In April I told you people that an established publisher had contacted me wanting to know if I’d considered writing a book. I was naturally very flattered but unsure of what angle to take on it, so I appealed to you for feedback and you delivered. Thank you.
What I didn’t mention is that I had been contacted almost six months earlier, and I’d been stuck on it since then. I didn’t really know what kind of book I wanted to write. My post was intended to get me moving by creating public accountability and stirring up some ideas.
It didn’t, really. I pecked at it over the months, and a clearer outline began to emerge. I wasn’t in love with it, but it was something that could be built on. Yeah, I could pull this off, I thought sometimes.
Two weeks ago a literary agent contacted me, unaware that a publisher had already expressed interest, and it looked like it was a sign that now is the time. After avoiding it a bit more, I dug out my notes and got to work again. I ignored my doubts and kept putting words down.
What quickly happened surprised me. Saturday morning, on my 31st birthday, I had my first moment of clarity about what I should do. It hit me like a truck:
I have no desire at all to write a book right now. None.
And just like that, a yearlong spell of uncertainty dissolved. In hindsight it had been that way from the beginning, but I felt like that shouldn’t matter — the opportunity was so great. But there is no opportunity if the author isn’t interested.
There is so much I have to say, so much I want to write, and none of it needs three hundred pages, not right now. A book is just not the right medium for me at the moment. A few years down the road it will probably be a different story.
I’m telling you this for two reasons. The first one is that a lot of people have been asking about the book and saying things like “I can’t wait to read your book” or “I hope you include this in your book.” Although I’m sure I qualified my original post by saying something may or may not come of this, a lot of people took my post as an announcement.
The other reason is to help you avoid becoming cursed. I let this thing compromise my mindset for a whole year because I didn’t trust myself, and I hope you don’t ever do that. I stuck with it because I felt there was so much to gain. By all accounts this was a golden opportunity and it’s a no-brainer to jump on it. If I wasn’t doing that then it must be because I’m afraid of rejection or imperfection and I just need to roll up my sleeves and do it.
I had so much encouragement, and I don’t want to blame anyone for encouraging me. I talked to a few people about my ambivalence about the book, and whenever I expressed doubts, uniformly they would tell me to think about all the enormous benefits of making this happen. I couldn’t deny it — there are bloggers tripping over themselves to get the attention of agents and publishers, and I had both, and was wasting it. What this book could actually provide for people never came up.
I often wished this had never happened. I can’t begin to describe what letting this fester has done to me this year. I’ve been irritable and down on myself. I’ve had a vague feeling of self-disappointment almost all the time, which I barely noticed until it was gone. For a year I couldn’t start any other project without guilt because then I was avoiding the most important thing of all. So if I didn’t work on the book, I didn’t feel right working on anything else. It was like a curse.
What a relief it is to put this down for good. Best birthday gift ever. I’ve had huge plans for Raptitude that I’ve just been sitting on because I felt like there was this super important thing I had to deal with first. I could have done so much work on what I actually love, if I didn’t feel like something else was more important. So there will be no print book coming out any time soon, but I’m finally free to bring you what I truly do want to work on. You’ll see what I mean in the coming months.
All kinds of desires kept me from pulling the plug on it, but they were all bad ones. I had the desire to avoid disappointing myself, to avoid the feeling of having squandered an opportunity, to avoid admitting to myself that this may not be a blessing after all (at least right now), to avoid telling people that that big thing I was talking about didn’t work out. All these motives are of the worst type: to avoid certain kinds of pain. If you ever want to make things go to hell fast, make avoiding pain your primary motivation.
We all know that “should” feeling. “Should” isn’t any kind of truth, it’s an emotion. It’s stubborn, irrational and usually negative. If the feeling of “should” is what makes you do something, then what you’re doing isn’t out of love at all.
That’s what I don’t ask enough: if I did this would I be doing it out of love? From the start, the notion of a book had a “target of opportunity” feeling. I just wanted to extract value from it. I didn’t really want to create anything, or provide anything. Before I was approached I didn’t have one lick of desire in my mind to undertake a print book. I felt an obligation to make good on the opportunity, not a desire to do good with it. If I didn’t know there was a difference, I do now.
That’s the curse right there: a preoccupation with extracting value, and a disinterest in creating value. Aesop should have drilled this into my head by kindergarten. Any enterprise concerned only with extracting value is cursed. Any person concerned only with extracting value is cursed.
I don’t like to force a spiritual-sounding moral out of every story, especially this one — I mainly wanted to keep you posted. But there’s a passage from Castaneda’s don Juan that’s just too appropriate to leave out:
Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is:
Does this path have a heart?
All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life.
Photo by Victor Bezrukov