The Edit911 Blog

Stoic Writing Practices and Friendship

Last year, one of humanity’s oldest enemies—pandemic illness—returned to cloud our individual and collective horizons. But like reconnecting with an old friend who always knows the right thing to say at just the right time, so too has one of our oldest philosophies come back into sight to offer some clarity, comfort, and sage advice. The philosophy of Stoicism provides practicable guidance for cutting through a cacophony of stressors that can not only dampen our hope for wellbeing but deafen us to our own say in the matter of how our lives fare.

Recent articles in The Guardian (Stoicism in a Time of Pandemic: How Marcus Aurelius Can Help) and The Washington Post (The Lessons Two Ancient Philosophers Have for Us During the Pandemic) have explored the topical perspectives of famous Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, who themselves grappled with questions about anxiety in the face of suffering as well as personal responsibility and efficacy amid widespread tumult. Meanwhile, a number of blogs (5 Ancient Stoic Practices for Modern Times, Daily Stoic Practice: How to Be a Stoic, The Stoic Art of Journaling) have homed in on actual practices utilized by Stoics to help build personal resilience in any challenging situation. In particular, they have discussed the profound importance that Stoicism places on writing for philosophy as a way of life.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, for instance, wrote his Meditations during the Antonine Plague that killed between five and ten million people. Apparently, he may never have intended it to be published and wrote the reflections for himself. In Seneca’s case, some of his most enduring writing comes to us in the form of reflective letters to his friend and fellow Roman official Lucilius after a less-than-tranquil career working under the reign of Emperor Nero. Despite their ostensibly small target audiences, readers will not miss in these works a distinctively instructive and inviting style. Perhaps this is no accident. Stoicism advocated that all rational beings attune themselves to a greater cosmic community of human friendship.

Aside from this grand cosmopolitan ideal, the Stoics also presented a theory of personal friendship. This aspect of Stoicism is sometimes overlooked in favor of focusing on lessons about individual fortitude. Nevertheless, our understanding of Stoicism as a practical philosophy for everyday life can be enriched by looking at what the Stoics have to say about the importance of others and especially the value of friendship. Adapting lessons from Stoic friendship theory—and in particular the practice of writing for friends in the manner of a Stoic—can enhance our Stoic writing practices and improve the quality of our lives.

Ancient perspectives on the importance of friendship for a good life

A hallmark of ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy was the concept of eudaimonia, and all of the famous thinkers and schools from this period contributed something to the discussion of what it takes to achieve this blessedly fulfilling sort of life for a human creature. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of them mention friendship as a key ingredient. Aristotle–whose philosophy closely rivaled Stoicism–not only thought friendship “necessary” but asserted that “no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1155a5). If you are looking to cut straight to the core tenets of many ancient western philosophical systems, one less often travelled but reliable road is through their teachings about friendship.

To demonstrate, we can illustrate features about the Stoic approach to eudaimonia via a comparison with Aristotle on their respective views about friendship. For one thing, they both distinguish between initial forms of friendship and its complete form. Aristotle observes that we initially make friends on the basis of shared pleasures or mutual utility. That is to say we tend to click with people we perceive as fun to be around and who enjoy the same things as us, or people on whom we know we can rely, or both. For example, suppose you are a fiction writer. At the initial level a friend of yours might be someone who is always happy to read over and give comments on that latest draft you’ve written and does so in part because they too share your unique love of high-fantasy cyberpunk flash fiction.

Even our friendships at this stage represent and teach us something about the pursuit of what is worthwhile in life. We all variously desire pleasure, ranging from simple creature comforts to more complex states of satisfaction. Friends magnify and enhance life’s pleasures but are themselves a source of pleasure too. Likewise, we desire to be well-stocked with the practical necessities in life, seeking out whatever are the reliable means for “getting ahead” and accomplishing our ends. Again, friends offer us tremendous support and aid in whatever we seek to do. Nevertheless, pleasure and utility are not all we want in a happy life, and neither do they fully explain all there is to friendship. In fact, the Stoics warn that limiting our friendships to this stage equates to placing limits on our own potential as both rational and caring beings.

Aristotle and the Stoics acknowledge that as we develop so too do our relationships. And as friendship evolves into its most complete form, we come to find in our friend the allos autos, our “other self.” This isn’t the simplistic notion that friends are “twinsies” or maybe that they occupy the same social echo chambers. Rather, it is the stronger notion that friends help each other figure out what really matters in life and mutually shape each other’s personal development with those core beliefs in mind. Returning to my example, what makes your friend a true friend isn’t just that they are a dependable commenter on your drafts but instead someone who understands the centrality of writing to your identity and wishes to help you, for your own sake, manifest a life promoting that value.

Again, this more mature or advanced form of friendship mirrors a more complex picture of happiness itself. Each of us are not just pleasure- or utility-seekers. We also want to grow as persons. To do this we seek to learn more about ourselves and the world around us, but also to become involved in the world in self-reflective and meaningful ways. As it turns out, then, eudaimonia and full friendship exhibit a vital correlation. That is because our best friends, at least according to Aristotle and the Stoics, are those who help us identify, cultivate, and nourish those personal traits and strengths that will contribute to a firm and stable character.

Character is the ultimate basis for the strongest sort of friendship, but it is also essential to the Stoic view of eudaimonia. It represents the summation of our beliefs, feelings, and knowledge about what in the world we care about and predicts how we will conduct ourselves in various situations in light of our deepest concerns. Stoicism teaches that insofar as friends share with each other the project of crafting and perfecting character, they are most in touch with one another’s true selves. What’s more, through observing our friend as an other self and seeing the virtues of our own character reflected back to us through the friendship, we gain a different perspective and another means of examining our own life. Therefore, friends are vital because they help us engage in self-reflection and achieve self-knowledge.

Cultivating the self by writing for friends

Others have already elaborated on how Stoicism advises us as individuals to cultivate our character strengths through self-examination. They prescribe Stoic writing practices like journaling as practical, accessible tools for self-knowledge. As Tobias Weaver puts it, “The practice of journaling…gives us the opportunity to articulate our thoughts, reflect on how we handle different situations, and clarify the way in which we wish to approach life. We lay bare our thoughts and mental chatter, and in doing so we are able to more clearly see how we think, behave, and perceive.” But we’ve also just seen how the Stoics viewed friends as essential to better developing and knowing the self. Is there a way to combine these two things—Stoic writing practices and friendship—in order to further enhance our self-knowledge?

In fact, modern day friendship theorists (drawing not only on philosophy but also psychology and sociology) are also concerned with the way that written communication, from the exchange of long letters to simple text messages, affects the quality of our friendships. Some have argued that certain writing practices are not only beneficial but can promote stronger friendships through improved disclosure of the self.

Philosopher Adam Briggle, for instance, has argued that mediating our friendships through writing can promote a healthy cognitive distancing by freeing us from the face-to-face pressures of interpersonal and social expectations. “Mediation,” he writes, “loosens the links of daily life and softens the gaze of a physically co-present person with whom we are caught in the immediate moment at hand. It thus can encourage greater honesty and increase confidence in disclosing more about one’s self” (p. 73). Likewise, the “deliberateness” of writing for friends means that we have a greater chance to think before we compose our ideas as well as reflect upon and review the language we have chosen to present ourselves.

These features of writing have such profound effects in the context of friendship because of the exchange of what Briggle calls “interpretive processes” between friends as both writers and readers of each other’s words. Seeing the way that a friend in response to you interprets your take on something can enrich and influence your own understanding of what you were originally trying to express. The self that you seek to examine in your own writing thus comes to involve this relational aspect of your character.

Applications for our Stoic writing practices

  1. Friends as more accurate mirrors of the self. Stoic journaling is intended to help us externalize our experiences, emotions, and beliefs. It brings into focus the way in which outward events may be clouding our view of our inner character, giving us the opportunity to reflect on and correct our behavior. Its limitation, though, is that we may not yet have the clarity of character to avoid self-deception in how we present this information to ourselves. On the other hand, when we recount and express ourselves to friends in writing, we are less likely to fall prey to this mistake. Friends may already know the ways in which we misperceive and misinterpret happenings and can help redirect us. Reciprocating such advice can further teach us about the ways that others mislead themselves.
  2. Shared memories to remind us of who we are. One common way that we misperceive events in our life is by misremembering where we have been in the past and any wisdom or skills we have already gathered. Preserving and reviewing past correspondences with friends (such as a box of old letters, saved emails, or even the Memories feature if you have Facebook) lets us see how our core self has remained while evolving throughout various changes in our circumstances.
  3. Friends as sounding boards and springboards. Perhaps you cannot wrap your head around a problem you’ve been overthinking. Maybe you’re suffering writer’s block, such as for a term paper or a project proposal. Workshopping your writing with friends might directly pull you out of your rut if they happen to have feedback, but could nevertheless provide the indirect benefit of further involving your friend in something of importance in your life. Otherwise, you can put this source of stress aside entirely and just write to your friend instead. After all, one common piece of advice given about writer’s block is to simply write something else! Think of this like working out a cramp in one muscle by activating nearby muscles.
  4. Making writing routines easier and more rewarding. Writing certainly is a skill that needs regular training and upkeep. Like everything else involving Stoic discipline, Stoic writing practices benefit from being integrated into regular routines. Involving friends as partners in our reflective writing routines will make them easier to stick with. Of course, this also becomes one more way of interacting with and appreciating our friends. On that final note, it is important to mention that the Stoics viewed friendship itself as a virtue of character. Insofar as we involve our friends as partners in Stoic writing practices, we not only help ourselves navigate and overcome stressors and challenges in life but enlarge the scope of this good for the benefit of other selves as well.
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The Academic Writer’s Guide to Pulling An All-Nighter

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Every academic writer has been warned of the dangers of procrastination, and yet at some point you may still end up armed with only a few pages against a fast-approaching deadline. Thankfully, these sleepless nights don’t have to be too difficult. Read on to find out how you can power through a night of academic writing.

Why You Shouldn’t Pull An All-Nighter

writing academic paper

Before giving you the tips on pulling an all-nighter, it’s important to understand that you should avoid it if you can. Sleep deprivation has serious short- and long-term effects that could show in your performance. We’ve listed some of them below:

It makes you cranky

When someone pulls an all-nighter, it shows in the way they act. And who can blame them? Staying up all night brings out the crankiness and impatience in you. What’s more, an article on Healthline notes how sleep deprivation can make you more prone to mood swings, which can eventually escalate to anxiety and depression.

It increases stress levels

Forcing yourself to stay up even for just one night is stressful enough already, and it can lead to burnout if you do it consistently. This kind of prolonged stress can be extremely harmful to your mental health and could do more harm than good to your writing. In fact, psychology experts from Maryville University link mental health to academic performance. This means pulling too many all-nighters won’t help your research in the long run, even if it feels like you’re making a lot of progress.

It decreases your attention span

Every writer knows how crucial it is to have focus and discipline when working on a paper. Unfortunately, pulling an all-nighter diminishes this focus and limits your attention span. Researchers from the University of Turku highlight the connection between sleep deprivation and cognitive performance – the less shuteye you get, the harder it is to concentrate.

Tips For When You Have To Stay Up And Write

editing a dissertation

Now that you’ve been warned, here are some things you should keep in mind when you have no other choice than to pull an all-nighter:

Sleep when you can

While this may seem counterproductive, it’s crucial that you try to nap when you can. Even just short fifteen or twenty-minute naps can help your brain rest and recover, especially when you spread them out throughout the night.

Go easy on the caffeine

The logical thing to do when trying to stay up all night is rely on caffeine, right? Wrong. When you drink too much coffee, you get a jolt of energy and then suffer a crash that you may not be able to fight. If you need some form of caffeine, take it easy on the coffee and opt for tea, instead.

Drink tons of water

You may be able to avoid the caffeine altogether if you drink tons of water during your all-nighter. When your system is happy and hydrated, you’ll be able to focus on the task at hand. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the coffee jitters that decrease concentration.

Plan your night

The most important tip for any writer before embarking on an all-nighter is to go in with a plan. You’re less likely to waste time on social media or stare at a blank screen when you have a clear schedule to follow. Structure your paper and set small goals that you can realistically achieve throughout the night. Don’t forget to factor in your breaks and naps.

Once you’ve successfully gone through an all-nighter, it’s safe to assume you made more than one mistake through your bleary-eyed writing frenzy. Reach out to our talented academic editors here on Edit911 to give your work that much-needed final touch, while you get your well-deserved rest.

Written by Accalia Crystle for Edit911

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Book Review: Wise Guy by Guy Kawasaki

Wise Guy, Guy Kawasaki’s 15th book, is his most casual, leisurely, and personal of all. Not a memoir or autobiography, rather it’s a loosely constructed series of stories from his life, each teaching lessons and imparting wisdom. Having worked for both Steve Jobs in the early years of Apple, and Google, Guy certainly is a wise Guy!

As he says, “Always tell stories. Use them to illustrate your key points. Stories are ten times more powerful than bullshit adjectives.” With very few adjectives, Guy tells many touching, funny, even embarrassing and self-deprecating stories about his fascinating life. After each story, he shares the wisdom learned and the takeaways we can all apply to our own lives.

Unlike your average business book that fist pumps, shouts and cajoles you, Wise Guy is like a night in a bar with a good friend, enjoying a few beers as he entertains you with amusing tales of his travels through life. You feel like he’s talking to you–which is Guy’s great gift of being able to speak freely and easily, no pretension, no bullshit, as he says.   

book review

One of life’s great lessons for all of us is that we need to enjoy every minute of life and never waste our time or talents. “There are plenty of people who are more talented than me,” says Guy. “And plenty of people who work harder than me, but very few who do both.”

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As Guy advises, “Seek out and embrace people who challenge you. You will learn more from them than from the folks who hold you to lower standards.” I have always sought out Guy’s books because he challenges me and holds me to high standards. You can’t go wrong with the Wise Guy!

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The Art of Storytelling in Academic Writing: 5 Steps to a Better Research Paper

Life is about stories. We each have one. Humans use stories to create social connections, to share ideas, to entertain, and to inform. Communication takes place through stories, whether fictional, historical, or contextual. But what many people don’t know is that storytelling is just as important when it comes to academic writing.

Manuscripts submitted for publication, dissertations, and other research reports tell the story of a scientific investigation. Stories consist of five major components: setting, conflict, character, plot, and theme. Each component has its parallel in academic writing.

Since I don’t have time to dissect an entire manuscript or dissertation, I’m going to use an abstract to illustrate the concept of storytelling in academic writing. An abstract contains all the major elements of a research report: background, method, results, and conclusions.

Consider the following sample abstract:

The United States is currently facing a shortage of family practice physicians, resulting in fewer preventative health care options for patients and an increasing number of non-urgent visits to hospital emergency rooms. Despite a steady increase in medical school applications, student enrollment is limited due to a shortage of clinical faculty. Previous studies have identified high turnover rates among clinical faculty as a major challenge for medical schools. In the present study, the factors related to successful recruitment and retainment of clinical faculty were investigated by exploring the lived experiences of novice clinical faculty during the role transition from clinical practice to clinical educator.
Three common themes associated with positive role transitions were identified: orientation, training, and ongoing support. The results of this study may assist human resources personnel in medical schools with the development of programs to improve recruitment and retention of novice clinical faculty.

1. The Setting

In a research report, the setting is provided by the background information, which is drawn from the scientific literature. The reader needs to understand the overall problem and how the research topic addresses the problem. A good introduction takes the reader from a broad description of the problem to the specific focus of the study in a series of logical, sequential steps.

In the example above, the abstract begins by describing a nationwide crisis: the shortage of family physicians. The shortage of physicians is due to a shortage of clinical faculty to teach medical students. The shortage of faculty is due to high turnover rates. The high turnover rates are due to issues with recruitment and retention of faculty, which is what the study aims to address. Thus, in a few sentences, the reader is taken from a broad
problem (nationwide shortage of family physicians) to the focus of the study (recruitment and retainment of clinical faculty) in a series of logical steps that clearly explain the relevance of the study to the issue at hand.

 

2. The Conflict

In stories, the conflict is a struggle or an oppositional situation that involves the central character. In research reports, conflicts are based in the scientific literature. Two main types of conflict in research are discrepancies in results and gaps in the literature (i.e., unanswered questions).

When writing a paper or dissertation, a clear description of the conflict serves to engage the reader and imparts a degree of importance to the study. In the example above, the conflict is a gap in knowledge regarding the reasons for high turnover rates among clinical faculty in medical schools. The importance of the study is emphasized by connecting the gap in knowledge to the broader problem: the shortage of family physicians. Importantly, the consequences of the present situation are clearly identified: emergency rooms are being taxed by visits from patients who would be better served by a family physician, and family physicians often engage in preventative health measures to further reduce the need for hospitalization. Thus, in this case, the conflict is presented as a crisis situation with implications for healthcare costs and the health of U.S. citizens.

 

3. The Character

Once the background (setting) has been presented and the reader is made aware of the conflict, it is time to introduce the main character: the study. The study should be introduced to the reader as the solution to the conflict. I like to think of it as the hero swooping in to save the day.

In the above example, the problem has been clearly presented in the first three sentences. The fourth sentence introduces the study by presenting it as the potential solution to the
conflict.

In the present study, the factors related to successful recruitment and retainment of clinical faculty were investigated…

The reader has already been made to understand how the successful recruitment and retainment of clinical faculty relates to the overall problem (the shortage of family physicians). The study is introduced as a means to resolve the problem (by identifying the factors involved in successful recruitment and retainment of clinical faculty). This introduction not only emphasizes the importance of the study to the reader, but also continues to engage the reader and maintain interest. Importantly, the reader is clear about the role of the study in resolving the conflict, and the need for the study is apparent.

Aside from presenting the role of the main character (to resolve the conflict), the reader
also needs to be introduced to the main character. The sentence fragment above ends with the following brief description of the methodology that not only explains how the study aims to resolve the conflict, but also describes the nature of the study itself:

…by exploring the lived experiences of novice clinical faculty during the role transition from clinical practice to clinical educator.

The qualitative nature of the study is made apparent by the description of the method (exploring the lived experiences of novice faculty). In addition, the reader learns that the phenomenon of role transition provides an outcome measure for the study. In other words, factors that are associated with successful recruitment and retention of clinical faculty are assumed to be associated with a positive role transition. Thus, the study is also phenomenological in nature.

With this information, the reader can create a framework, a mental context in which all the information that follows will be interpreted. Once again, this technique serves to engage the reader and reinforce the importance of the study.

 

4. The Plot

The plot consists of the events that happen in a story that relate to the central conflict. In a research report, the plot is simply the description of the study and the results. However, as with fictional writing, the connection to the central conflict must be made clear to the reader throughout the manuscript or dissertation. Confusing plotlines are the bane of any writer.

The purpose of the methods section is to provide a context in which the reader can interpret the findings and to allow other researchers to reproduce the study. Ideally, the methods section is written in a logical order that follows the sequence of events that comprise the method, beginning with sampling and followed by data collection, sorting or filtering (if applicable), and data analysis.

Results should be presented in a format that is easy to follow using visual aids such as tables, graphs, and illustrations as appropriate. The goal should be to make it easy for the reader to access the results. For example, lengthy textual descriptions of measures or statistical data should be avoided. No matter how groundbreaking the research, nobody wants to slog through paragraphs filled with numbers.

Results should be presented in a way that clearly connects them with the research topic. One of the more common mistakes I find when editing a dissertation is the presentation of results that have no clear connection to the research topic. Like a plotline that has no clear connection to the main conflict in the story, such tactics leave the reader with the impression that the material was added to provide bulk rather than substance.

 

5. The Theme

The theme of a story is the central idea or belief that the author wishes to convey. In a research report, the theme is largely found in the discussion of the results and the conclusions drawn from the findings, including implications for future research.

In the sample abstract above, the findings are necessarily brief. However, they convey a central message: novice clinical faculty need proper training, orientation, and support in order to be successful in their transition from practice to teaching. The implications are clear: implementing these practices will help retain novice faculty, which will boost the number of medical students and increase the number of family physicians.

The theme of a study is important: it emphasizes the contribution of the study to the body of knowledge in the field, it offers explanations for unexpected or potentially conflicting results, and it provides the reader with a sense of direction for future studies. In the sample abstract, the last sentence leaves the reader with a sense of future directions for the research.

The results of this study may assist human resources personnel with the development of programs to improve recruitment and retention of novice clinical faculty.

There is an art to writing about results. The researcher must be honest about what the study found (or did not find), point out limitations while not making the study appear weak, and draw conclusions that are clearly supported by the data. While major findings are easier to present in a positive light, the reality of scientific investigation is that studies often yield negative or conflicting results. The ability to demonstrate the importance of such findings is the mark of good academic writing.

I’ve mentioned reader interest and engagement frequently in this article, and you may ask yourself why, as a researcher publishing a study, these things should matter. The truth is that scientists, like many other professionals, succeed by convincing others of the importance and relevance of their work. This is achieved through clear communication
that engages the reader.

Storytelling has been a method of information exchange for humans since we first began to communicate ideas. Thus, applying the concepts of storytelling to academic writing can promote the conditions that are necessary for success. Grants are awarded, promotions are granted, and presentations are well attended all on the basis of clear, engaging communication. There are thousands of scientists out there who possess a high degree of intelligence and are doing work in important areas of research. To stand out among the crowd, you’ll need clear and effective communication. The best way to do that? Tell a good story.

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