Rocket Science

I really wish new outlooks were as easy to come by as new days—I mean, I understand not everyone gets a new day/life is uncertain. But you have to admit that in your experience 99.a-bunch-of-nines% of the people you know continue to get their new days right on schedule.

Which is mostly a good thing. I guess you could debate.

Anyway, the week of celebrations was lovely, but here it is Tuesday morning and I’m an hour or two late to my desk, be-robed, half-fed, a little headachy, not too sure about the day’s work.

The book is foundering a little. There’s an invisible brick wall somewhere around page 100 of a first draft—when you’ve climbed just far enough to start getting scared every time you look down. Or, here, maybe a rocket is a better metaphor: if you want to do something on that kind of scale, you’re going to need multiple tanks of fuel.

  • The first hundred pages run on enthusiasm.
  • The second hundred pages run on stubbornness (occasionally despair).
  • The third hundred pages run on new ideas and empty promises (“I can fix that later. Maybe HE took the knife. Whatever. It’ll look better next time)
  • The fourth hundred pages run on giddy  relief

In other words, I’ve reached the end of my blind enthusiasm for the project—which is normal at this stage but always feels like this huge, personal loss. Like maybe the book is going to fall apart and everything is RUINED. Death of a dream stuff, you know?

It can be hard to jettison the empty tank, but as long as we keep trying to draw from an empty one we’re not all that likely to keep moving forward.

I know. Rocket science.

Success through a long project depends on our ability to tap into new fuels. Unfortunately, most of the time we get caught up in which fuel is “right” or “the best” or all the shades of secret meanings and our obsessive sense of betrayal when one tank empties.

You see people doing this with relationships all the time—older couples posing sagely to warn the enthusiastic young marrieds that Life Is Hard and your partner will disappoint you and there will be much grittage of teeth, that youthful enthusiasm and romance are foolish and will never be enough to sustain you over your life so don’t be deceived by it’s shallow blooms, etc. etc.

Obviously every marriage is different, just like every book is different, just like every long project is different—from parenting to home repair. I get that. But I wonder whether sometimes we get too focused on drawing from our favorite tanks… when the truth is we have plenty of other tanks waiting for us when this one depletes. We just have to find them.

The tank of stubbornness might not be as much fun as the tank full of enthusiasm, but it’s not better or worse, not more profound or important. Getting embroiled in those kinds of thoughts just keeps us sidetracked from the point of our project as a whole. Whether or not I feel the way I think I should feel while writing a book is never more important than the actual book.

I guess that’s all I’m trying to say. It’s hard to turn off the constant inner judgments about what it means that I’m not as enthusiastic about my book right now or feeling that maybe it’s all going to pieces and I’ll never finish and blah blah MOAN.

But all that really means is my tank is empty and I’m sad about leaving it.

I can deal with that.

Here’s to long projects and creative energy solutions! Happy working, everybody.

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One thought on “Rocket Science

  1. Oh, these are such good thoughts. I really like your multiple tank analogy, and I think it’s very often the absolute truth. We can get so upset and think that needing to change tanks has some deep meaning about the project itself rather than just about the nature of long projects in general. In the end, I think it’s the ability to change tanks that defines our ability to accomplish those really big projects.

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