Work Faster with Long Documents
InDesign has a number of great features to help make book and other long document production simpler. Besides syncing styles and master pages across documents, InDesign can automatically add blank pages to the end of a chapter when your last page lands on a recto. It can also update page, chapter and section numbers on the fly. This not only saves time, it can save you from embarrassing mistakes. You can enable these features in the Book Page Numbering Options in the Book Panel flyout menu.
This stuff is really handy when you begin pouring text into your chapters, but you’ll find that things can slow down dramatically as you edit the copy, adjust spacing and margins, or add and remove images. The more linked files you have in your chapters, the worse things get. If you have cross-references or other internal hyperlinks, InDesign can really slow to a crawl.
To understand why, we have to dig into what InDesign is doing behind the scenes. It’s doing a lot more than meets the eye. Willy Wonka’s industrious Oompa Loompas had nothing on the feverish activity that is InDesign in Long Document mode.
Inside the Document Factory
Let’s say you have a fairly small book: 20 chapters plus front matter. Automatic pagination is turned on, and the author has added a paragraph to the Preface in the front matter, which results in an extra page. In order to keep things up to date, InDesign must now open the next document, Chapter 1, update its page numbers, save the changes and close it again. Then it has to do the same for Chapter 2, and Chapter 3… twenty times in all!
That’s a lot of disk activity. With a fast hard drive such as an SSD, it might not be too bad if that were the only thing going on. But it’s not the only thing, not by a long shot.
In the File Handling section of InDesign’s preferences, there is a seldom-noticed section called “Links.” By default, “Check Links Before Opening Document” and “Find Missing Links Before Opening Document” are turned on. For most documents, this is what you want, but when InDesign must update chapters of a book, and those book chapters have linked illustrations, graphics, or photographs, that might mean checking for a dozen or more other files for each chapter.
Then there’s the matter of cross-references, if your book has them, or internal hyperlinks to text anchors in another chapter. Creating them tends to be a tedious process, but it’s not made any more enjoyable by having to browse for the document that contains the destination.
There is a command in the Book Panel flyout, “Update All Cross-References.” You might think that means “Update All Things Related to Cross-References only when I click this,” but it doesn’t. Buried in the InDesign Help under “Managing Cross-References” is this little gem:
“If the destination moves to a different page, the cross-reference is updated automatically.” [Emphasis mine.]
Oops. That means that every time the page count of a chapter changes, InDesign will update the later page numbers and comb the entire book to update any cross-references. If a paragraph in Chapter 20 is referenced from Chapter 1 and you change the page count of Chapter 5… well, you begin to see where this is going. Before long, InDesign is spending most of its time opening, updating, rewriting, and closing files in a valiant attempt to wear out your hard drive before its time.
Even something simple, like synchronizing styles in the book documents, can take a very long time — go-make-some-coffee-and-come-back kind of time — if the book is very large and has lots of illustrations.
Managing the Madness
Turning off automatic page numbering and link checking, once your chapter count gets large, can certainly help to calm things down, but any operation that involves updating other chapters than the one you have open can still take a while. You must also keep track of the preferences you’ve now turned off, and you still haven’t touched that automatic updating of hyperlinks and cross-references.
There is another potential downside to all this behind-the-scenes updating: because documents are being opened, saved, and closed in the background, there is no “Undo.” If you need to undo some global change in just one of the chapters, you’ll have to open it and change it back manually.
The elephant in the room is all that disk activity, and the simplest way to make almost all of it go away is to open all the book documents and keep them open while you’re working.
Unless you’re working with a very limited amount of RAM, all of your documents will be in memory, and nothing need be written to disk except InDesign’s recovery files until you Save All (Ctl-Alt-Shift-S/Cmd-Opt-Shift-S). Suddenly things will start to go a lot faster.
Synchronizing styles across all chapters takes half to one-tenth the time if all documents are open. Cross-references can be created in minimal time and update immediately any time there’s a change in page count. Automatic page, section and chapter numbering is seamless.
There is a potential hidden bonus with regard to hyperlinks and cross-references. There were many reports of bugs with cross-references that spanned documents in earlier versions of InDesign, but the only time these ever showed up in my work was when I didn’t have all the book documents open. Keep them open, then, and you’re much less likely to hit problems.
You can also turn off automatic pagination in the Book Page Numbering Options, if your system isn’t fast enough and you really can’t stand the lag.
Hidden Shortcuts that Help
One thing that makes people avoid opening dozens of documents at a time is the tedious process of saving and closing them. That’s where two useful keyboard shortcuts that are (for no good reason I can think of) missing from InDesign’s File menu come to the rescue.
Ctrl/Cmd-Alt/Opt-Shift-S saves all open documents. Ctrl/Cmd-Alt/Opt-Shift-W closes all open documents.
To open all of the documents in a book, highlight them all in the Book panel then double-click one document. Why there is no “Open All Book Documents” in the Book panel menu is another mystery. But at least now you know what you can do to get better performance and fewer problems working with long documents in InDesign.