Georgia Rickard recounts the time when a magazine editor’s life suddenly seems part time-lapse, part dream sequence…
When I finished university I can clearly remember the relief I felt at no longer having to deal with the stressful rush that comes with trying to make assessment deadlines.
I was one of those students who firmly believed that Ps make degrees (who cares about high distinctions?).
So assessments were generally ignored until the night before they were due, at which point I would make myself a huge flask of espresso on the coffee machine at the pub where I worked, take it home and fill my poor body with simulated panic so I could write through the night.
Sometimes I’d even bartend first, till 1 or 2am, so I wouldn’t be starting the essay until halfway through the night. Back then the family computer was in my teenage brother’s room too, so the poor kid would have to put up with me muttering and swearing at the screen through the night, while he tried to sleep a metre or so away. Will, I owe you one.
What they failed to point out at university, however, is that leaving university to become a journalist is almost exactly like staying at university and not becoming a journalist.
You still think the media is full of unnecessary bureaucrats. You still subsist on coffee. You may still even require a bartending job. And, more than anything else, you still deal with the delightful anxiety of deadlines. Only now, instead of assessments they’re called ‘articles’, and instead of getting a grade and critique from your lecturer, you get critical tweets from your readers. Should I have become an ad exec instead?
Of course, the worst deadline of all deadlines is The Big One: the date that marks the end of an entire issue.
Everything has been flatplanned, commissioned, written, edited, re-flatplanned, sub-edited, fact-checked, shot, designed, designed again, sub-edited again, proof read, flatplanned once more, proof read once more. Then it’s time to send to the printers… or is it? It can’t be! Are we even finished?
We’re a fairly loud office. By their nature, the sales team are a boisterous lot, while our editorial team is constantly shouting questions at each other and sharing anecdotes about the time we met celebrity so-and-so, or the time we fell into the gutter as we waved goodbye to a client, or the time we sat in tomato sauce, whilst wearing white pants, whilst on a first date, and the date politely didn’t say anything because he thought we’d had a bit of an accident.
But on deadline, we all go quiet. Everyone becomes a bit more purposeful, and a lot more frantic. Healthy eating goes out the window. Heels are replaced with sneakers. Exercise just stops. The nights get late (sometimes), the days get long (often), and the jokes get really, really desperate (guaranteed).
Something else really strange happens: you enter The Fugue State. Wiki defines this as, “a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by reversible amnesia”.
In magazine land, it’s what happens when you suddenly decide, at the eleventh hour, that the cover option you’ve hated until now is actually really, really good. When, despite having stared at the same headline for the past three days, you fail to notice that it’s got a major typo on it.
Or when, as one major Australian magazine found out when they published a cookbook, that sometimes you can stare at a cover image for so long that you fail to notice that THERE’S A FLY ON THE FOOD. (Yes, this happened.)
Hopefully, you can get all the way through deadline without anything quite like that. Hopefully, instead you simply drag yourself to the finish line, collapse with disbelief that you’ve actually made it and swear to everyone around you that you’re never doing that again. (Which, of course, they ignore, because they’ve watched you go through it before.)
You sleep for an entire weekend, swear yourself off pizza forever and then, when the magazine arrives back from the printers a week later, you flick through it and feel rather surprised at how well it all managed to come together in the end.
And, like any good fugue state, you sort of… forget what kind of pain you went through.
Just in time to do it all over again.