Paul Graham - «How to Write Usefully»: some citations

Precision and correctness are like opposing forces. It's easy to satisfy one if you ignore the other.

Telling people something they didn't know doesn't always mean surprising them.
Sometimes it means telling them something they knew unconsciously but had never put into words.
In fact those may be the more valuable insights, because they tend to be more fundamental.

If you write about topics that seem important to you, they'll probably seem important to a significant number of readers as well.

The way to get novelty is to write about topics you've thought about a lot.
Then you can use yourself as a proxy for the reader in this department too.
Anything you notice that surprises you, who've thought about the topic a lot, will probably also surprise a significant number of readers.

If you don't learn anything from writing an essay, don't publish it.

A mistake is more obvious when expressed in simple language.

When you tell people something they didn't know, they don't always thank you for it.
Sometimes the reason people don't know something is because they don't want to know it.

If you're looking for novel ideas, popular but mistaken beliefs are a good place to find them.
Every popular mistaken belief creates a dead zone of ideas around it that are relatively unexplored because they contradict it.

Brevity is the diction of command.
If you watch someone delivering unwelcome news from a position of inferiority, you'll notice they tend to use lots of words, to soften the blow.
Whereas to be short with someone is more or less to be rude to them.

If you narrow the topic sufficiently, you can probably find something you're an expert on.

I never published any of them and never expected to. I wrote them as a way of figuring things out.

Incidentally, Steve Wozniak did the same thing.
In high school he designed computers on paper for fun.
He couldn't build them because he couldn't afford the components.
But when Intel launched 4K DRAMs in 1975, he was ready.

It sometimes happens that an area of knowledge sits quietly for years, till some change makes it explode.
Cryptography did this to number theory.
The internet is doing it to the essay.

There's a certain kind of idea that's best discovered by writing essays.
If most essays are still unwritten, most such ideas are still undiscovered.