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

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.

88 Comments

  1. Peter, I’m in the same situation as you here in Brazil. Reading your text made me feel good and made me feel less lonely.

  2. If there were any provisions of signing up for your STUFF, sending you money, through the mail, I would do it. After beginning my career in the Bleeding Edge of Technology and 45 years in the fore-front of what is accepted today, today I am off the grid except for a flip phone, MacBook and printer. I do NO payments or access anything financial over the insecure Internet. The Air Force and US Government actually paid me to have the most fun anyone could dream to do.

  3. I think this was pretty damn brave! Are you writing the book for you? For us? I suspect this will be informative AND cathartic.. whatever will be, will be 👍🏼 😌
    Thanks for all the amazing work research, and info you provide..you are Tenacious

  4. I totally get this feeling. Although nowhere near as detailed and involved as your project, I just finally published the book I’ve been working on for 1 year. I felt like quitting at the cusp of the first draft and editing. I felt like quitting during the editing. I felt like quitting at the end of drafts 2, 3, 4, etc. Book performance anxiety is real. I never felt anything like it before either, when teaching, presenting, or podcasting. Keep going. Your fears are expected and totally normal, yet they are only fears. Acknowledge them and watch them disappear. New fears may come, but they will not affect your work or the end product.

    • Dr. Attia,

      Thank you for allowing yourself to be so vulnerable to us throughout the years. Your vulnerability and openness has pushed myself and I’m sure many others to step out of our comfort zones to try new things. As much fear as you may have, I’d like you to know you’ve helped and educated all of us much more. Thank you for everything, and regardless on what you decide, know you’ve had a positive effect on a lot of lives!

  5. Dr. Attia … you know that you have a loyal fan base of motivated, health-conscious, and high-achieving folks that like to “own it.” As such, your fan base knows that pursuing worthy projects is venturing into the unknown, the abyss, and always commendable especially when there are “sharks” along the journey and/or waiting at the finish line. The only critics that you could worry about is perhaps not pleasing are the 2 or 3 (if that many) medical doctors that have written a better book on the same subject with the same emphasis. The rest of the readers will be forever grateful that you serve them well with what will be regarded as a life-changing book! Gustavo from Vienna, VA – Can’t wait to get my copy!

  6. The knowledge you share is a tool
    that I share with others including my doctor. I am confident that whatever you publish will be an incredible guide and reference for all of us. Don’t overthink it, you have so much to share. Let’s move that publishing date up!! Thanks for everything Andy

  7. Thank you sir. Grateful for you sharing your knowledge and experience. I’m really looking forward to your book and glad you are continuing with it. I think it will help me and lots of others.

  8. Peter:

    As the author of 4 industry-published books, I feel your anxiety and pain. Press on regardless. Your work, keen analytical mind, and scientific pursuit of knowledge is valuable to all society. For sure, I will buy and read every page of your book.

    Tom Gunn

  9. PIVOT THE BOOK to a live online foundational resource for crowd-enhanced suggestions (with updates validated, edited, and approved by Peter’s team (or declared “unverified” (by Peter’s team))), not unlike wikipedia. Call it “Pete-e-pedia” (a la wikipedia).

    Problem solved.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Mark

    P.S.
    Thanks for all you do.
    State-of-the-art is changing too fast for a book – parts of which may already be out-of-date.

  10. I have every confidence in your ability in providing valuable insights that will guide my healthy decision making….

  11. Thank you for sharing your fears. It is hearing even you struggle that others can summon the courage to continue on their challenging path. Thank you for being you.

  12. This morning as I was deep asleep in a dream I awoke to the sound of my husband saying, “Oh my God!”. My first reaction was fear as I jumped out of bed to hear him tell me to come and see the beautiful sunrise. I chose to drag my sleepy butt out front and look at the beautiful sky and was reminded that this is a new day.

    Upon listening to your podcasts and reading your emails I am always amazed at your level of knowledge and your ability to reiterate what you’ve learned. Even if there are mistakes or research that has been either disproved or found inadequate we all learn something from what you share.

    Do what you do. That is, produce the best with what knowledge you have available at the moment and move on. To the naysayers; so what, and whats so.

    I am sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, FEAR – false evidence appearing real.

    Byron Katie recommends that you challenge these feelings with these 4 questions:
    The Four Questions
    Q1. Is it true?
    Q2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
    Q3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
    Q4. Who would you be without that thought?

    Just keep put one foot in front of the other, or in this case, one finger on the keyboard at a time.

    With great respect,
    Kat

    P.S. I hope this doesn’t sound like psychobabble.

  13. Peter,

    Thank you for generously sharing your knowledge and your network of peers with us through your blogs and podcasts.  I look forward to catching up on all the content you created so far and to staying engaged with your work through whatever means you select (this book, your existing channels, or something else).  I think it’s fair to say your followers not only care about the topics you cover but we’re also cheering you on.  

    Jake

  14. Intellectual fear versus phyzical fear. You are simply more confident of your body than your mind.

  15. I so appreciate your raw honesty and humility – it is truly inspiring. I am dealing with a lot of fear and doubt currently as well and knowing that someone as successful and driven experiences these same feelings helps me to push through those 6.2 miles. Keep up the amazing work and I can’t wait to read your book.
    Thanks.

  16. Hi Peter,

    I will be very disappointed if you decide to quit. You have a talent for making medical science accessible to the layman, and your upcoming book is on the top of my “must read” list.

    If your first book sucks (which would be surprising), its ok! You can come out with a second edition to make it better. No one expects perfection from an author’s first book.

    Also, what is worse? The visible scorn of haters who will always be there? Or the silent scorn of your friends who know you gave in to the haters?

  17. Dear Dr. A-
    That took balls, thanks for posting. As a medical professional who is in a significant transition point in his career I appreciate your candor given your status, it gives me courage to keep pushing.
    As a perfectionist myself your comment about the fears surrounding publishing information certainly resonates. As a clinician I want to provide the absolute best service I can to my clients and often fear that my knowledge and skills are substandard.
    A good friend of mine once pointed out that although I may not know all there is on a topic or be as polished technically as I would like, I still know far more than the people I’m trying to help and can provide them something that they would not otherwise have.
    I’m not sure if the one is more than zero argument is much consolation or encouragement. For what it’s worth you are one of the folks out there that I look to for information and insight exactly because you are so self critical. I know that even if you don’t have it 100% correct, your thoughts/opinions are based on a process of critical analysis and the desire to move the collective understanding in the right direction.
    I wish there were more people out there in every profession that held themselves to the same standard.
    I look forward to reading your book.
    BA

  18. Peter. Your book will be fabulous! Just take it a day at a time. As an adult learning to play the violin I can relate to fear of failure- not even telling my family I had begun playing. Fear us powerful but surmountable and while still a challenge the violin is coming along. Your book will be AWESOME! Just do it as they say.
    By writing your thoughts you give the rest of us encouragement ( I too have begun a book). So Thankyou.

  19. I felt the same way publishing my thesis – and although it doesn’t and never will have the same impact that your book will on people – what matters is that you are writing this book, or in my case a thesis, in the belief that it will have a greater impact on society and make peoples lives better. We understand that your book may not provide all or definite answers. What matters, is that your book will generate greater awareness and make ordinary people ask questions. At the end of the day, everyone is responsible for themselves. The path they choose to take is up to them. You are here, through your book, to educate and demonstrate where one door may lead… don’t give up…stand on the shoulders of giants and push through.

  20. Peter, you are not alone. Perfectionism creates so much anxiety and hand wringing it derails many critical projects. Your book is going to change lives! Will it be perfect? No! Not possible. Is it important that it’s out there? Absolutely. I do understand the reluctance to put ourselves in front of such a huge, often critical, audience. It’s terrifying. But if you believe you can help people live longer and healthier lives, you can and you must push through. I look forward to your book.

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