This afternoon, I read Paul Graham’s latest essay, on “How to Write Usefully“. It had an extremely intriguing title which drew me in almost instantaneously, and then went on to explain the characteristics of a “useful” essay. I love that premise. I love Paul Graham, and his work, and more often than not, I’ve found myself in agreement with his views. On this occasion though, I only love this piece of writing if I agree with the premise that there is such thing as a “useful” essay. To me, that automatically contemplates the existence of an essay that is not “useful”. As minutes passed when I thought about this, I recognized that I found this premise one that I struggled to agree with in its entirety.
The piece is great only if the purpose of your writing is for your writing to be “useful” to someone – and you’re writing with that purpose in mind. For me, however, writing isn’t about it being useful to anyone except myself. It provides me with an opportunity to express myself and my ideas in a manner that I want to, and enables me to reflect on things I think about privately on a public forum. I enjoy that. Sometimes this reflection is helpful to people. Other times it’s not. It couldn’t matter less to me.
In a convoluted sense, I know I’ll be following the principles he outlines when I’m writing a piece where my sole intention is for it to be useful. Other times I’m going to write as I please.