All posts by Mike

Genre-bending writer.

The Stoic Writer

Writer

I have to share this article from Medium, one of the great writing resources on the Internet. While not targeted specifically at writers, this list of Stoic principles for regaining control of one’s life and time is pure gold for us scribbling souls. The article, 9 Stoic Practices That Will Help You Thrive In The Madness Of Modernity, quotes famous Stoic thinkers and provides examples of how these insights from ancient times can benefit us.

You’ll want to read the whole thing, but here are some outstanding selections:

1. Develop An Internal Locus Of Control

“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” — Epictetus

Much of what happens in life is not within our control. The Stoics recognised this undeniable truth, and focused instead on what they could do.

Born a slave, it would seem that Epictetus had no reason to believe he could control anything. He was permanently crippled from a broken leg given to him by his master. Epictetus would live and die in poverty.

But that wasn’t what Epictetus thought. He would say that even while his property and even his body was not within his control, his opinions, desires, and aversions still remained his. That was something that he owned.

You can find dozens of articles stressing that your characters must have agency, that is, the ability to evaluate, decide, and act, but step one for any writer is to develop and exercise their own agency. You want to write, but darn it, there are bills to pay, friends who want you to watch the big game, and those new cat videos on You Tube are so funny! Who’re you fooling? It’s not external things stopping you from writing – it’s you.

Interesting characters with agency affect their own story. As writers, we must take an active role in writing the stories of our lives.

3. Don’t Outsource Your Happiness

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.” — Marcus Aurelius

Much of what we do stems from our primal need to be liked and accepted by others. Disapproval from our social group had serious repercussions in the past. It would have likely meant exile and eventually death in the wilderness.

That’s still true to some extent today. But how much time and effort do we spend trying to win the approval of others? What is it costing us?

Your PC dings, you check your email, and there it is – another rejection. Yes, it’s a let down. We all know how scary it is to hit that submit button. But a rejection is no excuse for self-pity. First of all, editors reject pieces for all sorts of reasons. Your piece may be similar to a submission they’ve already selected, it may be the wrong length, it may be a fantastic piece of writing whose tone doesn’t fit with the editor’s current theme. Or mood. Or whatever.

More important, it’s self-defeating to put your pride as a writer in the heads of strangers. Yes, we want others to read and appreciate what we’ve put so much of our hearts and time into. But we must accept the fact that not everyone will embrace every piece.

6. Consolidate Your Thoughts In Writing

“No man was ever wise by chance” — Seneca

Of the many things we can do daily, none are as important as looking inward. The act of self-reflection forces us to question ourselves and examine our own assumptions of the world. It’s how the answers to some of the world’s biggest questions have surfaced.

Modern life is abuzz with distractions. There are dazzling time-wasters and cleverly packaged temptations that can quickly lead you astray. Taking the time to gather and organize your thoughts by writing them down is not easy, but the very act of writing forces you to focus and think clearly. That’s the way to find our true selves within the modern whirlpool. Our passion to write is our path to liberation.

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BEST FICTION AND WRITING BLOGS

Margaret Atwood

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary rock star. Inspired by Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood10 Rules of Writing
J.C. WolfeMy Self-Publishing Experiment
Vian De BodHow To Describe Characters Without Infodumping
Lionelson Norbert YongBuild An Amazing Plot!
Andrew McDowellCount Your Lucky Length
Tim MillerThe Great Myths #26: Sigurd Kills the Monster Fafnir
Jamie RyderAn Awesome Tale Of Appalachian Folklore
W. J. QuinnWhy writers, and not just stories, need structure

Why we need fantasy

Explore!

The great struggle of our age is to re-assert our humanity against those institutions that define and treat us as simple automatons. Freudian “Drive-Reduction Theory” attempted to minimize all life into simplistic, mechanical terms. B. F. Skinner went so far as to claim that ALL behavior results from external reinforcement: Reward “good” behavior and punish “bad” behavior, and humans can be conditioned for the better. Utopia, therefore, is just a few conditioning sessions away …

Problem is, living things are inherently complex. Life refuses to be contained within formulas. So when behavioral scientists observed subjects ignoring rewards and spontaneously exploring and experimenting, they had to admit this impulse was internal, rather than external, as Skinner had assumed. A new term arose to describe this activity, as this refreshing article from Medium reports:

Intrinsic motivation refers to the spontaneous tendency “to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity, to explore, and to learn” (Ryan and Deci, 2000, p.70).

Exercise, games, travel, reading, and even watching TV all satisfy the seeking system to varying levels of effortful operation. On one side of the spectrum someone could climb Mount Everest, and on the other they could browse Netflix. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp defines this exploratory behaviour as being driven by the organisms innate seeking system. To reiterate, the anomaly behind seeking is that it provides seemingly very little utilitarian value — it does not fulfil some physiological needs deficit, but we do it anyway. We create our own value from within. Also fascinating, we now know that organisms behave in intrinsically motivated ways even when they are lacking ‘basic’ needs such as food, water, or shelter. How many times have you seen a homeless person reading a book? Do you think they’re practising for a job interview? No, they’re seeking.

The drive to seek, to explore, and experience new things is what attracts us to fantasy. We revolt against the dreary uniformity of globalism by seeking out realms of imagination. That’s why science fiction and fantasy fuel so much popular culture these days. The fantastic is that place where we can once again experience wonder.

Alan Alda and E.O. Wilson Talk on Creativity

E. O. Wilson is one of the most important and influential scientists of our age. His work on the deep foundations of human nature and behavior has inspired many in the arts and sciences – just to name one example, the fruitful new discipline called evolutionary psychology is impacting many areas, including marketing, politics, and education. His latest book, The Origins of Creativity, promises new insights into the creative process.

In the video linked above, Alan Alda interviews E. O. Wilson about the dynamics between the individual and society that inspire creativity:

Alan Alda: The campfire was the place that drew them. Maybe it was just the pleasure of looking at the flames, maybe it was to compete, maybe it was actually toasting marshmallows… but they told stories. That sounds to me like a tremendous engine for empathy.
E.O. Wilson: The important thing is to see what the groups really were when they gathered around the firelight as opposed to the sunlight, and to know what they were really saying, and what was talked about all around.
A.A.: During the day it was mostly workaday things: what are we going to eat, how are we going to get it.
E.O.W.: But what they were doing by the firelight—talking and singing and story-telling—was what made us human.
A.A.: Creativity is tied in with empathy. One way of looking at it is that originality is a group experience, as solitary as it might seem. How do you feel about that?
E.O.W.: The creative process tends to be an individual endeavor, but it often comes about when a very small group—often just two people or three people, are together and they’re toying with a problem. But there has to be a proper apportion of credit within the society that did this individual work.

The thrust of Wilson’s life work is that the division between the arts and sciences are neither natural nor helpful. His latest work promises new pathways between the two, a venture guaranteed to generate lively conversations and further discoveries.

The Real Conan

Robert E. Howard

What accounts for the enduring popularity of Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation, Conan of Cimmeria? Author John C. Wright offers this perceptive analysis:

Conan is somewhat more deep and complex than the cartoon image of a brute in a bearskin loincloth found the popular imagination, with a dancing girl clutching his brawny thigh and a devil-beast dying under his bloody ax. The theme and philosophy he represents is not the product of adolescent neurosis (as certain bitter critics would have us believe) but of somber, even cynical, reflection on the age of the world, the costs of civilization, and the frailty of man.

Howard, despite his lack of formal education, was well-read and intellectually curious. The worldview behind his Conan stories is broad, well-crafted, insightful, and still worthwhile for the modern reader. Wright’s introduction is an invaluable introduction to one of the great writers of our age.