Your Independent Education: Becoming a Better Writer

L.J. Bailey
4 min readJun 12, 2019
To be a better writer, you’ll have to read a lot. There’s no avoiding this, but why on earth would you want to do that?

If you’re looking for ideas to write about or ways to supplement and develop your writing, try accessing some of the content available online. However, many resources that seem free are ultimately hidden behind a paywall or a subscription fee after a seven-day free trial. Companies need to make money, but people on a limited budget may not be able to afford a handful of “only” $4.99 a month payments. What’s the average writer to do?

I have a far-from-complete list of twenty-three completely free resources that offer reading, videos, infographics, and a whole host of ideas to help supercharge your mind so those fantastic ideas can form and develop on the page.

  1. — This is the website of public television, and although they offer paying members access to certain popular programs, there are a bunch of free programs and episodes available for streaming.
  2. Hoopla — Your public library probably subscribes to some kind of digital content provider. Hoopla is one of them. Your public librarian or the library website can help you create a log-in. Once there, you have access to movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and TV shows.
  3. Overdrive — Also known as Rakuten Overdrive, this website is another one offering ebooks and audiobooks through your public library. If you have a Kobo reader, you can actually set up your ereader to directly integrate with Overdrive and borrow books from the convenience of your device.
  4. RBdigital — Depending on what your library subscribes to, your offerings will vary. Chicago Public Library offers magazines and audiobooks through this website. I subscribe to The Atlantic and The New Yorker for free with the power of the public library.
  5. CuriosityStream — CuriosityStream is a nonfiction subscription video-on-demand streaming service delivering documentaries and series about science, technology, history, and nature. While not all of the content is free, there are so many episodes available that you won’t have time to be upset at what is behind the subscription wall.
  6. Poetry Magazine — Chicago’s prestigious literary magazine is also the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Again, not everything is available for free, but there are many, many poems that are free and can be printed for personal enjoyment or to share. April is National Poetry Month after all.
  7. The Sun Magazine — This distinguished ad-free periodical offers many fine articles and photographs free on its website. You are limited to a certain amount, but what is there is will keep you busy for a while.
  8. Arts & Letters Daily — A daily curated list run by The Chronicle of Higher Education offering the best articles on culture, politics, philosophy,history, music, and art from across the internet.
  9. Medium — This is a blogging platform offered with some curation, at least for its featured articles (but you knew this one already!).
  10. Curiosity — “Get smarter in a few minutes a day,” is the slogan offered by the website and its accompanying award-winning podcast. Scientific topics from a variety of disciplines are available here in manageable portions.
  11. TED Ideas — The best ideas in technology, information, and design offered through this subset of the TED universe.
  12. Scientific American — This is the publication’s website, and it offers some free reading to the nonpaying visitor.
  13. Nautilus — Nautilus offers a combination of the sciences, culture, and philosophy into a single story told from a variety of perspectives. Its content is ad-supported, but you can read almost all of the articles for free, provided you don’t mind some ads.
  14. Aeon — Aeon’s goal is to create “a sanctuary online for serious thinking.” All the articles are free and cover a whole host of topics.
  15. School of Life — Psychology, philosophy, and culture videos offered free through a YouTube channel addressing questions and exploring ideas.
  16. BBC Future — This site offers free, evidence-based articles on psychology, food, climate change, health, social trends, and technology.
  17. Brain Pickings — Polymath Maria Popova offers thoughtful ruminations on various topics with connections to books she has read. What started as a more personal online intellectual record has grown into an internationally-known website with weekly newsletters.
  18. Project Gutenberg — 58,000 free eBooks in both epub and Kindle formats. These are books that have expired copyrights. Catch up on the classics for free! These books aren’t like the free versions offered on amazon that can be sloppily-edited. These are carefully edited versions of the books.
  19. MITOpenCourseWare — Nearly all of MIT’s course materials are available online.
  20. TED Talks — Technology, education, and design talks from experts across disciplines. Listen or watch talks and learn something new.
  21. edX — Access 1600 free online courses from leading institutions like Harvard. There are even opportunities to interact with other course students.
  22. DuoLingo -Take a few minutes every day to learn a new language. While it won’t make you fluent or conversational, it’s a great way to get an ear for language, learn sight words, and pick up interesting phrases.
  23. Daily Infographic — Visual representations of data that help you learn something new every day.

What free resources are you partial to using? What inspires you to become a better writer? Share your ideas in the comments below or send me an email for inclusion in my next post.

I will be featuring favorite podcasts on a future post. Those are also great free resources that include free readings of books and short stories, discussion on culture and politics, and almost any other topic you can think of.