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!

  5. Peter
    Perfection is a cruel master, though striving for it is something we do in medicine. One of my surgical mentors introduced me to the oft used maxim : “The enemy of good is perfect”. At some point you let your gut tell you you’ve done enough, as anything more will muck up a good thing. You trust your skill set and passion and the years spent honing your skills as a communicator.
    Thanks for your integrity and trying to get it right.
    Peace David

  6. Peter,
    I can’t wait to read your book. A little doubt about yourself is good to keep you striving for better performance but trying to match your work with providing “facts” is unattainable as facts has its half life as you know and recognize in your podcast. Positive thinking and keep up.

  7. December 18, 2019
    Hi Peter:
    Just caught your interview with Tom on YouTube, your comments on fasting, a practice America is beginning to discover
    but one I’ve practiced for many years. Actually you cannot do a total fast for 2 months, your body would begin to consume its organs, that top timespan is 45 days max. You should read Dr. Otto Buchinger’s books, the first on the medical advantages of fasting, but better yet, go stay at the Buchinger Clinic either in Marbella, Spain, where I’ve been on multiple visits or in Germany for the real method and cure. 21 days is the ideal time to see actual results, in my opinion, the health cures provide positive effects on many things in our bodies, in addition to unique treatments offered. My longest stay during the years was 39 days, I left ill and returned healthy and cleansed inside and out. It is a marvelous and very spiritual experience. You can read my review on their website with my initials.
    I’ll be watching and learning from you going forward.
    Las Vegas, NV

  8. Write the book, I’m desperate to read it! It will be read by many and will change lives. Get help with editing. Good editing isn’t a natural given talent – there are people who are experts who will happily help. Also check out other authors’ approaches to keeping content up to date – a completely different field but Dr Russ Harris who has authored several books on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has multiple free downloads linked to his books and additional content that was edited out of main published books for reasons of space. This means all of his hard work is accessible but also that his books aren’t giant unwieldy blocks.

    If you do explore his work then you may also soon realise that ACT can offer a lot to people in terms of making lifestyle changes that stick – it’s all about defining your values and living a life that is meaningful and always moving towards your goals. Very important when making any dietary / lifestyle changes.

    Good luck. I can’t wait to read your book.

  9. Please forgive my not reading through the many comments and if this is a repetition of good advice already given. As a writer, I can tell you that what you are going through is absolutely Page One normal. As far as I can tell, at least based on my experience so far, there’s no way around it, and it does happen at the 10th or 11th hour pretty reliably. For writers, the equation if you like is to determine whether the value of the work outweighs the pain of seeing the project through to the end. Sometimes it doesn’t, but most of the time it absolutely does. And, though not quantifiable in advance in the way the cost-benefit analysis of a marathon or ultra-swim even is, the revelation and perception of value almost always comes in retrospect. But is completely worth it. So though one might wish for you that this did not happen, in the end it’s a very good sign that it did. If at all possible, get readers who are also writers (who have some sense of how science works) for early feedback and let them say what they think. The other tension is that you ultimately have to decide what advice is of value and what should be let alone, but that’s not a major difficulty. Good luck with this and I look forward to it.

  10. Keep grinding. Hope to read it some day. I have already learned so much from you and your podcast – it was a great resource for me as I battled, AND BEAT, cancer. Thanks for all you do.

  11. Dude, it’s about direction not perfection. Your direction, the direction of the reader BECAUSE of the book, is and will be on point. It can’t be perfect, but I know it will be helpful. Let’s do this!!

  12. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for pushing through this; I’ve listened to your podcasts and read your content and it has changed how I see health, healthspan, and life! I’ve never met you, but i can identify with your pursuit of greatness and your pursuit of good! Thank you for giving me and so many people a piece of yourself, your profession, and your knowledge. Passionate people like you are the ones who change the world!!! I am extremely grateful.

  13. Peter! I worked for a literary agent as a reader…if you would like a read and pre-pub feedback on the book (as a commercial book), please let me know. I am now a circadian biologist, a molecular, cellular and integrative physiologist, a published researcher, as well as a professor teaching a year-long course “Frontiers in Aging” at UCLA. I also have a research appointment at UCSD and am there regularly doing aging, Alzheimer’s and epigenetics work…if you want to connect. I would love to support you and this work!

  14. I prefer digital because I’m always traveling and can’t carry hard copies of all the references I need. In addition they can be revised frequently. One can always issue errata updates as code books often do.

  15. Peter we (your fans) have no doubt that it will be a phenomenal book. Yes the nature of medicine is that it’s a moving target and keeps changing and yes in your book you may feel like you have written about things that by Spring of 2021, you will have a new perspective on. Nevertheless, a book written by you will be worth a thousand other books written by other authors. The clarity with which you convey the concepts is a treasure that very few people possess. I am sure you have written the book the same way you convey your ideas and in that case it’s going to be a big hit!!! Can’t wait. I have decided to give your book as a present to all of my loved ones as a present.

  16. I just stumbled on you today, Peter. Watched the first few minutes on Tom Bilyeu’s Health Theory.

    Not only is your “Most Kickass 100 Year Old” the freshest, most provocative and inspiring way to pull together my own passions…. the vulnerability and honestly you showed in this post cemented you as someone I need to learn more from.

    Please proceed. Life is not at all about perfect… it’s about ‘damned good’, but based what you’ve got at that exact moment, allowing you to reflect back and learn… get better learn… get better… but you know this, based on your ultra experiences.

    As a 59 1/2 year old, I’ve been on a journey to be a warrior at 60. I like your label better. 🙂

  17. “Are you one of those single tear people?” – J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

    Reading “I am hardwired to detest praise and feel emotionally devastated by criticism” made me laugh, then get angry, then lash out because it stomped on a nerve. In reality, sir, I’m projecting on you what I need for myself. I’m in the last three months of a project that started in 1998.

    “Roger that. It’s Day One, MF. Doesn’t matter what you did yesterday. Lace up and get out there again.” – David Goggins (paraphrased).

    Thanks for the kick in the ass. We can finish together. What’s the next step to get your book published? I’ve got code to write…

  18. Dr. Attia,
    I’m applying to med school this summer, therefore, I have much to learn just to bring myself up to your level. Any book, warts and all, will be very valuable for many people. You hang with some heavyweights, but this book wont be for the experts, it will be for those that want to be an expert and need a concise literature to refer back to. Don’t give up, I need to read your book!
    BTW, your show notes are gnarly – learnin’ a lot!
    Thanks for all of your work, hope to meet you someday,

  19. Looking forward to seeing you crossing this finish line! 😉
    Think of all the great works from different realms, sciences or fiction, that helped us improve our knowledge and become better persons. I guess many authors have been through similar inner debates. Some of their points of view might be outdated now. But what a great benefit it was to all humans to have access to their thinking! Go through the wall, we are waiting as we highly value your work! Best regards & thank you for your commitment & all the materials you shared so far. Cosmin

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