Writing Tools – Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign probably shouldn’t be thought of as a writing tool, but for some of us it’s very much a tool for writers. InDesign provides facilities for very powerful and flexible publication development in many areas, certainly far beyond books and stories. But in the context of writing per se, it’s a tool that I find indispensable when a manuscript is 90% edited and ready to start looking like a book.

Even if I’m not planning on providing the final design & typesetting of a publication, it’s still very useful to view the document as if it were finished and published. There’s nothing quite like reading your carefully crafted opus in a polished PDF that looks like it was printed. Suddenly all manner of gaffs and misteaks come to light. (My god! Did I actually say that?) 

InDesign occupies a strange region that embraces graphic design, presentation design, document development, and publishing, along with several other less obvious areas. InDesign is extremely powerful, and has essentially eclipsed Quark Express for most text layout among publishing professionals. It has been evolving rapidly in recent years, with new features for “responsive design” (documents that can adapt to full-size displays, tablets, and phones) and interactive features that digital users have come to expect. At the same time, it’s entirely appropriate for building books, magazines, catalogs, and the like. Some very specialized third-party publication systems use InDesign (and its little sister InCopy) to manage complex mass periodicals. Many of the slick, interactive e-Magazines now appearing on tablets are developed InDesign. It is also widely used to produce less flashy eBook editions for Kindle e-ink readers and Kindle apps.

At the same time, InDesign contains a substantial set of graphic tools that are likely to be needed while designing a document for publication. Some experts claim that InDesign is as powerful as Adobe Illustrator for general graphics work. In fact, the overlap with Illustrator is significant, although most shared capabilities are implemented slightly differently.

How does one differentiate InDesign from other writing and design tools?

First, InDesign is not intended for writing. You can certainly write “inside” an InDesign document, or use InCopy to develop content for a document being built with InDesign. You can open InDesign’s “story editor” to work with plain, unadorned text, thereby avoiding having to interact with text frames, threading, page layouts, and the like. But trying to write something even as graphically simple as a novel would be needlessly cumbersome. I’ve done it, because I really like InDesign, but I don’t do it any more — instead I write mostly in Scrivener and then import clean RTF into InDesign to prepare the printed book. Fortunately, I can also export into Kindle format using Amazon’s Kindle plugin (which, as of 2013, has become quite trouble-free for non-complex books).

Second, InDesign is a complex, professional document development powerhouse — it’s really not well suited for the faint of heart, or for the weekend designer. But if you’re seriously planning on making a full-blown publication, with high quality typesetting and refined graphical aesthetics, InDesign is very much the tool of choice.

I’ve said before that it’s important to separate writing from designing, and I find the combination of Scrivener and InDesign to be a rather excellent model of that separation. But I should add that self-publishing doesn’t have to involve wearing every hat in the publishing company. A good designer, even a non-professional, might produce significantly better results in InDesign than a good writer without much design experience.

Postscript: I have recently (2020) discovered a stripped-down analog to Scrivener called SmartEdit Writer. It’s free, and contains some fascinating tools for analyzing text to uncover misused words, hackneyed phrases, etc. Highly recommended.

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