The word “essay” comes from the French word Essayer which means “to try.” An essay is something you try to figure something out. Paul Graham, who shared this thought on his blog continues —
Figure out what? You don’t know yet. And so you can’t begin with a thesis, because you don’t have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn’t begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don’t take a position and defend it. You notice a door that’s ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what’s inside.
If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne’s great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That’s why I write them.
In the things you write in school you are, in theory, merely explaining yourself to the reader. In a real essay you’re writing for yourself. You’re thinking out loud.
I shared this today as part of my last technology note this year as part of the Notes by Ada project. I generally share the longer version of these notes on Medium and LinkedIn (experimented with both over the course of the year) and a synopsis of sorts here. I thought the above paragraphs beautifully summarized why I set out to do this. I had many questions about technology and figured I’d write my way to clarity.
This is also why writing here every day is such a fascinating experience. Writing clarifies thinking and I’m grateful for the opportunity to think out loud, share my notes with you and, every once a while, hear back from you when things resonate.
Here’s to more essayer. :)