Copy

Why hard deadlines are your friends

Recently, I committed to two new stressful things.

Namely, sending this newsletter out fortnightly, and uploading a new video to my YouTube channel Jason Arnopp’s Terrifying House Of Obsession every single Sunday. This has imposed a rigid new structure to my working weeks. Even though this structure has applied more pressure to me, I wouldn't have it any other way, because hard deadlines are our friends. Stick with me and I’ll tell you how you can use deadlines to get more creativity done, no matter what level you’re currently at.

Here’s the thing: without a deadline for a project, how are you supposed to prioritise? How can you possibly decide what to do next if you don’t know when everything needs to be done? I’ve been a freelance writer for three decades now, in the fields of fiction and journalism (although many would call those two indistinguishable) and the first thing I ask when I’m commissioned to do something is when it needs to be done by.

Okay, sure… if a commissioning editor or a producer says, “Are you free next Friday?” I will ask what the job is first. Then I might ask about the money. But the first thing I’ll ask that’s actually relevant to actually getting the job done is the deadline.

I find it easy to step into line with a weekly pulse, because rock journalism instilled that rhythm in me. Exactly two decades ago, I was the news editor on Kerrang!, the world’s finest – and admittedly only – weekly rock magazine.

For a decade before that, I had been a freelancer for the magazine, headbanging to its weekly beat and delivering articles by mid-week because the magazine was put to bed every Friday, to come out the following Tuesday.

Being news editor on Kerrang! was a blast, but if I’d done it for much longer than 18 months I would have burned myself out. It was an amazing process, coming into the London office every Monday and seeing which blank pages I had to play with, then proceeding to fill them with news over the next few days, delivering one set of pages at a time. I would be lying to you if I said that the looming Friday deadline wasn’t terrifying, but that got-to-get-it-done-no-matter-what terror also directly translated into high-adrenaline excitement.

One Thursday night, I slept in the office, to make sure that the band Korn’s management had emailed over suitably high-resolution images of the band’s new US live show, because my main news story relied on that content. (Back then, in ye olde days, some of us didn’t have the proper internet at home!) Soon as the pictures showed up at 3am, I figured it was barely worth going home to Camden Town and coming back, so I dozed on a sofa just outside the office, able to sleep all the more soundly for the knowledge that I would reach my deadline that week.

I always met the deadline, because I had to. The unthinkable alternative would have been Kerrang! magazine hitting newsagents’ shelves with blank spaces where the news should be. And hard deadlines are our friends, because they create a sense of do-or-die urgency. When you’re zooming towards a hard deadline, it may as well be a brick wall. Failure is not an option.

Here is something I’d really like you to consider if you haven’t already: why should we wait for other people to give us a deadline? We are equally able to set deadlines for ourselves and our own pro-active, self-starting work.

Why do we have a tendency to treat deadlines from other people as somehow more serious than the ones we apply to ourselves?

So no matter what you’re doing, no matter what you’re creating, don’t wait for permission. Do not allow projects to wander on and on forever. Give yourself a deadline and make it concrete-hard. Regardless of whether you’re embarking on your first ever piece of fiction, or you’ve formed anything from a band to a start-up company, act as if your failure to finish your project by a week on Tuesday will result in absolute disaster. The equivalent of Kerrang! hitting the shelves blank.

When you make hard deadlines your friend, you make failure unthinkable, which can surely only lead to success.

P.S. I'm working up an idea for a new free service that will help keep creatives motivated and work towards their goals. Will keep you posted on that...
Hands down, the best photo I took in May. This fountain on Brighton's Old Steine had been out of commission for a while, with scaffolding all around it, but now it's looking pretty glorious. Took this pic from within the Brighton Spiegeltent - a gloriously carnival-esque enclosure which descends on Old Steine each May as part of the Brighton Fringe. Yep, this pic is very Instagram. Which is why I posted it on my author account.

Some things you should know about the proofreading stage of a novel

To ensure that we all start on the same page with this, let me explain the difference between the proof-reading process and, say, the copy-editing process.

The copy-editor reads your novel and makes a whole bunch of suggestions. Sometimes these are ways in which a sentence might flow more smoothly, be clearer in meaning or just be downright better. Other times, the copy-editor might identify a logic problem to ask you about. A potential plot-hole, in other words.

Just like the rest of the edit process, copy editing is awesome. Copy editors are horribly unsung, given that they can make you look like a better writer than you actually are. Crucially, they’re a fresh pair of eyes, bringing a fresh take to a book which you and your editor have both read several times by then.

I still remember a sentence in my first Orbit Books novel The Last Days Of Jack Sparks, which my copy-editor improved so much by suggesting the use of the word “solicit”. I think it was Jack saying he would solicit the combat magician Sherilyn Chastain’s views on something. Whatever it was, that suggestion made the sentence flow like a dream. And I TOOK ALL THE CREDIT, MWAH-HAH-HAHHHH

When you get your manuscript back, full of the copy-editors’ suggestions, you go through the whole thing and say yes or no to each of them. Yes, you do have that power of veto, but it’s one to wield wisely and carefully. Why? Because it cannot be overstated how much the copy-editor offers a fresh perspective on your project. For instance, if something wasn’t clear to them about your book, on a macro or micro level, then chances are it really could do with clarification.

During the copy edit, you’re not just responding to the copy-editor’s suggestions and questions – you’re reading through the whole thing again. At this stage, you’re still able to get hands-on with the Word file and make pretty much all the changes you want. And this, it’s important to note, is your last chance to carry out any serious surgery the book needs to undergo.

So that’s the copy edit. What’s the proof read, then? This is the final stage of production – for you, the author, at least. Different production editors no doubt go about this differently, but in the cases of Ghoster and The Last Days Of Jack Sparks, I was sent the type-set novel through the post, across about 450 A4 pages. It’s a glorious moment, when you get to see your novel laid out on the pages, just as it will look in the finished version. Or at least, close to how it will look, because this is your final chance to make changes.

You read through the whole thing (again) and mark up any issues you find. The difference this time, is that you’re looking for micro rather than macro. Typos, small plot-holes, things like that. You no longer have the Word file to tamper with. Instead, you’ll be communicating a list of changes you’d like to your production editor – and this list needs to be as brief as humanly possible. In fact, if the proposed changes are “excessive”, then they may incur financial charges! And these may well be passed on from the publisher to you.

Yeah. This doesn’t get talked about much, does it, eh? But the bottom line is: the proof reading stage should never be thought of as this huge, all-encompassing safety net, and your production editor should not be thought of as someone who’s going to be willing or able to make hundreds of corrections to the manuscript on your behalf. Even if they’re as super-cool as Orbit’s managing editor Joanna Kramer, who has overseen the production of Ghoster and The Last Days Of Jack Sparks.

The thing is, we’re authors, which means we’re rarely 100 per cent happy with our work. Certainly not our writing, anyway. So with Ghoster, for instance, I saw various sentences during the proofing stage that I wanted to try and ‘perfect’. In the end, though, I had to accept that most of these sentences were actually fine. I chose instead to prioritise anything that was an actual mistake, as opposed to my endless quest for a perfect sentence. Besides, there’s always the danger that last-minute changes will cause you to, for instance, use a word which has already been overused elsewhere in the text. In fact, some last-minute changes run the risk of tipping over the whole apple cart. One careless eleventh-hour 'correction' could actually screw the plot, so tread lightly.

Once you reach a certain point with a novel, you just have to accept that it’s done.

And as of Thursday morning, when I hit Send on an email to Joanna with the list of proof amendments attached, Ghoster is done.

Come October 24, if you are of a mind to do so, you’ll get to read the novel and spot any typos we missed. Just, please, for the love of God, don’t tell me about any of them.

Here’s Ghoster at Amazon. Pre-orderliness is next to godliness. Hoping to share the cover with you very soon, to see what you think.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada
Today's new YouTube video gives Doctor Who fans the chance to win a signed copy of The Last Days Of Jack Sparks, complete with limited edition Jack Sparks bookmark. Woo! All you have to do is take part in the Classic Doctor Who quiz, comprised of questions I've selected from Target's 1981 Quiz Book. You get to win my personal copy of the quiz book, as well as the signed Sparks. Check it out.

A handy note for YouTube creators: since starting the channel, I've found the browser extension TubeBuddy to be invaluable for SEO and all kinds of helpful behind-scenes stuff. The basic version is free. This week, they added a nice feature that helps you get rid of duplicate tags, which is going to be really handy.

PARTING SHOTS

  • I revived my Snapchat account and will be posting video thoughts on writing over there, as I will also be doing on Instagram TV.
  • In case you missed it: I started a new Instagram account about my life as a rock journalist to complement my regular author-blog Insta account
  • I now have an Amazon UK storefront on which I curate lists of stuff, like My Favourite Horror Films On Blu-ray And DVD.
  • I love you like nobody's fackin' business, you know that? Thanks SO much for subscribing and for reading this far. Let me give you a 30% discount code for the books in my Payhip store. This code, LIMITED30, will only work for the first 30 people who use it. Just plug it in during the checkout process. See you in two weeks!
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