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The feeling of rock

A reader reminded me that Sisyphus could enjoy the feeling of the rock under his fingers and steal other pleasures under the gaze of the gods who meant to punish him. Pleasures in the work that need not be stolen by its pointlessness. Which is something I reminded myself of in my first Sisyphean post a few weeks back. It's the easiest thing for me to forget, the pleasure of hard work without thinking about the big picture and whether it will ever be done or not. I get so anxious worrying about outcomes. Will I ever actually finish this? Will it be good? Will it get reviewed in the Times? Will it break 100,000 copies and enable me to sign a six-figure two-book deal? Will the UK rights sell for big money so I can talk my publisher into sending me to London for a signing? Will it get a screenplay development deal? Will they attach Philip Seymour Hoffman as Fulton Oursler so he and I can hang out? Will a beautiful woman recognize me in Whole Foods from my author photo and tell me how my book changed her life? There's so much to think about.

But today: I spent an hour (so far) reoutlining the "thematic underpinning" of the book, lining up my recent ruminations on the 20th Century self and personalized truth with the story, looking at Bernarr Macfadden's actions through that lens, figuring out that I need to change the emphasis a little—suddenly his horrible childhood becomes more relevant, and his eminence grise, Fulton Oursler, really does sit right in the middle of the book. (Weird thing, narrative nonfiction. You're doing all the plot work of a novel except you can't actually change a single event. You just move things back and forth on the stage and redirect the lighting.) It brought a surge of panic—so much new work to do! But I was able to say, no. This isn't about the work yet to be done. It's about the work I'm doing right now. Fretting about what this work implies is like going to the gym and thinking about the fact that I'll probably never be able to exercise as much as I should and no matter what I do I'm getting older and I probably can't expect to accomplish anything through exercise except slightly stalling the incursions of decrepitude and someday I'll end up dead. I don't do that at the gym. I feel my upper body waking up and my anxiety dropping and I think, "This is good what I'm doing. Just this."

So now I go back to it. Another hour of work, maybe. Another three sets of ten reps. Another few feet up the hill. And I'll enjoy the tingle in my deltoids.

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Yes!

The workout analogy is a good one. I think the fear of the whole, of how massive the thing is, sometimes keeps me from even turning on the computer. But when I narrow my focus (making one character fleshy, sculpting one scene into its proper shape) suddenly the love affair with the work heats up again. Why is it so easy to forget what that feels like? The same thing happens when I think about working out, though. I completely forget that it can actually feel good.

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Yes! Yes!

Every time I work out I think, "That was great! I'll do that more often!" And yet it's so incredibly hard to get myself to do it every time. It's as if all I can remember is the hassle of getting to the gym and the unpleasantness of starting before my metabolism speeds up. It's the same way I know that I will eventually always hit a rhythm with my work and be glad I did it. And yet going in, all I seem to be able to remember is how difficult the start-up can be. Seems like there's some fundamental memory problem at work!