If you’ve ever had your home redecorated, you’ll be familiar with a snag list. It might include a poorly painted windowsill, a chipped radiator or, more seriously, a trickle of water suddenly appearing following some heavy-duty construction work. A good builder will resolve all issues they were responsible for, leaving your home safe, dry and comfortable.
For all self-respecting writers, a snag list is an essential part of our work. We don’t always get things right first time and, since no style suits all clients, adaptability is key. In the overwhelming majority of cases, my clients and I read from the same page (pardon the pun), reaching a mutually agreed conclusion of their project. They’ll make a number of suggestions, as will I, and between us we produce content that we are both proud of.
In a writer’s line of work, a snag list doesn’t necessarily correlate with mistakes/typos – certain words might be favoured over others; some revelations made in earlier drafts of, say, a memoir might, after careful consideration, require removal for reasons of privacy, not wishing to hurt others’ feelings, or be legally contentious; or perhaps a story’s conclusion might require revision, if something isn’t quite working.
This is all absolutely fine and completely expected. We ghosts operate without vanity and, personally, I view a snag, or corrections, list as little more than an exchange of words; an opportunity to enhance text. I don’t always agree with a client’s suggestions but, ultimately, that’s irrelevant, given that the client’s word is final (at least until a publisher is brought into the mix – they invariably have suggestions of their own, which the ghost/client will be expected to adhere to).
So, if you’re already working with a ghostwriter, or are considering doing so, don’t fear presenting your collaborator with anything you’re unhappy with, or think could be improved upon. A good ghost is much like a translator, acting as a medium through which your story will be told with as much skill, sensitivity and endeavour as possible. Yes, we are there to guide as well, but corrections should never be viewed as a blow to one’s ego. Providing realistic expectations are in play, a snag list can trigger the polish that will make your project complete, ready to be dispatched with confidence and excitement into the wider world.
Spencer Honniball is a screenwriter, author and ghostwriter whose latest ghostwritten book, The Home, will be published by Ebury in 2019.