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Planet Earth

The Beast Takes a Break

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerJanuary 9, 2007 10:21 PM


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On the last day of December, I turned in the final draft of my book about E. coli and the meaning of life. This is the sixth time around for me, and I'm getting familiar now with the havoc the experience wreaks on my nerves. In the final few weeks, the book becomes a monster that follows me around to every room of the house, out on the walks I take with my family. It crouches in the movie theaters and restaurants where I go with my wife to take a break. It just sits there, rumbling and wheezing, making me aware that it is still with me. I work late into the night, trying to get it out of the house and out of my life. And then it's gone. I sent off my first book as an old-fashioned stack of printed pages. I sent the second one off by email. I'm still disturbed when I see the progress bar on my mail program stretching across the screen, as a year or two of work blasts out of my computer in twenty seconds. And once the transmission has ended, I'm suddenly restless and at a loss. I still need to write--that's how the mortgage gets paid--but in the wake of a book project, magazine and newspaper articles seem strangely slight. (And blogging seems like flicking motes of dust.) Once the monster is gone, little matters. I know this feeling will pass, and that in a week or two I'll be fiercely blogging and obsessed with my next article. And then, after a couple more weeks, the monster will return, when my editor has had a chance to read the manuscript and tell me what needs work. But I wonder if this is a psychological state other authors go through, or anyone else who lives with a project for so long. Perhaps it's just the afterimage you get when you look away from the sun.

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