Anyone else feel as if they’ve aged a decade in the past year? (Make mine a century.) The continual stream of bad news, the need to doom-scroll Twitter to keep up with the latest dumpster fires, the constant refreshing of reliable information feeds has taken a toll. Not just on my hair (gray), my once-healthy diet (now composed of sugar and other substances), but also on my ability to read, relax, and refill my creative well.
To add insult to injury, so many of the activities we as writers depend upon to inspire us are out of reach these days – the excitement of travel, the quiet stimulation of long afternoons at local museums, the interesting nights out with friends at cultural events.
Yet as creative beings, our brains need a regular diet of varied, high-quality fare, a chance to allow new ideas to percolate and ferment, then combine in unexpected ways. I’ve realized my mental intake over the past year has been less like kale and cabernet and more like chicken nuggets and diet soda.
So I’ve vowed to get back on track. I’ve limited my time online, taken myself outside for long walks in nature, called friends. And I’ve subscribed to a variety of fun and interesting email newsletters. I may not be able to travel right now, but I can read about beautiful places. I can learn about history, about art, about science and language and so many more subjects, all without leaving home.
These short bites are often just what I need to stimulate my curiosity and give my brain a jolt of creativity. Here, in no particular order, are my favorites. Some are supported by ad revenue, some have more comprehensive versions available for a fee, but all are fun and free. (And of course, I receive no compensation for listing them here.)
- Atlas Obscura This travel website bills itself as “The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders.” Recent email issues have contained short articles on everything from an ancient lighthouse on the Isle of Wright to information on Tolstoy’s mysterious last days. The emails are smartly written and always intriguing and the website itself is worth exploring.
- Afar – Daily Wander Another travel company, Afar offers in-depth pieces on a variety of topics, both historical and current. Recent favorites of mine include an essay on the habits of the happiest countries in the world and a profile on Lilian Bland, the first woman to design, build, and fly her own airplane. (And yes, I thought it was Amelia Earhart too.)
- Delancyplace.com This quirky newsletter features a brief excerpt or quote, usually from a work of nonfiction, with commentary to provide context. The works chosen are usually historical, and often spark interesting conversations when I share them. There’s also a chance to purchase the books, with the profits going to charity and children’s literary programs. From Hitchcock’s shower scene to the art of breathing, the topics are always intriguing.
- National Geographic A combination of stunning photography, well-crafted writing, and interesting tidbits, this newsletter has it all, just as you would expect from this venerable nonprofit. Topics range from far-off destinations to scientific explorations to current events, all so well done it’s like getting a present every time an issue drops into my mailbox.
- Poem-a-day A daily poetry series featuring contemporary work, this newsletter always stretches my brain. At the end of each poem there’s a chance to listen to it being read, a brief description of what the author says it means, and a short biography.
- Word Genius A wonderful way to expand vocabulary, Word Genius features a word of the day, with a link to an audio version for proper pronunciation, an example of the word’s use and context, a brief history, and a graph showing how its use has declined or risen. How propitious for writers!
I don’t always get a chance to read every email newsletter I subscribe to, of course. Some I wind up deleting without a glance; others I save up to read all at once. Sometimes one will spark a story idea that I’ll jot down, or will fortuitously cover a topic I’m researching and I’ll save it for future use. But they all provide a way to engage my brain and fill it with something a step above fast food — maybe gourmet tacos. (Everybody likes tacos, right? They taste great and are relatively nutritious!) They’ve become a habit I’m hoping to keep even when the world moves nearer to normal.
Now it’s your turn — do you subscribe to any newsletters you’d like to share? What are your favorites, and how do you use them?