Variation on the Word Sleep

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Essay on Essays

I ran across this article on writing essays, and what's wrong with the ways in which essay writing is taught. It does a very good job of summing up the sort of writing and thinking that I probably most love to do. He focuses very much on the importance of surprise and finding things that are surprising in order to write a good article. The most important tip for that is:

People trying to be cool will find themselves at a disadvantage when collecting surprises. To be surprised is to be mistaken. And the essence of cool, as any fourteen year old could tell you, is nil admirari. When you're mistaken, don't dwell on it; just act like nothing's wrong and maybe no one will notice.

One of the keys to coolness is to avoid situations where inexperience may make you look foolish. If you want to find surprises you should do the opposite. Study lots of different things, because some of the most interesting surprises are unexpected connections between different fields.

This reminded me of a conversation last night about South African history. Perhaps I'll work on writing a little essay on the subject of the perceptions of Russians in early colonial wars and then again during the fight against apartheid.


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