Yogurt

Ten years ago, my wife and I had a quirky neighbor named Dell. He taught us to make our own yogurt and the results were so delicious that we've made it weekly ever since and taught friends to do the same.

We just found out that Dell passed away two years ago.

It's profoundly bittersweet to consider the unpredictable echoes we leave in each other's lives. You can’t control cultures directly—be they yogurt or human—but you can create the conditions for them to grow and thrive.

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Complement with How to kill a dragon, What my secret agent grandmother taught me, and There aren't even any endings.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Magic

The world is brimming with magic. 

Summon it by bringing your attention to bear, by following the path into being. 

The keener your sense of presence, the more miraculous the universe reveals itself to be.

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Complement with Look to the liminal, Maria Popova on reality's density of wonder, and There aren't even any endings.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Bridging the personal and the universal

A key component in great writing is building bridges between the personal and the universal.

Without specific incarnation, universals revert to truisms. The insight you’re trying to articulate may be foundational, but cliché drains it of color and weight. Aphorisms can blaze bright on social media because aspiration is a potent fuel for sharing, but often they fade in readers’ hearts just as quickly because there just isn’t enough to hold on to.

Without plugging into the universal—even if the extension cord is long and tangled—personal stories won’t turn on a light in readers’ minds. Your anecdote might be funny or charming, but if there isn’t something there that connects to the human experience, that connects us, then why should we make time to read it?

As a writer, you can work in either direction. In Breach, a piece of pottery illuminates the novel’s underlying theme. In Veil, the arc of the protagonist’s evolving relationship with her father mirrors humanity’s evolving relationship with the planet. In Cumulus, the freelance photographer’s struggle to make a living with her art opens a window into the systems shaping the gig economy.

When a story integrates the personal and the universal, it becomes an emotional flywheel that moves the reader, offering them a new perspective of lasting value, subtly or profoundly changing them into someone new.

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Complement with The PathA pop band that talks about complicated emotions, and Cultivating a sense of presence.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Reassurance

When I ask for advice, often what I’m really looking for is reassurance.

But the work I’m most proud of requires taking real risks with no possible guarantee of success, so seeking reassurance that things will turn out okay is a trap.

Trust yourself. Trust the process.

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Complement with Most successful people have no idea what made them successful, How to do interesting work, and Be bold.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Narrative daisy-chains

We all know that stories sometimes go viral, apotheosizing into memes. But much more interesting than a single story propagating itself through retelling is when stories inspire the telling of other stories in a cascading cultural daisy-chain.

What anecdote can you share with a friend that inspires them to share an anecdote of their own, deepening your mutual understanding? What might inspire them to share their story with others in a way that inspires those others to open up in turn, each a domino falling across an expanding web of conversations that stitch humanity yet more tightly together?

Stories can reproduce themselves through repetition, but a certain kind of story unlocks the hearts of those who hear it so that they pay it forward by giving of themselves.

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Complement with Stories are bicycles, Chapter 0, and A pop band that talks about complicated emotions.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Be bold

Be bold. Many eschew grand ambitions for fear of falling short, so the higher you aim, the thinner the competition. Plus, because nothing is truly easy, you might as well attempt something truly hard. Who knows? You might even succeed, surprising everyone, yourself most of all.

Because so few people are willing to risk boldness, being bold makes you a leader by default. Some will see their feelings articulated in your vision and join up. Others will see their fears reflected in your vision and cry foul. Whether they opt in or out, you are defining the terms of engagement and inviting them to clarify their thinking.

If you're going to boldly go where no one has gone before, do so with clear eyes. Otherwise you might go boldly off a cliff or into a brick wall. Don't cling to obsolete points of view. Boldness requires flexibility. If you discover new evidence that changes your mind, admit you were wrong and set a new course.

Life is so damn short that living boldly seems an apt way to honor the fleeting gift of existence. If you're not going to be yourself, who else are you going to be? Be yourself, be bold, or die trying.

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Complement with How to make sense of complex ideasCultivating a sense of presence, and Quantity is a route to quality, not its opposite.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

The Path

The girl entered the Dark Forest.

Leaves whispered. Shadows swirled. Bright eyes gleamed. Mud sucked at her boots. She evaded the bandits, won over the fairies, escaped the quicksand, emasculated the creepy lumberjack, survived the poison thorns, defeated the monsters, fed wild carrots to the unicorn, slipped away from the strangling vines, and outsmarted the witch.

The woman emerged from the Dark Forest.

She dropped her pack, salved her blisters, ate an apple with a hunk of cheese and a chocolate bar, drank from the brook, and sighed.

Ahead was the Open Steppe, the Rushing River, the Endless Desert, the Stormy Sea, the Bottomless Cave, the Highest Mountain, the Brilliant Stars—worlds pressing up against worlds forever in all directions, thick with promise and peril, almost but never quite overwhelming, a summons and an apology and a challenge.

She smiled and hefted her pack.

There was only the path.

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I wrote this little story as a birthday gift for my wife, Andrea Castillo, who sends the incomparable Seasonal newsletter that explores the California food system, one fruit or vegetable at a time.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.