By William Deresiewicz
This week marks a year, more or less, of All Points posts. Forty-nine pieces since April 25th. Have I learned anything in a year of writing weekly columns? One thing, at least: how hard it is to write a weekly column. How do the newspaper people do it, the ones who have to produce twice as much, twice as often? How did Dr. Johnson do it, for that matter, with all those Idlers and Ramblers? Easy: they repeat themselves ad nauseam, and he was a genius.
When Robert Wilson asked me to take a slot in the Daily Scholar, I told him that I didn’t want to be confined to a beat. I’m not an expert in anything; I’m a pundit, a creature who may be defined as someone who knows nothing about everything.
He caught me at a good time. I’d been combing through my notebooks looking for essay ideas. The things go back about 15 years, ever since I decided that my ideas were worth writing down. I had discovered two things: most of my ideas were not worth writing down, and most of the ones that were were too small for a decent essay. Wouldn’t it be perfect, I thought, if I could write 400 words instead of 5,000?
I don’t produce a column every week. I produce six every six weeks, which is easier. Though every time I finish a set I wonder how I’ll ever write the next one. But then stuff rises to the surface, or I remember ideas from a long time ago. Some of these things I’ve been carrying around in my pocket for 20 years. Others come up in conversation with my wife. Our Saturday routine begins by going to the local coffee shop to get caffeinated and hash out our positions on the latest political outrage or cultural wrinkle. The place is called Random Order. A few months after I began the column, I realized that would’ve made a fitting name for it.
Yes, by the way, I still use notebooks—and legal pads, for that matter. Some of my old students have given me a hard time about killing trees, so I told them that I’ll stop wasting paper when they stop stealing music. I started that way, longhand, and writing being as corporeal a practice as throwing pots or hitting fastballs, I plan to stick with it.
About the actual name. “All Points” comes from the passage in Horace where he recommends a mixture, in writing, of instruction and delight, or in less exalted terms, profit and pleasure. (“He carries all points who mixes the useful and sweet.”) That’s an aspiration, not a boast. The name may also be taken as a reference to the author’s personality.
Spring is here. Another year begins.
William Deresiewicz is an essayist and critic. His book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, which will be published in August, is based in part on his essays “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” and “Solitude and Leadership.” To read all the posts from his weekly blog, “All Points,” click here.