Good readers make better writers.
I can’t stress this enough. No matter what style of writing you want to do, no matter what your goals are for publishing or sharing your writing—if you want to improve, you need to read widely. But especially for the personal essayist, the memoirist, the writer who is mining her personal experiences and looking at the world around her to make connections and make sense, your reading habits are going to be critical to your development. Read out of your comfort zone. Read things you are deeply interested in, and occasionally, something you don’t think is in your wheelhouse. Be open to being surprised.
Ok. But where to start? You can’t just Google “writing that is out of my comfort zone” and expect to get a bunch of helpful, entertaining, and instructive pieces of writing. Might I suggest checking out the list below first. These are six publications that have expanded my understanding of what essays are and what they can do. I promise, you will find a wealth of diverse voices and forms to inspire your next essays, and enjoy some excellent reads as well.
Good websites that publish good essays
This revered, volunteer-run website is more than just a publisher of quality creative writing; it’s a writing community. They do book reviews, author interviews, and a poetry book club you can join to receive a free poetry collection every month and an invitation to a virtual gathering to discuss that book with the author. They also publish comics and humor writing (the Funny Women column for “literary, feminist humor writing by non-men” is one of my regular web stops). Because they’re an independent organization, they rely on reader support to do what they do and encourage those who like the free content to become members—and there are some pretty cool perks to doing so.
Notable recent read: Emma Smith-Stevens’ “Catalog of This Season’s Memoirs by Men”
This “award-winning 501c3 nonprofit magazine focuse[s] on the intersection of arts and politics.” If you’re looking for a diverse, well-curated collection of some the best writing about issues that matter in this world, Guernica is for you. Memoir and poetry are published alongside interviews and reporting, and the editors are proud to feature “contributors from every continent and at every stage of their careers.”
Notable recent read: Voices on Palestine collection (works about Palestine published by the magazine since 2010), available as an e-book download or PDF import for Kindle
This website “is dedicated to helping people find and share the best longform nonfiction storytelling on the web.” Known for showcasing quality reporting, they also feature personal and critical essays up to 6,000 words, sometimes previously published elsewhere on the net. Editors and contributors also put together reading lists by topic, which makes it easy for you to find writing that will resonate with and inspire you.
Notable recent read: Sarah Hepola’s “Matthew Perry’s Radical Honesty About His Addiction Battle Helped Us All” (originally published in Rolling Stone)
Best American Essays
You’ll need a literal bookmark for this one. The Best American Essays is part of Harper Collins’ Best American Series, “the premier annual showcase of the country’s finest” essays published in print and online that year. Each print edition is guest-edited by a different, previous BAE contributor, which makes for a collection of 20 or so essays that stays fresh and unique, year after year.
Notable recent read: The Best American Essays 2023 (eds. Vivian Gornick and Robert Atwan)
This nonprofit digital publisher is all about “publishing work that is intelligent and unpretentious, elevating new voices, and examining how literature and storytelling can help illuminate social justice issues and current events.” They publish essays as well as interviews and conversations, give well-known authors a platform for dispensing literary advice and reading recommendations, and offer an email newsletter called The Commuter that delivers compelling poetry, flash prose, and graphic narratives to subscribers every Wednesday morning, whether you bookmark the site or not (but you should).
Notable recent read: Two poems from LOW by Nick Flynn
There is literary publishing, and then there is a site that collects and discusses what's published. Lit Hub is a major source of book and author news, criticism, craft essays, and more. There you’ll find original content and “exclusive excerpts” from forthcoming works by major voices, as well as a daily editorial feature by one of their many impressive partner publishers and organizations. This is a well-organized and thorough site with something for everyone, no matter your reading tastes. Their Book Marks section collects book reviews from all over the web, so you’ll never run out of ideas for your next good read.
Notable recent read: “Stephanie Land on the Routine that Helped Her Write Her New Book in a Month”
Which of these sites will you visit? Which ones do you already read? What's the best essay you've read online lately? Share with us in the comments.
Related reading: 5 books to read this fall
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