What it feels like

I’ve been working on the same book for nearly 2 1/2 years. For me, that’s an insane amount of time to devote to one project. I remember when I first signed the deal, I said to the wife, “I really wanna make this thing great.” To which she replied, “That’s wonderful—but can we afford it?” To which I replied, “Uh … look over there! That bird is purple!” Then I ran out the door.

Two and a half years. I’m numb. Battered. Overwhelmed. Nearly 700 interviews completed. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of clips; loooooong nights at a corner table in, quite frankly, the grossest diner known to man (but one that stays open 24 hours); numerous trips to Mississippi and Illinois and Boston. When you write a book, and you fully devote yourself to it, it’s not merely a job. It’s an obsession. Beyond an obsession. You talk about it all the time—to everyone. To anyone. You don’t understand why your wife or dad or kids don’t share your excitement for the slightest little details; random nothings that, to you, mean everything.

You dream about the subject; you blather incessantly about it. As Leigh Montville, the king of kings, once told me, “You live in a cave.” He’s right. Not literally—I retained my house and my little basement office with a fridge and a TV. But mentally, you’re isolated and alone in the dark. Just today someone said to me, “I actually work,” which pissed me off. I’m not saying writing books is brain surgery, but’s it’s exhausting and demanding and painful and … yeah. Just … yeah.

Tonight is my last time where I can make any changes. When I go to bed, my fate—the book’s fate—is sealed. It is what it is—a frightening thought. I’ve now read this thing, all 480-something pages—about 50 times. I almost know it by heart. I’ve combed through it, seeking out overused words and phrases that repeat themselves. I’ve limited my Hences and Thoughs; I cut 99 percent of the wise-ass comments that, to be honest, I regret having used in The Bad Guys Won! The goal is to write a beautiful book; a seamless book; a perfect book …

And yet, there’s no such thing. None. Inevitably, there will be mistakes. A quote mark turned the wrong way. A name accidentally left out of the Acknowledgments. I actually learned this harsh lesson early on in my book career: the cover of The Bad Guys Won! is a mock newspaper from the day after the Mets beat Boston in Game 7 of the ’86 World Series. Well, the designer got the date of the paper wrong. I never noticed—but readers sure did. What sort of authoritative writer does that? Etc … etc.

Inevitable.

Anyhow, I need a long nap. No, a loooooooooooooong nap.

Zzzz.

PS: I’ve get asked sorta often about book writing from first-time aspiring authors. What’s the key? What should I know? to me, the key is simple: Intensity. Talk to everyone. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. Like, absolutely everyone. Make the phone call. Then the next phone call. And the next …

5 thoughts on “What it feels like”

  1. is 2.5 years considerably longer than you have spent on your other books?

    it sure sounds like a hell of a long time to me, but i don’t really have much of a metric to compare it to.

  2. Congrats! I’m really looking forward to this book. And I’m glad to hear there will be less of the wise-ass stuff – as much as I love “The Bad Guys Won,” it was a bit much at times. Even if those guys deserved it. 🙂

  3. Dear Mr. Pearlman.
    I’ve been a fan of yours for years. I have read every book of yours, I have followed your column, and now your blog and I like your refreshing, open, no-bullshit approach to telling a story.
    Having said that, allow me to say “Come on, man!” I understand writing is hard. I have been a reporter myself for 10 years and there’s nothing I abhor more than staring at that blank screen. But think about this: You are a writer who gets paid to write books. There are thousands of us who would love to be in your shoes. There are hundreds of us surviving on ketchup and hot water waiting for a book agent to return a call while Bristol effing Palin gets to publish her memoirs “I was born, I got knocked up, the end,” and Mr. Pearlman is on book number five almost all best-sellers I might add, and complaining about what a hard life he has, doing something he is good at (writing) about something he loves (sports). You have a great life, Mr. Pearlman, and judging by your upbringing, it could not have happened to a more deserving guy. You are a good father, a good son, with a good heart and a thorough, ethical professional that brings nothing but praise to our ink-stained profession. I hope you don’t take offense to what I wrote. Like I said, I’m a fan of your work, and I am naturally glad that in this age of iPads and Kindles, someone is out there actually writing good stuff to put in a covers-and-pages book. I wish you the greatest of success, but above all, I wish you find in your life the great things those of us watching from the outside see and cannot help but wish to happen for ourselves someday.
    Best,
    Sebastian Moraga

  4. Just finished a book project myself, Jeff. I could not have articulated my feelings any better than you did. By the time I finished, I didn’t know whether I liked the book, hated it, or wanted to disassociate myself from it. When it’s out in the fall, others will decide.

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