2021 in Letters: The Reading in Review

A round-up of The Reading in 2022.

Thank you to every one of you who has supported The Reading this year: all of you who have read these letters, subscribed, and who have attended Writing Space and Hotpot events. All of you who supported me in my departure from Substack in March and who have followed me on this adventure until now. I am wishing each of you rest, jubilation, and time with your loved ones. The first letter of 2022 will come out the second Sunday of January. Until then!

The Reading

  1. ‘How Do I Rediscover the Joy of Writing?’
    Take stock of what you have and what you know. Clear a space—a physical space—where you can do anything, be anyone you want. Turn off the cameras and enjoy a place without surveillance. A place of purposeful failure. This is play—it is the anonymity of not mattering as much as you want.
  2. ‘My Two Books Failed, But I Don’t Know How to Move On.’
    Dreams are ambitious because they are certain. In them, household chores have been done; the years spent working have already passed; the rewritings dissolve beneath final versions. Dreams can be summarized into stories. Lives cannot.
  3. ‘Can I Quit My Day Job?’
    What does it mean to live a good life? How do you know how to reach it? You’ve been marketed some ideas by your family, your friends, and our society. And you second-guess yourself with those ideas (and their judgments) too. But what might it look like for you?
  4. ‘Is Choosing to Stick to “Westernized” Tropes Also a Form of Freedom?’
    To be responsible to yourself means to acknowledge what you have lost: to uncouple your face from the face of the wound.
  5. ‘What Is a Writing Community, Anyway?’
    Community is actually quite simple. It is a matter of kindness, generosity, and surprise. Kindness is about opening the door. Generosity is passing help through it. And surprise is the delight that builds only through others’ continued presence in your life and vice-versa.
  6. ‘My Brain Fog Won’t Let Me Write!’
    You want to write but you don’t know how. And that’s because you’re in the midst of starting over in the name of your true desires. You’re not missing a pulse—you’re recovering from a mistaken identity of the heart.
  7. ‘How Do I Write Without Being Pigeonholed?’
    ...[T]he whole setup of racism is that it has nothing to do with you. It makes itself your business. It interrupts your normal flow of life and writing—it seeks to stymie and confuse you about what you mean. It impairs your judgment and seeks to replace it with racism’s lens. On systemic levels, as in the traditional publishing world, it seeks to replace your standards of excellence with its own. Don’t let it.
  8. ‘I’m Afraid I’m Not Going to Get Anywhere.’
    All of us are about to ask ourselves if we’re ready to make a life never taught to us, never shown us. It’s a life where you can’t trust a kind of sensibility in the world any longer. And it’s important to learn together, to find those who share what you really want, so you can take action for that future.
  9. ‘Will This Rejection Discourage Me Forever?’
    Grief is looking that long life you imagined all the way down, one more time. To memorialize it properly, you must admit to yourself not only that you wanted something, but that you wanted it that much. It means that you can’t go back to numbing yourself or to being okay—it is about acknowledging that missing part, knowing intimately what it is, and loving yourself so much that you are willing to transform in order to try again and again. Moving on from this fantasy means keeping the part that gave you hope; it means wanting as much as you want, not how much you should; it means changing your life in the ways you can.
  10. ‘What’s an “Emerging” Writer and How Do I Become One?’
    A self vanishing into the woods, the last look of an eye before the head goes underwater—what does it mean to emerge? By the time the writer reappears, the work has already been done. The person who was in the process of emerging, well, that is not visible to any of us. In a way their disappearance into what others can never witness—well, that was always the point.
  11. ‘How Do You Write About Joy?’
    The truly imaginative act, in catastrophe, is letting go of the promise of its end. It is to stop waiting for after in order to have now; it is to pause enough at existing where I am so I can acknowledge, and have, true joy.
  12. ‘Someone Else Published My Idea. Now What?’
    Instead of being an island, originality is knowing where your bridges are. No poem or novel can hold your intrinsic value, nor are they written alone. Your writing is a pale expression of the web that lives inside of you: where you come from, where you are, and where you’re going. What you’ve read and seen and believed. What you’ve loved enough to repeat in the world.
  13. ‘What If I’m Just Missing…Talent?’
    Perhaps we want talent because, simply, we want to be chosen. It’s not so much I cared about being called gifted. It’s the fact that I had already learned, at eight, that no one would come hold me if I wasn’t. Talent is the name we give it because talent is what adults see—a marvelous performance, seemingly natural and magic, that comes from children. But children know more than what we give them credit for. I remember the work I put into those stories. I remember how badly I wanted them—and me—to be loved.
  14. ‘How Do I Write If I Never Finish Anything?’🔒
    Art is the opposite of following a plan. Art is play, art is messiness, art is paint on your face and the walls. Art is running your colors outside the lines. Art is one of the few places where your mistakes don’t really matter—in fact, they may make the work better overall.
  15. ‘Does My Poetry Have to Be Difficult to Be Real?’
    Perhaps we want to turn our passions into careers because our jobs represent the time that doesn’t belong to us, but should. You are, at this moment, resisting difficult poetry. But is it difficult poetry you’re resisting, or the notion that in order to write “serious” poetry, you have to write in traditions that you don’t care for? That is, are you resisting yet another part of your life being taken up by what something you don’t truly want?


  1. Approaching the blank page, a writing practice🔒
  2. Facing it—a grief exercise🔒
  3. How I left my job to write full-time🔒
  4. On Layli Long Soldier and writing imperfect language🔒
  5. On asking for letters of reference🔒
  6. A secret about craft🔒
  7. On writing what’s “expected”🔒
  8. A monthly wellness prompt for the quality of your life🔒
  9. A little more on the jurying process🔒
  10. On finding one's own measures (Part 1)🔒
  11. A prompt for paying attention🔒
  12. In search of ‘a completely original moment’🔒
  13. On cultural capitalism and talent🔒
  14. On difficulty in poetry🔒

The Writing

  1. How are you? What are your creative intentions for the new year?🔒
  2. What do you wish you knew about getting an agent? (+ five questions)🔒
  3. What's a book you love that you wish had wider recognition? Why?🔒
  4. How do you make your living while writing now? And ideally?🔒
  5. How do you approach the second (or third, or fourth) draft?🔒
  6. How do you know when a book is finished?🔒
  7. What is your happiest writing memory?🔒
  8. How do you assess the quality of your work?🔒
  9. What do you think about these changes to The Reading?
  10. What writing unproductively means🔒
  11. Do you feel pressure to make a certain kind of art? What has this changed for your art practice? What has stayed the same?🔒
  12. How have you, and do you, cope with creative rejection?🔒
  13. Do you like writing with prompts and/or commissions? What are the pros and cons?🔒
  14. Ask me anything about email newsletters.🔒
  15. How do you write on top of everything else?🔒
  16. What techniques have you found to write long works effectively?🔒
  17. What are you working on this summer?🔒
  18. How do you know when to rest?🔒
  19. What's your relationship to reading (as a writer)?🔒
  20. What does it mean to grow an audience?🔒
  21. How do you write vulnerably? (Part 1)🔒
  22. How do you write vulnerably? (Part 2)🔒
  23. Changes to The Writing (and how to write vulnerably, part 3)🔒
  24. On writing spaces
  25. On finding one's own measures (part 2) (See part one under Postscripts)🔒
  26. Vacation mode🔒
  27. On writing where you are🔒
  28. Between seasons🔒
  29. How did your summer writing go?🔒
  30. A reflection on leaving social media🔒
  31. Is this the beginning of a new book?🔒
  32. Making the work visible🔒
  33. On designing a writing life🔒
  34. If The Reading were a book…
  35. The price of admission🔒
  36. Some examples of unproductive writing spaces🔒
  37. Antiracism and the classroom🔒
  38. When are you going to get a real job?🔒
  39. Going back to where it started🔒


Yanyi is the author of Dream of the Divided Field (One World Random House, 1 March 2022) and The Year of Blue Water (Yale University Press 2019). To find out more, go to yanyiii.com.

As always, you can always peruse the full index if you want to go back further.