Why You Should Do Your Own Writing

There is something strange you find when you study the early Stoics. Not Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and Epictetus, but the Stoics who influenced them. The names you don’t hear much: Cleanthes. Posidonius. Panaetius. Aristo. Antipater. Chrysippus. What you find—beside the fact that these were living, breathing, human beings with all sorts of interesting experiences—is that you start to notice just how big a role they played in the shaping of the classic Stoic texts we know and love.

For instance, the interesting analogy about how a philosopher should be like a wrestler—a fighter dug in for sudden attacks—that Marcus Aurelius famously makes in Meditations? That actually originates from Panaetius, a Stoic philosopher from the 2nd century BCE that Marcus studied. There are allusions to the insights of Aristo and Antipater and Chryssippus in Seneca. A deep dive into Epictetus shows not only how he was influenced by Zeno, but reveals how many unattributed quotations of Epictetus appear in Marcus Aurelius!

So what is this philosophy then? Just a bunch of people repeating the same old insights? Hardly. Remember, Stoicism is a practice, not merely a set of principles. The act of sitting down and journaling—writing and rewriting—about ideas from the earlier Stoics is a kind of meditative experience. It’s almost like a prayer. It’s what transforms an epigram into a mantra…and then later into action when it counts. 

Besides, have we not learned from music how powerful and creative the art of remixing can be? It’s in this writing and rewriting that each successive generation of Stoics was able to come up with new insights and further refine the philosophy (a tradition that continues today with writers all over the world). Blaise Pascal, whose book Pensées is eerily similar in tone and style and content to Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, puts it well when he writes, “Let no one say that I have said nothing new, the arrangement of the material is new. In playing tennis both players use the same ball, but one plays it better.” 

Today, your job is to sit down and do some writing—using this old material. Sit down with The Daily Stoic Journal. Sit down on Twitter and put some quotes in your own language. Riff on the ideas with your kids. Write a reminder to yourself on your phone. Pick up the ball and play with it. Practice the philosophy.

P.S. This was originally sent on December 10, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.