Fixing "runts" in InDesign using GREP

A runt is an unappealing short line at the end of a paragraph. It's usually only one word, but sometimes it's a couple or three really short words. 

Runts are sometimes known as widows, but a widow is the first line of a new paragraph at the bottom of a page (an orphan, on the other hand, is the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page). I really hate the term "runt", and I wish whoever coined the term had called them urchins, to preserve the Dickensian tone. The term runt is all over the internet now, so I guess we are stuck with it.

As far as I can tell, Robert Bringhurst doesn't have a name for them at all. In The Elements of Typographic Style, he writes "Avoid leaving the stub-end of a hyphenated word, or any word shorter than four letters, as the last line of a paragraph."

I'm much less lenient than Bringhurst. I prefer the last line of my paragraph to be at least a third of the measure (column width). This sometimes creates spacing issues if you're using justified alignment without hyphenization (which I almost always am). I'd rather have a short last line than ugly spacing.

Manually fixing runts

One way to fix runts is to replace the space between the last two or three words with a non-breaking space (InDesign: Opt+Cmd+X). Another way is to create a character style called "No Break" which has the "No Break" option checked under "Basic Character Formats". Both these methods are tedious, so I prefer to let InDesign do the work for me using GREP styles.

Automatically fixing runts

In the Paragraph Style Options editor, select the GREP Style tab and create a new GREP style.

Next to Apply Style, select your No Break style, or create one. You might want to create a new style based on "No Break" called something like "fix runts", and temporarily set the character color to red. This will show exactly which words are being affected, and you can easily scan the document looking for spacing issues.

Which characters are being affected are determined by the GREP expression you put in the To Text: field. My own expertise in GREP is limited to knowing when it can save me time and being able to hack it enough to suit my needs. I've collected the following GREP expressions from various places on the internet:

My favorite GREP expression for fixing runts

I love this one because of it's simplicity.

.{10}$

This ensures that the last ten characters of a paragraph are never broken. I usually change this value to 15 or 20. Sometimes, I'll create separate paragraph styles with lower values and none at all to use in the event of weird spacing issues.

Other GREP expressions for fixing runts

From a very helpful page on GREP styles. You'll find an in-depth discussion of this expression over there.

\s(?=\w+~S?[[:punct:]]$)

I'll add more as I come across them.

Creative Nutrition

Athletes don’t eat the same way regular people eat. The food they consume is carefully considered for the effect it will have on their performance. An athlete’s body is his medium, and if he wants to compete at their maximum potential, he has to treat his body like it is as important as it is.

The artist doesn’t consume media the same way regular people consume media. The artist knows that the quality of work he produces is directly proportional to the quality of media he consumes, so he chooses carefully the things that enter his brain to fuel his imagination. The writer who only reads inside his genre and the songwriter who only listens to the music on the radio won’t be able to produce important, vital art.

The gradual, unintentional sacrifice that I’ve made as an artist is that I no longer seek entertainment. When I watch movies, read novels, or listen to music it is with the singular purpose of fueling my imagination. There are few best sellers in my reading queue. If I, as an artist, am to compete at my maximum potential, I must fill my imagination with images, mythology, and philosophy that will ferment in my subconscious, then randomize and recombine as inspiration.

I must treat my imagination like it is as important as it is.

1000-Word Productivity System

This is a bare-bones productivity system that anyone can do for very little money. It's pretty light on the philosophy to keep it under 1000 words.

This system borrows liberally from the work of David Allan, Michael Linenberger, Merlin Mann, and common sense.

You'll need:

  • At least 2 reliable pens
  • Staple-bound pocket notebook
  • Calendar (physical or virtual)
  • Some way to write and maintain lists, such as:
    • nvAlt (Mac) or ResophNotes (PC) and a Dropbox account or
    • Google Drive or
    • A Text editing application of your choice or
    • A loose-leaf notebook

Step 1: Get it out of your head

At the top of a sheet of paper, write "I am feeling stressed because...", and write at least 20 answers to that statement. It's no big deal if you can't come up with 20 answers, but you should try, even if you have to make stuff up.

Repeat the same process for the following statements:

  • I am upset because...
  • I wish I didn't...
  • I feel satisfied and fulfilled when I...
  • Every day I should...
  • I really need to finish...

The statements above are designed to address your life as it is today. Optionally, consider finishing the following lists, or making up lists of your own.

  • This year, I'd like to...
  • My kids would really love it if I...
  • My spouse would love it if I...
  • I'm really passionate about...
  • If I had unlimited time and resources, I'd...
  • If I didn't care about what people thought of me, I'd...

Step 2: Cull the herd

For each item on your lists ask the following questions:

  • What would happen if I didn't do this?
  • Is the payoff worth the investment?
  • Is this something I should really do, or something I feel I ought to do?

Based on your answers, cross though as many items on the lists as possible. Once they're gone, forget about them. Let go of them. They're just weighing you down.

Interlude: Tasks and projects

The difference between tasks and projects

A task is a physical action that can be completed in one session. A project is composed of two or more related tasks, and is often more abstract and conceptual than tasks.

Building a house is a project. Installing a door is a task, assuming you already have all of the tools and hardware. If not, it's a project, with tasks like: buy a door, buy hinges, find screwdriver, drink beer, ask John to help me hang the door, et cetera.

Be sure not to get too hung up in planning every possible task for each project. It ends up being counterproductive.

Writing actionable tasks

Write tasks as if you are giving them to a temporary assistant. Make them as specific as necessary and include any useful information.

Bad example:

Email Pete

Good example:

Email Pete (pete@email.com) re: potential freelance design work

A good format is verb + subject + reason.

Next Actions

According to David Allan, "a Next Action is your physical, visible next step. Some of these are project related, some are not."

Step 3: Sort into tasks and projects

Referencing the items left after the cull, create a list for tasks and another for projects. Be sure to write actionable tasks.

Look over your projects list again, and be sure that there is a next action for each project on your task list.

Step 4: Using the notebook

Master list/Inbox

Open your notebook to the centerfold (the middle spread where you can see the staples). Starting on the first page on the right, copy all of your tasks into your notebook.

From now on, write down every task, idea, phone number, book recommendation or whatever at the end of this list. It's okay if it gets messy.

If there's a due date associated with the item, write "DUE MM/DD" at the beginning of the line.

Once you've copied an item from your master list onto your daily list, mark it off.

Daily List

At the top of the first page of the notebook, write today's date. You'll do this on a new page every day.

Critical

Look at your task list. Is there anything you absolutely must do today? If so, write a heading like "Critical", "Hot", "Urgent & Important", or whatever effectively communicates that sense of urgency to you, and list those items here. You can put stars or exclamation marks in the margin for emphasis.

If you could possibly do it tomorrow do not post it here.

You should never have more than 5 items in this list. Ever. It's perfectly okay to not have any.

Upcoming

If there's anything on your master list that is due in the next week or two, write it under another heading called "Upcoming" along with any appropriate due dates.

Step 5: The Daily Ritual

Morning

  • Check your calendar
  • Work on something fun and/or fulfilling to get you started
  • Work on your critical items

Afternoon

  • Check your email (consider checking your email once a day, as late as possible) and enter any potential tasks into your master list
  • Spend no more than 2 minutes cleaning your desk

Evening

  • Write your list for the next day
    • Choose your critical items
    • Transfer any uncompleted tasks to the next page
    • Check your master list to see if anything is coming up in the next week or two
  • Enter events from your master list/inbox into your calendar

Miscellanea

Say no whenever you can. The idea is to get your todo list as short as possible.

Delegate tasks whenever possible.

If something is really important to you, do it before lunch.

Be productive, don't "do productivity".

Consider keeping some index cards in your notebook for things like shopping lists and random notes.

You could keep a short list of active projects on one of those index cards.

Look into 30/30 Minute Work Cycle.

Look into the Seinfeld Streak Calendar.

Read "One Minute Todo List" by Michael Linenberger. It's a free ebook. You have to sign up for it, but it's not spammy, and totally worth the tiny effort.

Taking a decent headshot for publication: tips for the non-photographer.

I'm constantly being emailed substandard photographs which lower the property values of my beautiful layouts. Enough was enough, so I wrote these guidelines to email to long-distance clients.

The Ideal Portrait

The ideal portrait is a studio portrait taken by a competent photographer and saved at high resolution without compression (such as a TIFF file). If possible, have the photographer forward the file directly to us.

TIFF is the standard image format for print. JPG files usually leave out information to save space, while usable, this is not the most desirable option. GIF files aren't ever good for photographs, even on the web.

The Next Best Thing

If you don't have a studio portrait, here are some tips for taking a decent portrait on your own:

  • Leave plenty of space around the subject. The more headroom the subject has, the more options I have in composing and cropping the photograph.
  • Use natural light, preferably outside on an overcast day. On sunny days, the light is too harsh and causes the subject to squint. Overcast days provide naturally diffused light which will make your subject appear more attractive.
  • If you have a camera with manual focus, make the background as out of focus as possible.
  • Use a neutral background that contrasts with the subject.
  • Watch out for objects in the background that stick out of the top of the subject's head (such as telephone poles or tree branches).
  • Be aware of glare and reflections in glasses.
  • Don't use flash. Flash destroys the shadows which make the face appear 3-dimensional on a 2-dimensional surface (paper or screen). This is what adds those proverbial ten pounds in photographs.
  • Did I mention not to use flash?
  • An exception: the only time you should EVER use flash when taking a portrait is when you have no choice but to take the photo on a sunny day and there are lots of distracting shadows on the subject's face.
  • Take lots of photos. Professional photographers might take a hundred photos for every one that gets used.

Resolution and File Size

The larger the file, the better it reproduces in print. The standard resolution (amount of detail) for a photo on the web is 72 ppi (pixels per inch). The standard resolution for a printed photograph (in a magazine, for example) is 300 ppi. A photograph at standard resolution will reproduce on paper at approximately 25% the size that it will on a web page.

A 4" x 5" photo will have the dimensions of 1200 x 1500 pixels.

Follow these guidelines and you will make a graphic designer very happy.

Don't blame your tools. Just start making stuff.

There’s very little you can’t do with what you already have. In fact, you’re probably better off simplifying and doing more with less. If you want to write, and you need a fancy new Italian journal before you get started, lacking a journal isn’t your problem. If you want to be an artist, you don’t need the best paper or brushes, all you need is a surface and something to make a mark. Writers have been writing masterpieces on the backs of envelopes and receipts for centuries; world-shattering art can be created by simply signing, per Duchamp, a urinal with a pseudonym.

It’s nice to have the best tools, and when a difference needs to be made, they’ll definitely make the difference. Professionals almost always use the best tools available because that edge is necessary to remain competitive. Give a brilliant photographer a shitty disposable camera, however, and they’ll take a brilliant photograph. A real artist is a craftsman (the reverse is also true), and understands the strengths and limitations of the tools and materials at hand and how to use them to their advantage.

There are practitioners in every field who are focused on the accessories rather than the work. To them, status and acquisition is more important than accomplishment.

A real artist can create real art with anything, no matter how humble. Some of the most transcendent music ever recorded was played on second-hand, second-rate guitars with high action and boxy tone. Some of the most important art ever created was made by scratching lines into the wall of a cave with a rock.

Monthly Streak Calendar

In honor of rebooting my website, I'd like to share a printable monthly streak calendar (also known as the Seinfeld Calendar) that I made for myself this morning. 

via Lifehacker:

[Jerry Seinfeld] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."

"Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis

There are tons of things I'd like to do every day: meditate, play my guitar, draw, exercise, attain Inbox Zero. It's easy to let these things slip away out of either lack of motivation or simple distraction. I've gone months without meditating, even though it's really beneficial and takes very little time or effort.

I don't completely lack discipline, however. I've been reading at least 50 pages every day with the goal of reading 52 books this year. I've also been writing 250 words daily. So far, my writing hasn't been very focused, but I might start working on a novella next week. 

Download the Monthly Streak Calendar (pdf)

Download the Monthly Streak Calendar (pdf)