the far left. As you work, all changes appear on the layout page.

To start using this terrific tool, put your cursor anywhere in the text, then go to Edit > Edit in Story Editor. We suggest a couple of lessons to move you further along. First, watch CreativePro’s 5-minute tutorial. Then check out the many other ways to improve your Story Editor experience in this blog post from makeuseof.com.

Setting the Next Style

Once you specify a Next Style (instructions below) in Paragraph Style Options, you can type your chapter number, then type your chapter title, and start your chapter text—and each time you hit Enter/Return, the correct paragraph style will be applied automatically to each. It is pretty cool and saves time, too. Here are the settings we used for this example:

How to use Next Style when writing in InDesign.

Under the General tab in Paragraph Style Options, simply add a paragraph style name in the Next Style field. Note that using a Next Style is completely optional and really only helps you when you actually write in InDesign.

Adding pages

You can ask InDesign to add pages as you type, just the way that Word does. Simply go to File (or InDesign) > Preferences > Type, and check Smart Text Reflow and Delete Empty Pages, as shown below. The program will then add pages automatically as your story gets longer.

Smart Text Relow to make writing in InDesign easy

Insert Pages dialog boxWhen you’ve finished your main text, you can then add pages before page 1 of your manuscript for your title page, copyright page, contents, and other front matter pages. In your Pages panel, highlight page 1, then go the Pages dialog box > Insert Pages, and add an even number of pages Before Page 1. Voilà.

Other tricks you’ll need for writing in InDesign

Info panel showing word and character counts in InDesign.Word count

If you like to keep track of how many words you’re spinning out, simply put your cursor anywhere in the story, go to Window > Info, and a small panel will pop up showing total word count and character count in the story.

Producing proofs for your editor

The editing phase is the one hiccup you’ll encounter when writing in InDesign. Chances are very great that your editor will not have the InDesign application, but they will know how to work in Word and PDFs. Ask which format is preferred.

To make a proof in Word, put your cursor in the text, Select All, then copy and paste into a new Word document. This is the easiest way to receive the edits, as you can accept each one individually (or en masse) in Word and then flow the text back into InDesign.

To make a PDF, go to File > Export, choose PDF format, and name the file. When you receive your editor’s comments on the PDF, you’ll need to retype each change in InDesign—directly into the layout, or by using Story Editor.

Stitching your chapters into one book

You might want to write your book with each chapter or section as a separate file. For Book Design Made Simple we did this because we took turns writing and reviewing each other’s work, and the files were huge.

For a book that is straight text, keep it all to one file for the sake of simplicity.

If you’ve been writing each chapter or section as a separate document, you’ll have to put them all together before you go to press. To do this, you’ll need to use InDesign’s Book feature, so please read our previous article for instructions.

A caution about hyperlinks. Is your book going to contain internal links such as “see page 62”? It will be tempting to make those links as you go along, but please don’t. We suggest setting up a temporary character style for the hyperlinks as you write, making the type a bright color so you can spot it later. Wait until your book is completely laid out before actually creating the hyperlinks (and a final hyperlink character style). We learned this lesson the very hard way by linking every entry in our index (about 1000 individual page links) before we changed our sections’ file names one final time. As soon as we changed the names, every single link disappeared, and—guess what—we had to redo the entire index plus hundreds of other internal links.

It’s fine to set up external hyperlinks to websites or email addresses as you write in InDesign or Word.

Will you write in InDesign?

We hope this article will help you decide whether writing in InDesign is for you or not. Just do what’s best for your situation because either way, your book is going to end up looking great.

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We thank our reader Donald Dunbar for suggesting this topic and sending us on an interesting journey of learning more about how to write in InDesign.

Read more: Why learn InDesign? » Making the transition
And more: The value of an editor » Why you really do need one

Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.

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