FROM APATHY TO
(and back again!)
Or what goes on inside a Diskmag editor's head from the start to finish of
In the very beginning.
It all starts shortly after finishing the last one. You look at the huge and
well accomplished nature of the publication, and wonder how you did it? You
despair of doing it all again. And it's August, and nothing much seems to be
happening in the scene world at large. You are feeling like you don't want
to look at another diskmag made by yourself ever again...
A hard and rocky road to climb.
The key to doing this successfully goes something like this. Don't ever try
to contemplate the wholeness of what you are doing. Don't try to calculate
the man-hours you are going to spend on this enterprise. Holding the concept
in your brain will hurt goddamn awfully, as surely as staring intently at a
sudden sunburst coming through a gap in the clouds would. In these early
days, the thing is to take it bit by bit, the occasional article here, the
odd useful comment tucked in there.
Once you get into writing, then you'll find it hard to stop, even in those
early or fallow days. You actually get into the habit of being a bit of an
"anecdote hoover", constantly looking for something interesting to write
about. This is a good habit to pick up, if you are thinking of making a
serious career in journalism or any other writing field.
Picking up some bulk around the middle.
The comment above only partially refers to the physical effect of my liking
for burger and chips! After a few more weeks and a bit more work, your
collected articles starts to look like a bare bones layout for the next
issue. You're not entirely sure, but there might be something there that can
be called the next issue? So you start to lay plans, and put together a
definite time table, toying idly with release dates, and fantasising about
the brilliant cover piccies and intros that are coming your way.
Battle of Witlessness.
But of course life is never that simple, it would not be lifelike otherwise!
The eternal struggle between a diskmag editor and their contributors is the
single biggest conflict of civilisation, forget America vs Iraq, forget the
mere playground scuffle that is Good vs Evil, this one eclipses the lot!
It all starts in the suavely self-confident mid-period of an issue
gestation, and goes right on to the last minute, and often beyond it! This
is a losing battle from the diskmag editors end, they lack the more
persuasive means of prompting delivery favoured by nine out of ten
authoritarian regimes worldwide, such as whips, guns etc. We can only
cajole, nag, tease, and run the constant risk of offending contributors if
we say the slightest wrong thing, and we do this unintentionally, not
realising until the offended party storms off! This is a heartfelt plea to
any contributors who may have felt a bit put out by what they see as the
unreasonable megalomaniac behaviour of their editors. Sorry guys, *none* of
it was meant in ill-will, and you will realise why things like that happen,
once you've read the rest of this article!
Contributors, unless they are part of the diskmag production team inner
circle, and well into the writing habit (see above), tend to regard the act
of text creation as a fourth or fifth line of interest. This comes well
after their prior scene occupation, and further down the line from, say,
picking their toenails? I wonder whether for some people whether the act of
creating text is clashing with some unresolved psychological hangover from
their writing-up-homework-on-the-bus-to-school days?
Other people do genuinely enjoy writing, and really mean to get around to
doing their promised article, but they operate on a totally different time-
band to you, thinking they have loads of time even when it has run out. Not
to mention an amazing email blindness to anything with the subject title of
"YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS NEEDED - NOW!!!"
It is safe to say, that the contributor/diskmag editor relationship is one
of the most fraught on the scene, and the cause of probably not a few
diskmag editors hanging up their keyboards afterwards!
The last days before the fall of Saigon..
It is now the last few days to the promised issue release date, and everyone
knows it. Pressure, pressure! You are obsessed. Even in non-diskmag editing
moments, you are frantically making up and revising lists of who is doing
what, and more pertinently, who is still to do what! This is the hardest
working period of the issue. You are desperately filling in gaps, not so
much the majestic gold-throned heroic editor figure, grandly deciding what
makes the grade and what needs to be rewritten, but more of a general
dogsbody with a hurriedly dabbled finger in everything...
This is not so much a problem with Alive! at least from my own point of
view. (This is one of Seb's headaches!) But some grimmer days of Maggie have
seen me trying to stretch some very thin graphical and musical resources to
cover some huge omissions. In my long time as the Maggie editor, I
discovered some major bodging talents I never knew I had! (But nor did other
people when they saw the end result!)
A kind coder offers an intro. This is cool, but it adds another layer of
panic to the final days before release. Comments pop up which aren't
welcome, often along the lines of "It doesn't seem to run on a standard
memory Falcon for some reason?"
The dying minutes..
You have now retreated totally into diskmag production reality. Nothing else
matters, nothing else exists! All time and space is occupied by the three-
quarters built frankenstein corpse of an issue you have sitting on your hard
drive. All communications with fellow scene beings, by email, IRC, telephone
and smoke signals solely consists of the three words "WHERE IS IT?" All non-
essential communications with other humanity, loved ones etc has been cut
off, and if they've got any sense, they will leave you well alone!
So this is the perfect time for shell coders to experiment with new features
and introduce some new bugs! It is also a good time to try something new
with the existing shell and crash into new and undocumented "features" that
stop the whole thing working!
This is the moment to lose what you need to finish the issue. I've only ever
managed to screw up the odd cover picture (easily replaced) and accidentally
delete the occasional textfile (recovered, thank you Knife ST!)
But one unfortunate diskmag author, operating a floppy-based ST set-up back
in '94 managed to tread on and crush his main articles disk, AND the back-up
disk! A series of begging letters to his contributors followed, most of whom
had remembered to keep copies of their articles. So always keep a secure
back-up of your text. It hasn't been needed yet, but I don't intend ever to
be caught with my diskmag editing trousers down around my ankles!
Contributors, make sure you keep your freshly written missives up to the
release date, as you never know when additional copies might be needed owing
to the clumsy stupidity of the editor concerned (gulp!)
Bit by bit, it comes together, gaps are filled, contributions trickle in
sullenly, like schoolkids faced with a stiff session of double maths after
the break. Now comes the struggle to fit it all onto a disk...
This bit of the whole diskmag production palava tends to come under the
category of "afterthought"...
Back in the days of Maggie, we made a point of pride of fitting it all on to
a single example of its portable storage media. Double sided floppy for the
ST edition, and the luxury of a high density PeeCee style floppy for the
Falcon version. For us, a "disk magazine" meant just that, not a "hard disk
magazine", like the later issues of the Diskbusters magazine. That was just
being lazy ;-) (Now don't go on about the final issue breaking that golden
rule, we'd stopped caring by then!)
It would be easy enough if it were just a case of combining shell and text.
But it gets more interesting when people offer intros that tend to be on the
'large' side, and then there is an increasing load of pictorial material to
squeeze in there somehow. This figured more and more in later issues of
Maggie, but really comes into its own with the graphics-friendly text
displayer of Alive! I must find out sometime how Seb manages to get so much
Eventually, you find a way of getting it all on there, editors are clever
like that (grin!) Then the tedious job of testing it, click on article,
scroll down, repeat until you lose the will to live (yawn!)
This is the perfect time to discover that the text formatting in the diskmag
text displayer, isn't *quite* how you intended it to be!
Maggie, from issue 18 had two separate menu shells, they had some features
in common with each other, but other things worked out differently. One of
the difference parts concerned text file formatting, with plain ASCII used
for the Falcon shell, and 1st Word text for the ST version. We later
streamlined it all out for both to use 1st Word, but a textfile meant for
the other, loaded into the wrong text displayer, could look interesting to
say the least.
Okay, so it all finally works now, it looks good, you've checked it again to
make sure it really does work, and you're just writing up the final
readme.1st textfile, then it's zipped up, and you're uploading....
Strangely Empty Final Stage.
And Atariscne Channel suddenly goes dead on your announcement, abandoned
western goldrush town sort of quiet, as they all rush off to get their copy.
You've done it again, grasshopper editor-san person, another issue out in
the world, and at a cost of only half the premature hair-loss of the last
But you feel flat and empty. The thing that has dominated your life for the
past weeks has gone, new and boundless possibilities open up, but you are
too mentally flattened to realise it. You could not be any more zombielike
even if you trailed your arms on the floor crying out "Nuuurrrrrr, need
And before too long, you are missing it. Guiltily, you start the long haul
for the next one.
So ask yourself, is this a normal state of mind, or is it an addiction!?
CiH, August '02,for Alive! Mag.