Seneca on writing

“I wish, my dear Lucilius, that you would not be too particular with regard to words and their arrangement; I have greater matters than these to commend to your care. You should seek what to write, rather than how to write it – and even that not for the purpose of writing but of feeling it, that you may thus make what you have felt more your own and, as it were, set a seal on it. Whenever you notice a style that is too careful and too polished, you may be sure that the mind also is no less absorbed in petty things. The really great man speaks informally and easily; whatever he says, he speaks with assurance rather than with pains.”

Seneca (2014-10-23). Letters From A Stoic: Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium (Illustrated. Newly revised text. Includes Image Gallery + Audio): All Three Volumes (Kindle Locations 7551-7556). Enhanced Media. Kindle Edition.


For me, this means getting past that awkward sounding sentence, to just keep writing. Sure, editing one’s work may help to clarify meaning, but I think Seneca was suggesting that if we really want to express ourselves efficiently and authentically, we should initially do away with the internal editor. That editor cares not about the fiery feelings that drive us to write in the first place, and so it overlooks them, seeking only to promote the “appearance” of eloquence. Feeling is often messy, so too its conveyance, and just maybe such feeling is everything––just what our readers would more often prefer to connect with.

John

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