Not throwing away our shot

Jennifer Pahlka
5 min readFeb 6, 2023

I need to start writing again. I used to write pretty often, and then I went and wrote a book, which weirdly means I didn’t write for a long time. It turns out — news flash — that writing a book involves a lot more researching, interviewing, structuring, revising, editing, proofreading, stressing out, questioning one’s right to exist, and making endless pots of tea than it does actually writing. I mean, yeah, I wrote about 700 pages and will soon be the author of a book that runs about 280 pages (uh huh, the rest is in the trash can) but it doesn’t take several years to write all those words. It takes (me) several years to make a book, though.

A few days ago I returned to my publisher what’s called (I think, I’m still learning publishing lingo) second pass pages. That means they gave me my second chance to read through the near-final typeset manuscript and catch errors, typos, dumbass mistakes, and things I will regret. (Obviously I had approximately a million chances to edit the thing before they made it look all nice like an actual book.) The second chance is, apparently, the last chance. Whoever said “A book is never finished, it is only abandoned, ” didn’t have a 21st century publishing contract, apparently. You just get cut off.

My work, I am told by those who have gone before me (thank you, Marina and Nick) is not done — now I have to promote it. (It is available for pre-order now (on bookshop, amazon, and at your local bookstore if you ask for it) and will be on sale June 13th. See, I’m practicing.) But since I can no longer change the book, all that researching, editing, and proofreading is over, and I will now be either very relieved or entering a deep depression. Check back in a few weeks to find out which.

Either way, this milestone means I get to decide what’s next. Three years ago, I left the non-profit I started and had run for ten years, and last August I helped my only child get settled at college, so technically I’m an unemployed empty nester. I’m not exactly twiddling my thumbs — I’m busy, sometimes even overwhelmed, with commitments on boards and other interesting projects, not to mention the book finishing and promotion. But I’m largely free from quarterly planning and OKRs and annual reports, just when my role as a mother has gone from grinding through the gears of parenting a teen to more or less coasting on cruise control. I can consider myself insanely blessed (which I do, on so many fronts) while still noticing the disorientation that comes with such changes. I suppose I could count on a pretty full calendar to keep me distracted from that disorientation, but I don’t want to. After years of frantically running to keep up, I want to stop and notice.

There’s a lot I don’t know about the coming year for me. Will anyone read my book? Will anyone like it? (I’m certain some people will not, but I already know a few do.) Will I like going out and talking about the ideas in it? Will I be sick of myself and every word I wrote by the time it comes out? Will I be able to use the opportunity of promoting it to further the changes I think are needed? Will I regret anything I’ve said in it? No answers to any of these questions, but one thing I know about my next act is that I want to keep writing. Maybe building towards another book, though that feels premature, not knowing how my first one will be received, so for now just semi-regular posts.

I learned a lot writing the book, and I want to share some of that, but mostly I want to write about something that isn’t a big topic in my book until the very end. The book is about how we implement policy, or fail to. But it is also about us as a public, and our relationship to our government — what we expect from it and what happens when policies promise change that never materializes. And just as I was handing in my manuscript, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, a whale of a law, and one that makes a lot of promises about what we can do about a lot of things. But to me, the most important promise it makes is to address the existential crisis of climate change. Out of every policy agenda I can think of in my lifetime, this is the one that we can’t fail to implement. The IRA is imperfect, but it is our shot, and we cannot afford to throw it away.

We aren’t just missing our shot — we don’t even know it’s there to take. Most Americans have no idea that the Inflation Reduction Act was written, in part, to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, and contains significant incentives for each of us to move to electric cars and stoves powered by clean energy. They don’t know that if we actually did what its authors envisioned, the US would actually be pulling its weight as a global citizen in the fight against climate change. But even those of us who are tracking the issue don’t yet know how to take advantage of these incentives and encourage everyone in our community to do the same. We have little idea at this stage how much administrative burden will come with the implementation of the IRA, how much paperwork threatens to strangle our shot at a future for our kids. The manuscript of a book about how public servants are effectively delivering on the promises of policy has just been pulled out from under my ever-tinkering fingers, and my kid is no longer a kid but an adult living her own beautiful life across the country, hoping for a future that’s less grim than the one we seem to be otherwise headed towards. What else could I possibly be thinking about more than the implementation of the IRA?

More soon on this and related topics soon. In the meantime, hit me up if you’re thinking about the same kind of stuff.



Jennifer Pahlka

Author of Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better, Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists