December 1, 2019

Weekly Emails

Book update

It’s been about a month since I finished the first draft of my book, a project I’ve been working on since early 2016.

Read Time 3 minutes

It’s been about a month since I finished the first draft of my book, a project I’ve been working on since early 2016. It’s very long, about 180,000 words (which, if published now, would be over 600 pages) and far from publishable, but it is, at least, a completed draft. I wish I could say it feels “great” or feels like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders, feelings I came to expect as I inched closer to this point. But strangely I feel anything but. I feel, instead, like I’m at mile 20 of a marathon. Anyone who has run a marathon knows that mile 20, while past the geometric half-way point of the race, represents about the experiential half-way point. Though only 6.2 miles remain, you tend to expend as much energy, both physical and emotional, in that remaining 6.2 miles as you did in the first 20.  

When I was marathon swimming, I always kept this in mind during my training. If I was training for a 20-mile swim, I knew I needed to train to get to about 16 miles with relative ease, to stack the odds in my favor for a successful swim. I have many stories of how that insight proved valuable on game day as the suffering of the last few miles grew logarithmically from what preceded it.

But unlike running, swimming, or cycling—all things I’ve done and pushed through—I find myself in a different situation with the book, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, which is exactly why I forced myself to sit down and write about it this week.

I feel like quitting. I feel like handing the publisher back their advance and scrapping the whole project, never letting anyone see a word of it. I don’t want to push any more. If this were a marathon, I’d stop at the next water station and catch a ride back to the starting line. Such feelings are really unusual for me. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of a time in my life when I’ve felt this way. I’m pretty good at pushing through pain and muscling through struggle.

After brooding over my feelings for a few weeks I’ve started talking about them with a few close friends and I’ve come to realize what may be going on. A big part of what triggered this response is actually fear. Fear that the book will not live up to the (probably impossible) standard I have set. Fear that by the time it’s published (target date is spring 2021), some things I wrote in 2019 will be incorrect. Fear that I will make a mistake—either incorrectly cite some research or incorrectly interpret it. Fear that I can’t update it every few months as my knowledge and experience grow. Fear that the trolls who have created a cottage industry of tearing down people they are jealous of will do to me what they have done to many others before me. Fear that I won’t be proud of it, or worse yet, that I’ll be ashamed of it.

I have never experienced such performance anxiety before. Ever. I’ve never stepped foot in the ocean to begin a long swim and worried I would not finish it. I’ve never stood at the starting line of a time-trial and assumed I would fail to approach a PR. I’ve never started a project and worried I would fail (though I did end up failing at many things, I never went in with the fear).

And yet here I stand, 9 rounds into a 12-round fight, so afraid of losing, that I’m looking for any excuse to throw in the towel.

I suppose on some level I’m writing this to hold myself accountable to you, a potential reader of this book.

At the risk of coming off as a total cheese ball three days after Thanksgiving, there’s a dichotomy in the way that I’m thinking about the book and the related fear. On the one hand, I do appreciate the value of both appropriate praise and criticism, but on the other hand, I am hardwired to detest praise and feel emotionally devastated by criticism. That’s a pretty sad combo that can make for a very miserable life, I realize. 

While I’m feeling this way now, I have also been reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for. I’m thankful for you who read my thoughts and emails each week, who listen to the podcast, who call us out when we don’t produce things as good as we should and make mistakes (there are definitely a few podcasts where I believe I have failed as an interviewer, and let listeners down), and who always encourage me to keep going. When we started this weekly email and podcast, I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I do and I didn’t think it would grow and reach as many people as it has. I may not be able to respond to all the emails or messages on social media, but I do see the encouragement, and I’m thankful to each of you for your support as I look to enter this next grueling 6.2 miles. And ultimately, I hope we both enjoy the final version.

– Peter

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  1. Fear comes in many forms. I too fear things today at 58 that I never gave a second thought to earlier in life. We are all mortal and I fear leaving my comfort zone of this life. You are a perfectionist which I admire about you. I fear ever being one. Meanwhile, you have created a platform to share what you love about information helpful to each and every one of us in varying ways. Your incredible attention to detail provides as much information as desired to many, and way more than needed by others. I believe this is why you continue to draw more admirers to your work. Thank you for being you and doing what you do! I anxious await your book however you choose to finish that race.
    Static snapshots are indeed outdated inherent to the publishing process. I do like the idea of a clever format able to be digitally updated over time as we learn more. Kind of like a book that never ends………but keeps getting better!

  2. You’re right, books are outdated and get outdated faster and faster these days, but there’s no easy alternative if you want to spread your gospel effectively and make a buck doing so. But there might be some ways around that:

    1. Making a password protected updatable website version of the book people who buy it get access to.
    2. Do regular e.g. 6 month updates to the ebook with change-logs through Amazon, I believe they allow for this (although this leaves out the tree murderers ;).
    3. After a certain period of free updates to people who bought it, you could include further updates as part of your paid podcast sub only.

  3. This is a powerful puece of writing. Dr. Attia, I have been following your work for many years, and I will say this without reservation: you are wrong. And you know what? That is because you are human and we are all still learning. Whatever you are wrong about will be forgotten and will pale in comparison to everything you have gotten correct. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Your book will be a stellar accomplishment and it will be held in high regard by many of your colleagues. Do not fret over the few missteps in the monumental journey that has been the books creation. Be proud of how far you have come and what you have accomplished.

    And remember: there is always the next edition.

  4. The things you fear are the reasons why many authors write more than one book. This one doesn’t have to be your opus, but it does need to be published. It’s a format that will allow me to more easily share the Peter Attia experience with more people!

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