Lately, people have been asking when my next book is coming out. I tell them I’m working on it, which is technically true – if “working on it” means vomiting some ideas on the page, then ignoring them for weeks at a time.
The truth is, I’m putting off working on the next book. I have lots of good reasons: I’ve started homeschooling one of my kids for half the day, the magazine I write for is slamming me with work (Thank You, God), and it’s Chanukkah, so much of my time is devoted to creating warm, rosy memories for my children to treasure one day. But the moment I grabbed some Lysol wipes and started cleaning my window ledges to avoid looking at the manuscript, I knew that my “reasons” were really just excuses.
I. am. procrastinating.
There. I said it.
I’ve heard it said that procrastination is a fancy word for “sloth” (a deadly sin, which I know only because Brad Pitt said so in “Seven”). We Jews don’t get much flak for being slothful; we’re historically the overdoers most in need of a reminder to chill. This is true in my case, as I hide my sloth behind busyness, wasting time on tasks which need to be done, but don’t need to be done right now.
I’m sure part of it is actual sloth; writing a book is hard, you guys. It’s much easier to write shorter assignments that require a fair amount brain work and score me a paycheck, or a blog post in which I can write about my favorite topic – me – than have to make up a story from scratch. Try it. See how easy it is. And if it doesn’t begin with “Once Upon a Time…” or “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous vermin,” I owe you a soda.
The psychology experts also say that procrastination is perfectionism spelled differently, but I quit the Perfectionism Club the same day I left the Small Talk Society; I ain’t got time for either. Some believe that lack of energy or focus is the culprit, but as a mother of three young males, I would argue that both my energy and focus were f&*%ed from the moment I conceived my first child.
Then there’s the fear factor, at which I blow a big, fat raspberry. Of course I’m afraid. I’m afraid of everything, especially when it comes to my work. I’m afraid that I’ve peaked with “The Cape House,” and any subsequent literary effort would be a fart in the wind. I’m afraid that people will compare my second book to the first – and they will, because that’s what discerning readers do – and discover that I am actually a sorry no-talent who conned her way into the literary world with a few big words and some sleights of hand. They’ll decide that I should forever wear a scarlet F (for “Fraud”), while all copies of my second book will be burned in front of the New York Public Library, along with an effigy of me.
Or, worse, no one will read it at all.
That’s the big illusion about publication, or any kind of success. People (okay, I) think it magically dispels insecurity and inflates confidence, but it doesn’t. I knew this intellectually before “The Cape House” came out, but I had my toes crossed inside my shoes, hoping I’d be the one exception to the rule – that publication would wash me clean and iron me out, wrinkle free. Turns out, I’m still me; I just happened to have published a book. And I am forced, humbly, to return to the gentle wisdom of my most favorite writer, Anne Lamott, who in “Bird by Bird” warned me ahead of time that this was exactly what was going to happen:
“I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind…My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.
I completely relate with this. (Well, maybe not about the deodorant part; my face looks more like someone about to get hit with a wet pull-up.)
But here’s the kicker, Anne says:
“But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.”
Can I get an amen?
Note that Anne did not say, “When my writer friends are signing autographs…” She said, “When my writer friends are working.” It is the process that makes them feel “better and more alive than they do at any time,” not the end result.
This doesn’t really work for me. I like resting on my laurels.
Sometimes we think that reaching completion means we’re done (and on a simple level, we are) but it’s really just another stop on a much longer journey. And if we (okay, I) keep our focus on the journey, we discover that this is where the real magic, where real life, happens.
I respectfully submit that my current stage of procrastination is part of my journey, if only to provide me with fodder to write about today. Or, maybe, to revisit some of the discoveries that helped me bring my last book to life. Either way, I shouldn’t be here too much longer. That’s the beauty of blowing your own cover.
So to answer your question, the next book will come out when it’s ready.
And most likely, I’ll come out the same way.