The good kind of scared

Yesterday, I admitted at lunch to a colleague that I was nervous about letting myself invest so much time in a book. It’s a weird thing, trying to go from being a five-papers-a-year kind of person to saying “I have this book, and it might take me two years, or it might take me five years. Or longer.” The external validation for the latter is very hard to find. There’s plenty of external validation for somebody who writes a book a year. However, you can always tell when it’s only taken somebody a year to write a book, too; it’s thin and unbaked, usually.

There are, of course, people who write really good books in a year. But as Annie Dillard notes in The Writing Life, there are people who lift cars, too. Even people who eat cars. Why act like that’s the norm?

Yesterday, I got the worried feeling in the pit of my stomach: “I don’t know if I can do this.” One of the people I used to consider a mentor said to me, too, “I doubt you will be productive writing books.”

The feeling bothered me all day. It hung around my office. It shadowed me all over.

When I went to bed, the feeling stayed there, and I recognized it, and I laughed and laughed. I’m smiling as I write this. It was the same feeling I had before I went to grad school. And before I took my quals. And a million times as an assistant professor, whether standing in front of a class or submitting a paper.

Performance anxiety.

Hello, friend.

I seem to have found the challenge I’ve been looking for.