A pink water lily. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I was talking to my aunt some time ago, and I mentioned I was reading about stoicism. “Well, that’s certainly the best time to do it.”, she said as we were talking about Covid-19 just before we moved on to books.

A practical philosophy to guide you to live a better life, become a better and wiser human being, more resilient to whatever life throws at you, Stoicism is definitely helpful these days. 

But what I was thinking about, in fact, was the way you could apply it in your creative endeavors.  We’re all human beings, after all, before being artists.

Stoics didn’t give much for theories, they were more hands on. They valued action, not talk. 

Live your values, don’t just talk about them, simply put.

For an artist, it means you shouldn’t talk about the book you’re going to write, the music you’ll compose, the painting you’ll do. You should write. You should compose. You should paint. Then you can talk about it.


Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it, said Epictetus.

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be oneMarcus Aurelius advised.

If you want to be a writer, write. Don’t talk about writing.


As a beginner, it’s easy to get caught in appearances. You know, people-watching at a café, scribbling ideas onto a Moleskine notebook. Buying the latest and greatest writing software and gadgets. Tinkering with a website. And so on.

But these are all, well, appearances.

What you don’t see when reading a good book is the toil behind it. The time on the chair, the long hours spent staring at the blank page, the despair, the self-doubt, the inner criticism, the endless edits, the re-writs, time after time, day after day. Writing is a hard business, as Hemingway once said. *

Don’t be one of those people sitting at the café, sipping their latte, and talk about writing a book. Stop talking and start creating.

You become an artist by doing the work of an artist, not by talking about it.


* letter to Maxwell Perkins, 1938 from Selected Letters


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