they say you have at least eighteen years to write your first album. and only eighteen months to write your second one.

in most creative pursuits, really, you’re only as good as your last piece of work. (this is particularly true for journalism; the half-life of a scoop is measured in minutes rather than months. A well-executed feature might leave a stronger impression and linger in memory for a good week or so. maybe a magazine cover will win the month’s mindshare. if you’re lucky, a book might win that year’s award for best “whatever”

but just after your work is released into the world, it starts to die. if you’re lucky enough to have people take interest in what you’ve made, it is digested, absorbed and passed. almost as quickly as it arrived, we are ready for whats next.

thats what i was getting at with the woodwinds. to outdo yourself you feel like going bigger, grander than before. for musicians, it often means getting symphonic. sometimes, the second album goes big and is greater for it. more often, going big doesnt always work.

pressure does strange things to people. in my early years, anxiety paralyzed me and kept me from doing things i dreamed of (that led to a lot of chemicals and a hazy, misspent blur of a coming-of-age story, an entirely separate conversation we may have here one day). later, i snapped out of it and used that pressure to force myself into performing. now, i often need a (metaphorical) gun to my head to snap into action and create work that i’m proud of.

this is a common journalist trope: i need two weeks to write a worthy feature piece. 13-and-a-half days to worry about it, and 12 hours to actually write, revise and publish it.


im thinking of all of this in the context of my first book, which is set to publish in the coming months. (self-promotion: preorder this bad boy, please, if you haven’t already.) as a writer who generally finds something to dislike about most of my work, I’m actually excited for people to read the book when it comes out. My editor, fact-checker and I spent a lot of time making this into something we can be proud of, and I think we ended up with a truly worthwhile work of narrative nonfiction.

now, they tell me, is the time i am supposed to think about what’s next. the next book, the next job, the next whatever. i honestly am not quite sure what that is yet. but i am certainly beginning to feel the heat. i’ll either rise to the occasion or flounder about for a while in a state of self-doubt until i figure it out. i’d prefer to do the former — it’s more expedient — though even if i go the latter route i’ll still get to where i need to go eventually.

whatever the case, i don’t think it will incorporate woodwinds.


now listening: