Hitching a ride, trusting a partner, marrying the same person three times
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As you’d probably expect, it’s a decision we editors come to collectively each month — discussing as a group what topics will hopefully generate a wealth of responses, particularly responses we might not have anticipated. We try to find topics that are universal, and ones to which our readers will have a strong personal connection. One good recent example would be the Readers Write on “Bread” — most everyone, every culture, has some type of bread, and it’s a rich topic in that there are a lot of personal stories tied up in it. Actually, topics about food almost always do well!
As with everything that appears in the magazine, I’m always interested in pieces that feel, above everything, truthful. The best way I’ve found to describe what I mean is: pieces that look me in the eye. We’re allergic to artifice or something that’s overly clever. I’d much prefer to spend my time with a piece of writing that feels like it’s cost something of the author to write it. With that said, I also love when a piece can make me laugh or smile, and that’s certainly true of Readers Write. From a more practical perspective, the submissions that aren’t thousands of words long tend to do best — it shows the author understands what we’re trying to do with the section, and has already boiled down his or her piece to make it fit with what we publish in the section.
One is what I’ve just mentioned — that they’re too long and would be extremely difficult to edit down to proper shape. Another is that the author will outline their whole lifetime experience with a topic. To draw from my previous example: a piece that describes what bread was like when they were little, and then the bread they ate in middle age, and what type of bread they’re eating or baking now. Much better are the pieces that read like a short, self-contained narrative: here’s what happened in 1984 when I burnt the bread I was making for a friend who’d just come back from traveling abroad, or something like that. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, and it’s why it’s such a privilege and pleasure to put the section together each month — to be a witness to those little moments that stick with you long after they’re over.
Those readers who are familiar with The Sun’s history might know that we’re coming up on our fiftieth anniversary. While we’ve always endeavored never to repeat a Readers Write topic, we’ll be doing just that in 2023, our fiftieth year — revisiting topics that we’ve run before, where we think there will be different sorts of responses from when we first ran them. We’re very excited to share those pieces with our readers soon, along with all the other ways we’ll be celebrating The Sun’s history in 2023.