As of this posting, Drive All Night is now two chapters complete.
Only sixteen more to go.
I’m writing this from a quiet nook of New Hampshire, at least 100 miles from any major city. The seasonal foliage has peaked. Now, gray tree branches without leaves are overtaking the warm autumnal golds and reds. There’s a bite to the night air, and every rodent within the next seven counties is frantically squeezing its way into a warm house for the coming winter. Very soon, I’ll be heading back to Boston to hunker down in one place for the remainder of the year and finish the first draft of the book; hopefully by Christmas.
I realize, I’ve kept all of you in the dark for well over a month: regarding the stages of the book. I hope you’ll find it within yourself to forgive me. Truth be told, when I stumbled off my last bus into Boston’s South Station – aching, half-asleep, and in desperate need of a laundromat – I was wrecked. The trip was an overwhelming success. It yielded enough stories and material for a trilogy of books, let alone this one. I made it to the finish line with my body and savings account intact. But being on the road constantly, meeting new people every day, and cataloging personal stories – some of which were really quite devastating – took an emotional and physical toll on me.
So instead of leaping straight into the writing process, I took several weeks to decompress. I split my time between my parents’ house and the great north woods of New England. To recoup the trip expenses and bankroll three solid months of writing, I accepted two generously paid freelance writing assignments that had nothing to do with the trip, and only a slight connection to Millennials. I ate several gluttonous bowls of soup at this ramen restaurant, drove up to Dartmouth College to catch Werner Herzog giving a free lecture, and caught up on all the movies I’d missed this summer. (Sidenote: see 12 Years A Slave and Captain Phillips.)
I’m revisiting this not just to explain where I’ve been lately, but to illustrate one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned when it comes to finishing long-term, taxing projects.
Many of us are taught not to do this. When I was in college, I’d often hear raptly-relayed tales of hotshot lawyers who worked themselves to heart attacks by age 28, or wealthy startup founders who subsisted on nothing but peanut butter and canned tuna for their first two years of business. It’s a classic utilitarian approach to life, where even the most irresponsible, maddening means justify great returns.
This works for some people, but not for me.
To produce anything worth one’s while, I need to maintain a healthy quality of life. If I sit down to write, starving for real food, my mind won’t go to the page: it’ll wander off to the cupboard, or the closest supermarket. If I haven’t climbed a hill or lifted anything heavier than my laptop in over a week, I won’t be able to sit still and type. It seems unnecessary to even mention the vitality of sleep, or the oft-overlooked truth that for every coffee high, there’s a crushing, initiative-killing coffee comedown.
Thanks to Google, it’s easy to turn up a hundred self-help articles with titles like, “15 Habits [insert your profession here] Must Have” or “Three Steps For A Better [you]”. Sure, some of the individual tips might help. But absorbing these one-size fits all lists like scripture is an absolute waste of time that will only serve to hurt your confidence and hamper your productivity. Because humans are more complicated and nuanced than our media generally appreciates. Just look at the ongoing deluge of generalized Millennial psychoanalysis, and the righteous backlash it’s produced in recent weeks.
Revisiting the Millennials I’ve encountered, recreating the trip that you followed from Day One has been a tremendously gratifying experience. In light of what’s happened since August, the full stories that were previewed on this blog – and those that have remained under wraps – have taken on a heft that surprises me. Picking up the pen (okay, opening Microsoft Word) each day is like resuming an old adventure. And I’m confident that all of you are going to be highly entertained when you join me on that adventure, when this book sees the light of day.
Next month, I’ll leak a sample chapter right here to give you a brief glimpse of what’s to come.
See you in November.