Paul Graham’s “The Age of the Essay”

5 sentences from Graham’s essay that I think are worth talking about in class on Monday:

  1. It’s no wonder if [essay writing] seems to the student a pointless exercise, because we’re now three steps removed from real work: the students are imitating English professors, who are imitating classical scholars, who are merely the inheritors of a tradition growing out of what was, 700 years ago, fascinating and urgently needed work.
  2. Good writing should be convincing, certainly, but it should be convincing because you got the right answers, not because you did a good job of arguing.
  3. So if you want to write essays, you need two ingredients: a few topics you’ve thought about a lot, and some ability to ferret out the unexpected.
  4.  If there’s something you’re really interested in, you’ll find they have an uncanny way of leading back to it anyway, just as the conversation of people who are especially proud of something always tends to lead back to it.
  5. . Anyone can publish an essay on the Web, and it gets judged, as any writing should, by what it says, not who wrote it.
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