I highly recommend long reading. Not least because of the lovely knowledge that unfurls from it. I also think that committing to a long read narrows, focuses, hones and gets you still. It’s the antidote to the frazzle of short-form toggling.

Image by Steve McCurry
Image by Steve McCurry

It’s a Sunday afternoon thing for me, to read all the lengthy prose I’ve collated during the week from the The New Yorker, Atlantic, The New York Times, The Monthly and The Quarterly Essay. I “flag for follow up” or email links and tweets to myself during the week. And then open them all at once and dive in. (Out of interest, how do you go about it, if indeed you do?)

All of which is a funny preamble to today’s good quote share that I pulled from The New Yorker long writer John McPhee’s essay on omission which, ironically goes on…and on (worth a long read!). It’s an Ernest Hemingway quote:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

If you’re a writer, take note of this trick – cutting out stuff that you can gamble your reader will get, or will challenge them to engage further in your writing, will not only free you up, but will lend your work a certain elan.

“If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost,” continues McPhee. “Give elbow room to the creative reader. In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out… Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.”

As a general rule, trimming, streamlining, minimising works best for most creative projects. That’s not to say it has to be short…just elegant and deposited on the page without clutter.

FYI – I often share long reads worth the focus on my social media, ironically enough…Find me on Twitter or Facebook.

As I flag above, share with me how you go about long reading!

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • mw

    Hey Sarah

    You’ve alerted me to lots of great reads through your twitter feed. I don’t have the desire or patience to ‘long read’ from any of the publications that you mention above on a regular basis. But if I check your twitter feed every once in a while I might find an article that interests me and go from there. Then again .. I’m not a journo so I guess you are describing your work methodology to a certain extent. Interesting ! I’m more interested in going back and reading stuff written by people who interest me from our collective history. I found a collection of Hemingway articles recently that he had written for various newspapers early in his career. It gave me new insight as to his uneasy relationship to his native country. Fascinating ! This principle of omission is critical to Song writing and performance .. perhaps all Art.

    I do like reading on Sundays though !

  • If I ever come across something I want to read later, on either my phone or my computer, I just send it to Pocket, which is a free ‘read it later’ service. It takes two seconds to send it to Pocket, and from there you can share it through a variety of means with others. It is probably my favourite and most used app 🙂

    • will check it out

    • Lesley Allan

      I use Instapaper, do you know if it’s similar?

      • gourmethiker

        Yeah they are two services that do the same thing, in different ways 🙂

      • Yes, pretty much offers the same service 🙂

  • Daniel L

    Hi Sarah,
    How appropriate topic for Thursday 🙂 I love long reads, very much … Some articles are often better than the whole books on certain topics. I read a lot, whenever I have a ‘free’ moment and quite often in the past couple of years or so, You prompted me to read some great stuff :-)… The New Yorker and Quarterly Essay here in Australia, are also two of my favourite sources, but I am also regularly reading long articles from much less famous sources in different languages and it is great to enjoy this rich mix of styles and opinions about same or similar topics…
    Your blog is my favourite place to check on daily basis and on some days, I leave also a long comment, purely due to inspiration after reading your post… 🙂
    I like very much quote from Hemingway that you used today, so accurate…
    Instapaper and Pocket are nice applications for saving and collecting articles, but I am quite often saving some long articles in the iBooks, Kindle and Stanza apps. Some of them I print and carry with me to the beach or nearby park, but it is perfect to read some of them in a bookshop, with a cup of coffee or tea…
    It is great to escape for a while from everyday office grind and to write a comment on your post 🙂
    Thank you for that opportunity!

  • Lisa Cox

    For me, it’s long writing! I spend a decent chunk of the week reading and writing for my clients but long, creative writing is my ‘out’ 🙂 xo

  • I know that it’s not an aspiration of yours or possible even a desire – but I see you as a (my) Guru . . . . . . a Guru for Creative, passionate, empathetic and ‘true’ peeps in the world.

    So much of what you speak of, I have such a strong connection with, and on so many occasions you have discussed an issue/idea that I am currently wrestling with.

    I am SO grateful that you share your thoughts and daily ‘doings’. I’m also grateful that you share your travels, your passions and your failures and fears.

    I know that you write for yourself, but I’m just one little bean who garners strength, support, encouragement and PERMISSION to not only accept who I am (with all my inherent weirdness) but to also learn love who I am, simply from reading your words.

    Thanks for writing and sharing – it’s awesome!

    I was a librarian for 15 years
    and realised a month ago
    that I no longer read!!!
    I was blown away with this knowledge
    and have struggled
    with how to fix it.
    Embarrassingly – you've reminded me
    that I just need to do it.

    TY xx

  • Anna

    I struggle to give myself permission for a long read. It feels like the ultimate indulgence. On out of town train trips I find stillness in reading. There’s a weird harmony of external movement (train)and internal movement (reading), that eases ny mind into a creative space. Some kind of synchronicity at play, balance.