The Greats Wrote

By April 15, 2020 No Comments


I stumbled upon three dusty books at a car boot sale recently. They had mould on them, the red felt cover was fading and they looked like they hadn’t been touched for years and years. The books were Churchill’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples”. There should’ve been 4 books in total, but one was evidently missing. I picked up the collection for £5.

My ignorance is large enough not to have realised Churchill was a writer. The more I pulled at this thread, the more I discovered just how prolific a writer he was. In fact, he was so prolific, it’s a wonder I didn’t know this fact sooner. It was largely due to the audience he amassed through his penmanship that enabled him to maintain his political influence during his exile years.

The books covered a large portion of history. My favourite started with the reign of William of Orange and ended with Napoleon. In between, he described the exploits of the Duke of Marlborough, an ancestor of Churchill and undoubtedly one of the greatest ever britons. In fact, I have just searched for the BBC poll that outlined the greatest britons, and Marlborough is a notable absentee. Princess Diana is second. Churchill himself is first. If Churchill was still alive, he’d have ranked his ancestor as superior.

In the book, Churchill’s admiration for Napoleon shone through. In fact, his admiration for these military types helped me understand his behaviour throughout World War 2. He behaved with a sense of history and an understanding of the effect these great men had on the course of mankind. It is precisely this understanding of great men before you that influences your behaviour going forward. Understanding the minds that shaped our history provides you with a sense of responsibility to carry on these legacies, legacies that when pieced together make up the history of our people.

He piqued my interest in Napoleon, so I began searching for books about the Corsican. I’ve just started Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts and have read the first chapter. One thing immediately struck me. Napoleon was a prolific writer too. Just like Churchill, The Emperor produced written word at an emphatic rate. He wrote letters, political pamphlets and essays. He even wrote short stories.

This behaviour tallied with another great whose biography I’ve read. Benjamin Franklin commenced his career as a journalist and pamphleteer. He worked as an apprentice printer before starting his own printing company. In order to make his publications more appealing, he took to creating the journalistic feed himself. He wrote letters and stories under various pseudonyms so as not to attract attention and the ire of his brother. He ranged from political satire to modern proverbs that preached virtuous behaviour.

In later life, Franklin developed as a scientist and political thinker. His writings described his scientific experiments. He argued his position on scientific issues in print, as well as developed his thinking regarding the American nation through letters in various publications.

Teddy Roosevelt was another prolific writer. He penned over 30 books and 150,000 letters. His output was frenetic. He wrote books on wide ranging topics, including travel guides, military history and tomes about the wilderness.

Coupled with these writing habits, these men were also voracious readers. Napoleon was described as a solitary adolescent who spent most of his time alone consumed by a book. Roosevelt was lauded to be one of the most prolific readers in history. He had the knack of speed reading and was able to consume a book before breakfast. Franklin utilised books in a quest for autodidacticism. He designed his own curriculum and read the books that supported these endeavours.

The two go hand in hand creating a virtuous circle. Reading fuels creative ideas. It provides the material for creating mental nodes. Joining these mental nodes together in new, unexpected fashion is the basis of creative thought. The best creatives have rich, quality input. These men read classics, biographies and critical essays. They didn’t read pop articles of the bullet point variety that have little by way of substance. Nor did they read books that could’ve been blog posts or short articles; books padded out with superfluity to reach a word count. They read Homer and Plato and Thucydides. They read Voltaire, Rousseau and Russell. Books whose lessons had to be teased from the layers they created. Books that set examples but required the reader to derive the lessons from the example.

Once they fed their brain with quality input, they expressed their creativity through the written word. I imagine that these men developed ideas at such a rate that they HAD to write. Their ideas needed regaling. They couldn’t sit on them. Writing was the conduit through which the world found out what these men were thinking. They had a story to tell and told it through the written word.

Communication of ideas is the essence of leadership. An individual’s ability to convey their thoughts and ideas is the first part of the leadership equation. The latter is getting people to act on these thoughts. Continual communication enables others to understand you. Through writing, people learn of your philosophies and ideas. They start to glimpse your persona. They become imbibed with your outlook. They are persuaded, appealed to and coaxed. Writing allows leaders to embed their thoughts within others. These thoughts either catch hold or are rejected. At least the best thoughts are. Love or hatred are emotions leaders appeal to. Mediocrity stirs no-one. The leader who can’t stir emotion is ignored.

Writing enabled these great men to stir emotion. It enabled them to communicate their ideas and for people to grasp onto them. It provided a platform for their philosophies. Their writing created a stir. It moved nations.

The conclusion I draw from these examples is that writing is crucial, with one caveat. If you are to write, you need something to say. These men were brimming with ideas. Their minds were sharp and nimble. I can’t imagine Roosevelt sitting still without some form of inspiration forming in his mind. These great men had something to say. Writing is only crucial when you have something to say. With this in mind, I imagine ever-growing concentric circles. When you throw a stone in a pond, circles radiate from the site of impact. They start small and then expand. The read-write virtuous circle will be the same. Initially, your circle of impact, quality of writing and idea will be small. The more time you spend in the circle the larger it will get. As you hone your idea muscle through quality reading and experiential learning, the more you will have to say. The more you practice communicating these ideas through writing, the stronger your message will become.

Phill

About Phill

Phillip is co-founder of Kloodle.

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