Earlier this week, I was given the hard sell.
A rapid-fire publishing company that publishes books based on big data algorithms (Bay Area!) had reached out with a flattering proposal — write a sous vide cookbook, do it your way, put your name on the cover. I had been toying with the idea on and off since last fall when start-up-who-shall-not-be-named abruptly dropped all of its contributors and I still had an addiction to cooking foods in water baths. So, yes, the idea was tempting.
It was tempting no matter the fact that I had never seen any of this company's products and that they had no qualms putting stock photos of similar dishes alongside recipes in the book. (Hello, pet peeve!) It would be my book, and I wouldn't have to stop being a chicken shit and submit a proposal to a publisher in order to create it.
But then they gave me a deadline: Five weeks. 75 recipes and two narrative chapters. Almost no food budget. I know cookbooks made this way. I used to get them in the mail every week when I was writing for Serious Eats, and they almost always immediately went into my giveaway pile. They're unreliable, poorly designed, and a waste of shelf space.
So I said no, of course, and then was immediately given a counter offer of ten weeks with a plea to do some less-than-ethical personal marketing for the project on the side. Because we all have extra time to be our own publicists when we work two jobs and are testing five to ten recipes a week.
Ultimately, I will not be writing this book, at least not now and not for this publisher. But despite the obvious insanity of taking on a project that not only would keep me at stress level 11 for two months but also compromise my own creative values, it was really hard to turn down. There's the ego boost that came from hearing I'd be perfect for the job and knowing that I would finally have a front cover byline. Then there's part of the job that taps into my desire to be a total know-it-all and to foist my strong opinions on sous vide cookery upon the masses. And there's this other part of me that craves productivity — I've felt very little of that in the last month as I wait to publish a dining guide and wait to get comments back from another editor and wait to actually get started on some essays. This would have been a project to keep me insanely busy, constantly checking items off of a massive to-do list, and able to keep my mind away from longer, lingering, harder tasks that probably deserve more attention.
I am very good at saying yes, which often means I am very good at rushing into things. It makes me a good hustler (in the work sense, of course), but it also often makes me a terrible writer. I don't want to sit and stew; I'd rather jump up, run around, and go.
Obvious metaphor time: These rushed, cacophonous, and likely pretty shitty cookbooks are what my life feels like when I follow my never-say-no instincts. So much immediate gratification, but so little long-term satisfaction.
Sometimes, these things I jump into turn out to be wonderful surprises. Moving to California. Deciding to live on my own for awhile. Falling for someone I met on the internet. But more often than not, when I say yes just to say yes, I end up doing things like scheduling Facebook posts for a paleo blogger for $15 an hour and then hating myself for days afterwards.
What those good things have in common is that they stayed that way, even when the shine wore off, even when they got harder. They started out as quick, spur-of-the-moment decisions, but have become defining moments in my life because they were good spur-of-the-moment decisions. The problem is, it can be hard to pick those out from the pack.
Okay, yes, I probably knew Facebooking for a paleo blogger was never going to be a good idea, but I've made plenty of other poor career and life choices that seemed full of opportunity at the time: Live in Portland after college! Abandon Portland in six months because of relationship problems, even though you now have solid writing connections and a path towards doing what you want! Work as a nanny for crazy parents who don't believe in rules and think you'll have time to build a writing career on the side! Quit your communications job with no future prospects! Et cetera!
The only real point here is that I'm trying to learn how to not to say yes to everything that sounds like a good opportunity. Sometimes those good opportunities are really just shitty cookbooks in a shiny cover. Also, writing is hard; don't rush it.