Skip to main content

Writing Stoically with Louise Le Nay

Writing by Louise Le Nay

Our phones throw up heaps of random stuff.  In the early days of the internet, I remember being bombarded by Penis Enlargement offers.  This was presumably before profiling got serious – a sort of hit-and-miss approach that has pretty well disappeared.  Nowadays, having been more correctly profiled, I get offers of comfortable shoes, which I eschew, Sleep Better apps, yoga offers and, most recently, quotes from Marcus Aurelius.

This last, which I scrolled past for several months, has finally caught my attention.  Marcus Aurelius is known to many people, even me – although I never read his Meditations – as the Philosopher Emperor from the 2nd Century. On the internet his teaching can be studied seriously, but it’s also served up in bite-sized quotations, dumbed down into words of few syllables which makes them easy to absorb mid-scroll.  His philosophy of Stoicism is about self-control as a means of overcoming negative emotions. Now, I’m not a negative person, but I’m a procrastinator and a bit of a sook.  “Time is precious, use it wisely” he says. Right then.  I agree, and I will.

I’m writing a novel, my second after some failed attempts and side tracks.  But I’m sticking with this one.  It makes me happy, it makes me strong, it fills my sleepless nights.  It’s not a case of words pouring out of my pen, I don’t want to give a false impression, but I’ve written over half by now and after six months I feel I’m losing impetus.  Marcus Aurelius instructs me to practise resilience and learn from setbacks. My principle setback right now, I feel, is the distraction of working at home.

Plenty of people work from home successfully. Covid taught us that we could.  For some, it was so successful an arrangement that they are resisting a return to the office.  I am distracted by a wild urge to rearrange my wardrobe, clean grout, people calling in, the garden, shopping for dinner and an ageing cat who likes to lie on a chair by my desk while I work until he becomes bored and flops over my keyboard for a change of scenery.  The cat’s sworn enemy is the new kitten, and to make sure his place is not usurped by the ginger interloper he has begun marking his domain with pee.  Marcus Aurelius tells me to be tolerant of others (not sure if he had a geriatric cat in mind) and strict with myself. He also tells me to approach challenges calmly and rationally.  I wash the upholstery and take my laptop to the library.

The library is not a quiet place, it’s a place of chatter, keyboard tapping, toddler fun time with songs and stories, loud voices, craft groups and book club.  Nevertheless, it feels calm here. I find a corner, set myself up and write for hours.

I stick to the regime for six more months, learning to love the walk to and from the library. I don’t always have a successful session, sometimes I can’t progress the narrative, but I already know what Marcus Aurelius might tell me.  Stay in the moment, get over yourself, change is inevitable.   And inevitably there is change. I do research when I can’t move on, I find information that will help my story.  I write, I edit. I finish.  I edit again.  And again.

It’s never as easy as it seems.  Having made a decision to give up carbohydrates in the morning, it is still possible to find ourselves with a muffin in hand before lunchtime. But there is something to be said for writing stoically, or trying to, at least.  This is what I’ve learned:

Time is precious, use it wisely.

When things go wrong, try to learn something useful from the blunder.

If you have to change your daily routine, stop whingeing, just do it.

There is no writing ritual that is correct, or optimum: all methods are both excellent and problematic.

Put up with bad days; you can’t guarantee that every day of your writing life will be productive.

Be resilient. And flexible. No one died and made you the queen of My Way is Best.

Be calm.  Be rational.  Be kind.

Have a look at the teachings of Marcus Aurelius.

Louise Le Nay

Louise Le Nay’s novel, Edenhope, is in bookshops from June 4. It is about a woman in her sixties who steals her grandchildren from their drug-addicted mother and goes on a road trip, looking for a safe home.

Leave a Reply