Inspired | September 2019

Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in September: finances of book deals and self-publishing, China’s effect on Hollywood, thoughts on Instagram and Like buttons, how commuting has shaped cities, and more.

Stop trash-talking your first draft by Joni B. Cole: “What’s more, a first draft is a unique part of the creative process. It’s the first stage of developing your story, not unlike infancy is the first stage of growing up. We don’t go around calling babies little pieces of s**t, so why behave that way with your nascent novel or memoir?”

An Agent Explains the Ins and Outs of Book Deals by Kate McKean

Publishing a book is still an honor, a point of pride—but like pretty much everything else, it’s also dependent upon a capitalist business model. And the financial side of publishing can be opaque, unfair, and downright contradictory. Combined with the distinctly American habit of not wanting to sully talk of artistry with talk of money, this means that many people who want to make writing their full-time career have no idea how the money part of writing actually works.

Timelines, Tariffs, and Changing Truths (or why there likely won’t be a book next year) by Hunter Hammersen

I’ve written and published at least one book a year since 2012. I love books. I probably won’t do one next year. I want to tell you why.

To do that, I have to talk a little about how books are made, how they’re priced, and, oddly enough, tariffs. I never expected to be thinking about tariffs and trade wars when I started writing knitting patterns, but here we are.

Hollywood’s Great Leap Backward on Free Expression by Martha Bayles: “Simultaneously the world’s most profitable and censorious market, China has led Hollywood down the path of submission to a state censorship apparatus whose standards are as murky and unpredictable as those of most democratic countries are clear and consistent.”

Who Would I Be Without Instagram? An investigation. by Tavi Gevinson

I think the internet is at its best when it’s used to move forward in time. To repurpose the heightened level of self-awareness that it’s taught me to creative ends. To be surprised by something outside of my control — like an audience. To learn and share and, though it sounds trite at this point, connect. Amid all the self-worth-measuring that has made up my experience of the internet, I believe there was also self-actualizing, and that there still can be.

How the Like Button Ruined the Internet by James Somers: “When you are writing in the absence of feedback you have to rely on your own judgment. You want to please your audience, of course. But to do that you have to imagine what your audience will like, and since that’s hard, you end up leaning on what you like.” (I read this after I’d already gotten rid of Like buttons on my posts, and it made me feel even better about that decision.)

Always In by Drew Austin: “AirPods, then, express a more complete embrace of our simultaneous existence in physical and digital space, taking for granted that we’re frequently splitting our mental energy between the two.”

Has the Afghan Box Camera Finally Met Its Match? by Lynzy Billing: “The kamra-e-faoree is a self-contained device—a manual camera and darkroom in one. The lenses are shutterless, so the camera utilizes an internal focusing system: A rod on the back of the box works with an adjustable sanded-glass plate inside. Chemicals and paper are stored within, in small trays.”

The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History by Jonathan English

The constant in transportation technology from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century was change. New modes repeatedly extended the boundaries of cities and changed the way we lived. But that was an aberration over the course of human history. Since then? Not too much has changed. A person can navigate New York City almost perfectly with a fifty-year-old map.

This has had real consequences. In spread-out metros that are growing in population, highways quickly become overcrowded; expanding them is costly and ultimately ineffective. Commute speeds are slowing inexorably as congestion increases. 

What’s the most interesting thing you saw online this month?