The Stoic Virtues of Writing

“Be tolerant of others and strict with yourself”

– Marcus Aurelius

Okay, I’m going to make this quick. And not just because I’m a little bit demoralized that the New Bayou blog doesn’t yet have the kind of readership I hope for. It’s just because I’m down to a matter of days to finish my third draft of the next book, All Saints Day of the Dead, and I can’t afford to miss the deadline. Or any deadline. 

I’ve been reading and studying up on the Stoics, so I thought I’d just cover the four virtues of Stoicism and take a look at how they apply the daily practice of writing. Here goes. 

Courage. It takes balls to write something original and put it out into the world. At least I like to think so. But I can tell you I don’t feel particularly courageous. After all, publishing the work is pretty straightforward and painless. Perhaps the real courage is in the writing. In the daily practice of writing. That part is hard, especially when you feel like no one is really listening. I don’t know that much about stoicism yet, but from what I’ve already heard, they put a premium on discipline and hard work, and that appeals to me. Doing something day in and day out, especially without much or any positive feedback . . . I do think that’s a courageous act. 

Moderation. The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of this word is distractions. I’ve talked about it before. There are so many distractions right at our fingertips these days, and taking them in moderation can be a huge challenge. YouTube has become my big guilty pleasure. And even though I’m pretty good about consuming material that supports my goals for learning and productivity, it still sucks up attention and time. Which reminds me of another stoic quote I’ve heard in the last couple days. To paraphrase, the idea is that life isn’t necessarily short. It’s just that we tend to waste so much time that it feels that way. So when it comes to writing, my thought is the thing to do is to do everything that isn’t writing in moderation. Set a timer. I’ve found that helps a lot. 

Wisdom. When I think of this word as it relates to writing, I tend to get mystical, because, when you think about it, there really is something magical about the act of writing. Isn’t there? The way ideas and phrases and even emotions you didn’t know you possessed can bubble up through the process of writing. But only if you’re committed to the process. Only if you honor “the muse” by sitting your ass down and putting your fingers on the keyboard. Yeah, I think that’s it. I think there is ancient and mysterious power and wisdom in the act of writing. But you have to work for it. Again, even though I’m new to the Stoics, I think this idea jives with their philosophy. You have to do the work. And not sporadically. You have to wake up every morning and get your ass to work. And if you do, the wisdom you need will reveal itself.

Justice. Ha! Honestly, I’m not sure about this one. I imagine that in the stoic context this one’s all about righteousness. About doing the right thing. Living by a code. And I’m down with all that, for sure. In fact, I think my newfound attraction to the stoics is driven by that need (it feels like a uniquely masculine need . . . but I could be wrong) to have a clear code of ethics to help me navigate the rest of my life. But these days, when I hear the word justice, it makes me think of the so called social justice warriors who tend to speak so loudly on the internet. I wonder what the Stoics would have to say about these folks? For me, the thing that’s suspicious about the new sort of religious dogma of “social justice” and wokeness is the made up words. Simplicity is the height of effective communication. So when I find myself having to look up new fabrications like intersectionality, anti-racism, transphobia, and whatever new genders have been made up online this week, the rebellious writer in me comes alive. If you have to invent new words, there’s a strong chance the issue itself is contrived in some fashion.

But that’s another subject for another day. For now, it’s time to get my righteous ass back to work.

Published by New Bayou Books

JR Reed started New Bayou Books to spark a revolution in Louisiana literature. The goal of the company is simple: to great writers out of the shadows to carry on the Louisiana literary tradition.

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