In Stephen King’s book On Writing, among his many memorable tips, he writes, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” The writing pretty much takes care of itself, considering it’s required to pay the bills. But it’s finding time to read a lot that proves more difficult.
Of course, there are different kinds of reading. Reading (almost) anything will be helpful. But if you’re looking to develop certain skills for your profession, then some mediums are more useful than others. For Stephen King, that means loading up on a lot of books (in the afterword of On Writing, he lists 96 books aspiring writers should read. For freelance writers who are working on editorial projects or branded content, then a magazine may be the best bet. In bite-sized chunks, you can get inspired by others’ writing, stoke the fires of creativity, and discover tips for running your business.
We didn’t list 96 magazines with their own blurbs (that would be a really, really long article), but here are 10 publications that run the gamut from indie publications to mainstream issues you’ll find on newsstands.
1. Mental Floss
You may be familiar with the popular YouTube channel and website, but mental_floss also has its own quirky magazine filled with unconventional information and trivia. This magazine will give you material for new ideas and arm you with a bunch of facts that will make you feel smarter at parties. How could you not with articles like “15 Words You Didn’t Realize Were Named After People” and “How Much Paper Would It Take to Print the Internet?“?
You might not be building your own drone anytime soon, but if your well of inspiration has been drying up lately, pick up an issue of Make: and pay attention to the design-centric focus. How-to articles are always popular, and as you are thinking of your own skills that could apply to potential pieces, you can also learn from articles like: “Build a Cordless Drill Powered Go-Kart” and “How to Make an Awesome Death Star Piñata.”
3. Lucky Peach
This food-focused publication contains plenty of smart and inspiring longform writing. The editors manage to take things that might seem trivial and turn them into page-turning essays with great titles such as “The Life of an Indian Cucumber” and “The Honey Hunters.”
4. Fast Company
Always on the pulse of what’s next for the modern workforce, Fast Co. frequently publishes articles about freelancing, productivity, and the science behind creativity. Be sure to read “4 Things Freelancers Wish You Understood” and “How Freelancers Could Determine the Next Presidential Election.”
5. Oxford American
Specializing in the art of the personal essay, this publication focuses on topics that connect to the South that can inspire you to turn out more first-person writing, including must-read essays like “Walking the Tornado Line” and “How I Became a Famous Writer.”
Although reading well-written features that help you come up with ideas are very beneficial, you also need to stay up on the business aspects of running a freelance business. Entrepreneur makes it easy for you to do both at the same time. Useful articles include “The Portfolio Life: A Surprising Route to Job Security” and “The 15 Best Freelance Websites to Find Jobs.”
7. The New Yorker
The New Yorker is probably today’s gold standard for magazines when it comes to both nonfiction and fiction. The magazine definitely has a type, but every week in print, and every day online, you can expect to find longform and longerform writing on complex topics and unique interview subjects. In other words, it publishes the kind of high-brow writing we all aspire to produce. “Tomorrow’s Advance Man,” about venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, is a great longform piece worth reading; for a brief treatise on writing, reading anything by Mary Norris.
Esquire has arguably the most impressive literary heritage for any magazine not named The New Yorker. The pub has certainly evolved a bit over the years to fit in more with GQ, et al., but it counters quick-hitting listicles and slideshows with longform features and non-fiction book excerpts. For some diverse recommended reading, check out “Elon Musk: The College Years” and “The Life of a Clown.”
9. Vanity Fair
Witty in the right spots and surprisingly in-depth, Vanity Fair takes the issues of the day and turns them into creative nonfiction that you’ll enjoy reading. Don’t miss “Buzz Bissinger on Writing ‘Call Me Caitlyn’ and the Worldwide Reaction That Followed” and “How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield.”
10. The Atlantic
The spot-on cultural commentary of The Atlantic has won it plenty of awards over the years—and, more impressively, it loves working with freelancers (okay, we’re a little biased). Articles like “What If the Allies Had Lost World War I?” and “To Write a Great Essay, Think and Care Deeply” are good examples of work that made it the respected publication it is today.
The moral of the story here is rather simple: read. Read more. And try to read work that will help you do your own job better—all in the name of research, of course.