3 Long Reads That Will Inspire You to Write That Thing You’ve Been Putting Off
10.18.19

Things I’m currently putting off: my annual mole check, a much needed closet-cleanout, an appointment to figure out why my right knee creaks like a haunted house, among several others, many of which I’ve forgotten, which is part of the problem. But no undone chore weighs more heavily on my conscience than the writing I haven’t done—the newsletter I want to start, the book proposal I want to write, the fiction I want to fuck up and feel weird about. These are the to-dos that pry my eyes open at 2 a.m. and make my heart beat at daytime speed. They’re the things that feel big in the way only unfinished dreams can.

Have you heard life comes at you fast? Or that it’s what happens when you’re making other plans? Or that it doesn’t wait for anyone? It’s nice to feel understood by Pinterest sometimes. But even nicer to feel understood by good writing—the kind that reminds you that life can also come at you slow, or that plans don’t have to haunt you, or that you don’t have to wait for everything, at least not all the time. My favorite kind of writing is the kind that radically curbs my pace. Reshapes my understanding of what’s important into bite-size pieces, or even better, motes of dust.

I had the unique experience of reading three pieces of writing this week that moved those particular tectonic plates. So if you, like me, have a thing for long reads, and also like me, are putting off some kind of creative work, bookmark these for the weekend and let me know if they jostle something loose.


The One That Made Me Want to Write More Ambitiously

How Susan Sontag Taught Me to Think, by A.O. Scott | New York Times Magazine

This tribute to Susan Sontag by A.O. Scott is a one-two punch for writing inspiration in that you get to reflect upon Sontag’s inimitable mind while living inside the reverent lens Scott through which Scott sees her. “I can’t deny the reality of the image or the symbolic cachet of the name,” Scott writes. “I don’t want to devalue the ways Sontag serves as a talisman and a culture hero. All I really want to say is that Susan Sontag mattered because of what she wrote.”

The One That Made Me Want to Write Something Outside My Comfort Zone

The Beautiful Power of Ta-Nehisi Coates, by Jesmyn Ward | Vanity Fair

I heard about this one while listening to Radhika Jones’ interview on the Longform podcast. Jones is the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, and she invoked the piece as an example of how she’s doing things differently—in this case, assigning a profile of Ta-Nehisi Coates to a novelist instead of a journalist. I agree the result is striking. The combination of Ward’s clear poetic skill for storytelling and Coates’s admission that his first foray into fiction has him rattled offers the perfect motivation to push through your own creative hesitations.

The One That Made Me Want to Get Started Right This Second

Malfunctioning Sex Robot, by Patricia Lockwood | The London Review of Books

My friends Laura and Mia forced me to read this at a party last Saturday—Laura had literally printed out the piece and stapled the pages together, and I’ve never been more charmed. I reread it the next day, in the crisper light of sobriety, and was again thoroughly moved and delighted. It’s a review of John Updike’s body of work, written by Patricia Lockwood, and you don’t need to be familiar with Updike to enjoy it. Her creative and insolent yet even-handed approach to the piece is thrilling (“As I read I actually felt my teeth getting stronger,” she writes, “like a teenage dinosaur.”). And I found this Updike line about writing almost too appealing: “[I]f you do it very fast without thinking, something will get in that wouldn’t ordinarily. I think one tends to spoil not only the thing at hand, but the whole artform, by taking too much thought, by trying to assert too much control.”

I’ll leave it at that. Good luck!

Feature photos via Getty Images.

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