The Writer as Stoic

Stoicism is an important philosophy in the founding tenets of the Western world; it is frequently tied into Christianity owing to the religion’s nature as part of a Roman tradition (albeit one that grew to outstrip the political entity that eventually adopted it).

Stoicism involves the pursuit of morality and virtue above all else (which certainly helps explain its appeal to Christian scholars who saw a link between it and the teachings of their faith, leading it to be preserved for centuries with a great deal of fervor as a sort of secular proof of the rightness of a moral life).

Writers are not necessarily known for an exceptional pursuit of virtue, so why is it important for writers to adopt a Stoic worldview (or at least elements of the Stoic virtues)?

Writing is an incredibly unrewarding task if pursued in the wrong way. I can say from experience that many of what I consider my best works, and the efforts and labors of my dearest sparks have been generally ignored and poorly received. Many of what I consider my least worthy works have survived in the consciousness of my associates, and while they may have found some popularity they also are things that I no longer consider to reflect on me (and I write prolifically enough that there are some real rough patches to my work).

However, I have no control over other people. I was educated to become a teacher, and part of my education reflects a classic stoic virtue: know your zone of influence.

I cannot control the fact that much of what interests me is not what interests my primary audiences, but I can control my response to their interest.

I have long set the first goal in my writing as the enjoyment and ennoblement of others (this is why things I write are generally available free-of-charge without reservation). If my own critical eye says that the work is not my finest, but it has achieved in my goal, shouldn’t that be at least consolation and at best a reason for exuberance in and of itself?

The point here, a traditional Stoic notion, is to focus yourself toward internal goals. Generally, I set my goal as output. While this can provoke a pursuit of quantity over quality, I find that it has greatly improved my overall quality of work because I am more disciplined in how I pursue it–further, it opens a world of triumphs and celebrations previously locked off when I was more concerned by the repute I could gain via my work than the virtues I had to cultivate to complete it.

The other part of Stoicism that has helped my development as a writer has been welcoming discomfort. I’ve never been much of a fan of sharing my drafts, but I started a Wattpad account and post a variety of works there (I’m somewhat inconsistent with cross-posting, which is an issue).

My Wattpad has awful stuff on it. It has a novella I wrote in college for  a class (and wisely never showed anyone except with large disclaimers prefacing it), assorted poems, and stories that were the products of short bursts of fancy.

But it was a step away from perfectionism, and toward writing more diligently. I don’t write that much for the site anymore, because I’m doing more writing on steemit, but I’ve found that much of my best work has been done for Wattpad because I forced myself to write things I didn’t like.

I’ve always hated writing stories. I have nothing against storytelling. But actually putting fiction to page is a little painful to me. I forced myself to do that. I’m still not a huge fan of it, but it made me a much better writer overall, and occasionally I’ve discovered that there are bits and pieces that can catch my fancy, and I’m able to express and develop those elements now, becoming more versatile and well-honed.

Much of my pursuit of the Stoic values has been under different banners, but the fact remains that writers need to consider some of the notions of the ancient philosophers when making choices about how and what to write.

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