Thursday, 12 May 2016

If the Emperor says

I'm reading some Marcus Aurelius at the moment. He was a Roman emperor, a Stoic philosopher and he's a hard taskmaster when you just want to hit the snooze button for five more minutes instead of getting up to do some editing ...

At day's first light have in readiness, against disinclination to leave your bed, the thought that 'I am rising for the work of man'. Must I grumble at setting out to do what I was born for, and for the same of which I have been brought into the world? Is this the purpose of my creation, to lie here under the blankets and keep myself warm? 'Ah, but it is a great deal more pleasant!'  ... 

... You have no real love for yourself; if you had, you would love your nature, and your nature's will. Craftsmen who love their trade will spend themselves to the utmost labouring at it, even going unwashed and unfed; but you hold your nature in less regard than the engraver does his engraving, the dancer his dancing, the miser his heap of silver, the vainglorious man his moment of glory. These men, when their heart is in it, are ready to sacrifice food and sleep to the advancement of their chosen pursuit. Is the service of the community of less worth in your eyes, and does it merit less devotion?  

So said the Emperor. Now I'm not sure how much of my writing is of service to the community but I do feel it's what I'm supposed to do. And sometimes getting something done means you just have to get up and do it. You can't always feel comfortable if you want to be productive and creative. You can't always wait for the right mood or inspiration, sometimes that comes along once you've actually started. (And sometimes it doesn't, but you still put the effort in ...)
I love a good coffee shop, but very little beats a sunny park (when there's also coffee in it). 
At the same time I do believe it's important to take care of yourself if you want to be productive and creative in the long run. Learn how and when you work best and how the rest of your life affects these patterns. I know my writing patterns pretty well by now. I know that I need to be well-rested and well-fed. That means going to bed at a reasonable hour because I want to be up early, and not skipping meals. (So even if I'm prepared to sacrifice food and sleep for my work, it's in my best interest not to.) I know when to take a break so my brain can work on its own without me yelling at it to figure something out. Walks are good for that. Coffee with friends too. Anything really that allows your subconscious to work its magic in peace.

Going into a blind panic is rarely helpful. Being kind to yourself when you're doing your best but still falling a little bit short is very important. Give yourself plenty of second chances. After all, the Emperor also said:

Because a thing is difficult for you, do not therefore suppose it to be beyond mortal power. On the contrary, if anything is possible and proper for man to do, assume that it must fall within your own capacity. 

Those are my thoughts anyway. (Apologies to any Stoics who feel I've taken things way out of context.) I hope you're all doing well and look forward to the weekend!


(Quotes taken from Meditations, Penguin Books, 2004) 

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