In my last post on writing a book, which was way more than the promised one week ago, I shared how Elon Musk once likened starting a business to “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.” Writing a book, I reported, hadn’t been quite that colorful yet.
And then the next couple of weeks happened.
The terrible beauty of deadlines
I’ve written before that we need to be under some pressure if we’re going to develop into our potential. The trouble is that, for just about any teacher anywhere in the USA right now, we’re not under that optimal amount of pressure — we’re way beyond it. This is a problem in two ways. First, too much pressure hampers our performance and makes us worse at our jobs. This is why I seek to rid my perfectionistic students of their perfectionism. Second, too much pressure makes us miserable. Miserable, underachieving people are not flourishing people, and people who aren’t flourishing themselves have a hard time promoting the long-term flourishing of students. This is the underlying premise of the book I’m working on.
For a writer to find what he’s made of, he needs readers, and he needs those readers to expect something of him. That’s good pressure. This blog has given me beautiful pressure these past five years — my readers expect me to consistently publish helpful articles, and when I make good on this promise, they tell their friends and I get more readers. Until about a month ago, I’ve had a deadline for my articles — every Tuesday and Saturday — for about two years. These deadlines have been great.
But writing a book is about infinity times harder than writing a blog post. (That’s a rough estimate.) Instead of carrying an idea for a thousand words, I have to carry one for sixty times that long. So while my rough draft deadline of mid-September seemed awesome back in January, it started to feel like eating glass come August.
(Side note: Why do I constantly overestimate how much time we’ll have for a task in the future? Back when I signed my book contract in January of this year, September was forever far away, and I was confident that by mid-summer my rough draft would be done. But then I spent that summer constantly switching between Husband Mode and Dad Mode and Writer Mode and Traveling Speaker Mode, and once August hit I remembered that, oh yeah, there’s this whole Teacher Mode to think about, and before I knew it, it was September and I was drowning in school work and dad work and husband work and writing work and I still had 10,000 words or so to add to what was a way-messier-than-rough draft manuscript. Hence the eating glass thing.)
The good news is that I’m now in proofreading mode, going over the rough draft and looking for typos that are certain to annoy reviewers. This proofreading work is due by Thursday of this week, and then the book gets shipped to reviewers that my publisher has selected to help me make the book as good as it can be.
I’m nervous to hear the reviewer feedback, but I also know that I’m dying for it. One blessed part of blogging is that I rarely go long without receiving feedback from readers. I write something, I publish it, and then there’s usually at least a comment/email or two to help me know how I did and how I can get better. With writing a book, it can just feel like this endless tunnel of isolation. So, even though I’m steeling myself for some hard-to-hear feedback on the rough draft manuscript, I’m eager for it, too. And if I hadn’t had that mid-September rough draft deadline, I wouldn’t have a rough draft right now that is ready for reviewer feedback. Even though the last couple of weeks of drafting tasted like glass, they got the job done.
Here’s part of a comment that Mary left on my last post, and it meant a lot to me. Mary has been reading my blog for all five of its years. She wrote,
Dave, I think one of the reasons I continue to enjoy, share and learn from your blog (and soon, your book!) is that you are still in the classroom. We recently had a “globally recognized” speaker at our school, and while he was funny and inspirational, most teachers said they wanted hands on examples. It’s great to tell us to start this or add that, but Mr. Global Speaker was hopping on another plane and delivering the same speech the next day, not in a classroom with 35-40 students with varying needs and abilities. So keep chewing on that glass! You inspire me!
The reason that that means a lot to me is that, were I not teaching 100+ students this school year, the last couple of weeks wouldn’t have been nearly as glassy. I would have had so much more control over my working days, so much more quiet space to think and research and write. Staying in the classroom is important to me for about a thousand reasons, but here’s the reality: it costs. It’s expensive. The school year takes so much time and energy and heart and mind from a teacher. And to write on top of that, especially to try to write something that can really help a fellow educator, is hard.
So thank you to Mary, and thank you to the others of you who have written in with encouragement. Your words are a godsend.