As the director of the Ross Lawhead Writing Gestalt, plc (more on that in future posts), it falls to me to approve the final line edits for the books. It’s a fair amount of work that has to be done quite quickly, but it really is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. Almost everything that has gone before is mere creation or invention, it is in the final stages that the writing actually crystalises into a finished work of art — rather like putting gloss or varnish on a painting, or garden shed and then sitting down and watching it dry.
What usually happens is that one of the publisher’s editors (or, in this case, a freelancer) will go through the book and make changes and amendments to the book’s text and punctuation, to be later approved by one of the authors, or their representative. Mostly it comes down to the placement of commas.
Authors are always against the clock, but there was perhaps less time to approve the line edit this book than any of the others I’ve been a part of, due to the peculiar circumstances of its writing. Specifically, I had about 48 hours. With no moment to spare, I quickly took a nap and then left the house for supplies. Arriving home again, the countdown clock read 36 hours left to go, and I had over 115,000 words to approve, and who knew how many commas. I decided to set myself a challenge:
Can a 100,000+ page book be proofread in 24 hours? Samuel Johnson claimed it to be virtually impossible (famously telling a publisher ”sirrah, no-one but a blockhead ever proofread a book in less than a week”) and yet Walter Scott claimed to have done it several times, yet not in the presence of any witnesses. [NB including a very improbable eight hour proofing of Ivanhoe, "on the 29th day of May 1818, fair bright and balmie."] I decided to have a crack at it, using all of the best in modern methods. This is how I started:
Food & Drink
- Pain au Chocolats; Peri-Peri Chicken w/coleslaw; Shredded Chili Beef w/egg fried rice (local take out). Foods high in protein are good, as they are filling and can be broken down into carbohydrates by the body in a pinch. Pure carbohydrates can make you groggy and sluggish and so should be avoided, unless they are particularly tasty.
- Coffee, lots of coffee, naturally, to be taken in the morning. Tea to be taken in the afternoon, and store-brand energy drinks for the late hours. Water to be taken throughout. Keep hydrated!
- Miscellaneous – Chocolate chip muffins for tea, and sugary sweets for that little boost of energy at the odd hour.
- Superman baseball Tee - Comfortable and empowering. Shield easily wiped down after spillages.
- Jeans (daytime)
- Pajama bottoms (evening)
It’s important to keep bums on seats when proofing. Since it is largely a mechanical task, I find it helps to play some entertainment to help ease the monotony.
- X-Men Animated Adventures Season 3, Vol 4 (1994) – A good way to ease into the day. The influence of this cartoon is much under-rated. Plot usually revolves around character emotion, not just action. Bryan Singer owes much to these.
- Clerks. 10th Anniversary Edition – A classic. The writing far outshines the bad acting, and even gives it a sort of charm.
- Doctor Who: The Mind Robber – I’m a nut for Doctor Who, especially the old black and whites. This 2nd Doctor story is famous for that Wendy Padbury shot, as well as a very creatively absurd dodge of having a different actor play the part of Jamie for an episode, who was recovering from chicken pox, apparently. (It works rather well – the hardest aspect to come to terms with is the fact that the Brixton/Scots Highland accent is replaced by a much more genuine, but still prepostrous, Glaswegian/Highland accent). Also, make sure to watch the documentaries, they’re always good.
- Son of Frankenstein - Again, rather underrated… but not greatly underrated. This is the movie that Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein most parodies, and it does have its moments… once you get past the first 15 minutes. For some rason, the producers insist that you listen to a complete rundown of the plot of the previous two movies.
- Mr. Deeds Goes To Town - The original, and still the best. Interestingly, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was intended to be a dequel, but Gary Cooper did not want to return to reprise the role, so it was given to James Stewart. A bunch of actors did return, however, including Jean Arthur… who played a different character. That’s Hollywood. I’ve had a crush on Jean Arthur since 2002.
- My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys - I’m a big MCR fan, and a sucker for any album with a storyline. This is a very strong follow-up to Black Parade, and it appreciates more and more with each listen. The thinking man’s heavy rock band.
- Rope – I should have known better than to put this one on, since I continually found my eyes drawn to it. It’s shot with only one overt take, so even a sequence of people setting a table has a slightly breathless quality to it.
- Little Dorrit – The most recent adaption of my favourite Dickens novel. The BBC pulled out all the stops with this one. Andy Serkis as Rigaud is mermerising. I also have a crush on Clare Foy. I have a lot of crushes on unattainable personalities, whether famous, fictional, dead, or all three.
And so, well provisioned, I was away! Here follows my Twitter live feed from the moment I sat down to start, to the minute that I finished. I don’t remember writing a good many of them, which only shows the psychic stress that proof-reading enacts.
Hour 0- Coffee made, starting first push. Tesco muffins on sale, well provisioned. Spirits high. Let’s move some commas!
Hour 1 – Mind still focused. Halfway through first chapter, first pot of coffee, and season 3, vol 4 of X-Men animated series DVD.
Hour 2- First bowel movement of the day. Stool solid, dark, and evenly coloured. Water clear, but must keep hydrating! Chapter 1 almost done.
Hour 3- Feel a chill, though radiators on. Hope it’s not a circulatory problem (house/body). Chap 2 going smoothly- very few commas.
Hour 4- Folks taking me to lunch. V sympathetic to plight having “Ridden the Red Pencil Line to Book End” on numerous occasions themselves.
Hour 5- Back at desk, all proteined up. Too soon for more coffee? LOL! Course not! Bring it on! Lashings of hot coffee for all!
Hour 6- Feeling jittery, hard to control mouse. Palpitations. Sweaty/greasy face. Could chicken be disagreeing? Should drink more fluids.
Hour 7- Still in Chapter 2. Ran aground upon thick clutch of commas on page 28. Behind schedule. Have broken out the muffins.
Hour 8- What happened to all our lovely commas in Chapter 3? It’ll take hours to track them all down. Must maintain resolve.
Hour 9- Publish ind. seems on a vendetta against commas, to prevent them ever being used but in direst need. Unacceptable! #commasrock
Hour 10- proofing custom demands all ‘that’s be changed to ‘which’ & vice v. whatev the context. Important? Unsure. #shouldvelistenedtomother
Hour 11- Ch 4 has twice commas necessary for perfect clarity. Could comma sheets for ch 3 have been also entered onto 4? Heads will roll.
Hour 12- Halfway mark. After strong push have finished ch 4. Only 10 more to go! All downhill from here. Hardest is behind me.
Hour 13- WTF? Two chapter fives? Groan…
Hour 14- Fingers v cold. Must be a manufacturer who makes heated keyboards. Or… what happens to the fingers of fingerless gloves? #1m$idea
Hour 15- Quaffing copious cans of carbonated caffeine concoctions. DVDs gone, time for hi-octane tunes: My Chemical Romance, I summon thee.
Hour 16- Caffeine not giving much boost. Pulling all-nighter would make more sense if I’d had more than 6 hrs sleep last 2 nights running.
Hour 17- Threw a bunch of sugar into the mix. That & Chinese food not reacting well. But getting through the work. Both ch 5s behind me now.
Hour 20- Whoa, seem to have blacked out there for a while. Did I sleep? If so, why am I now in chapter 7? And who changed the DVD over?
Hour 21- Not focusing so well- eyes, that is. Seeing commas where commas couldn’t possibly be. Should take a shower. Then energy drinks.
Hour 22- Much refreshed. First doubts starting to form that I’ll meet 24 hr deadline after all. #sad
Hour 23- Closed my eyes and clicked approve button a couple hundred times. Opened them again on ch 10. Hope?
Hour 24- No. It can’t be done. I was a fool to try. Scott was a liar and a brigand. FAIL. Nevertheless, I must continue! Onwards!
Hour 25- Commas parade before my eyes every time I close them – rows upon rows, dancing jigs, driving floats… Solution: stop closing eyes.
Hour 29- Decided to stop tweeting for a spell. Think the 15 mins spent every hour drafting tweets really added up. Making some headway now.
Hour 32- End is in sight! Just before actual deadline, as well. Now just to compile my notes. Shouldn’t take more than a couple hours.
Hour 36- It’s off! And just under the wire. Looking out the window, the sky is pinkish. But sunrise or sunset? Impossible to say.