Care About Good Writing, Pt 2


Raj Shankar, author, entrepreneur, thinker

Raj Shankar, author, entrepreneur, thinker

In part one of this post I posed the question: Do we care about good writing anymore?

Here is Raj Shankar’s thoughtful response:

If we begin judging good and bad based only on sales figures the world would have missed number of classics. Would we even remember Leonardo and those like him? Could we have considered Michaelangelo a success, ever? In recent times, in many of the reality shows on television, there is this tendency to decide the finalists based on public votes (via text messaging). During one such event I found that the person who sang the best came third, since he and his family could not garner enough votes, while the person who came first was a wild card entrant to the finals. The entire panel of judges –around 10 singers and musicians of repute—openly agreed that the person who had come in third was the best singer and made it up to him by offering other opportunities right there and then.

Why is all of this happening? I think it’s because of our society’s increased interest in results. We all want to be winners. But individuals who produce art—work can become art in all areas—never did it to become winners. They engaged in work for it’s own sake. They enjoyed the process of doing rather than obsessing about the end result or outcome.

(Adds Dr. Liz: Psychologists refer to this as intrinsic motivation, in contrast to extrinsic motivation. As Daniel Pink writes in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, after citing numerous studies: For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivationthe drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging and absorbingis essential for high levels of creativity.)

In today’s fast paced world, however, there is pressure on everyone to show results and hence this process is compromised. This is probably the reason why everyone wants to become an ‘author’ without truly enjoying the process of ‘writing’. This is not good for the craft. As this is now spreading itself into all domains (art, science, scholarly writing, etc), this may not be good for the society at large. This attitude is also because of the way most of us are educated, which constantly strives to over-celebrate results without regard for much else. If everything becomes commercialized, then won’t life become little more than a trade? I think there is something more to life and living. Could this trend also be a reason for the increased levels of unhappiness and lack of peace in the world? If you do not enjoy the process, how can happiness ever be experienced?


Sign seen outside Lucky Brand Jeans, The Domain, Austin, Texas

Those artists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior.

— cited in Daniel Pink’s book Drive (page 44)

Results don’t produce happiness, practices do. I am reminded of something I wrote in my first book Entrepreneurship: A life of commas, not full stops about perfection. At that time I had re-read Drucker’s classic tome Management and was inspired by the story of the sculptor who raised a large bill to the city accountant. When the accountant asked why he had billed for work on the reverse side of the statues that nobody could see, he replied that God would see them. That was the attitude of many artists of long ago. While the essay offered a clarion call for seeking excellence at work, it garnered a fair amount of comments from people—especially in the younger age group—who did not agree, saying it was too philosophical. Again a display of a trend.

What I am sure of, though, is that while these spurts of “instant successes” will flare up and die, it is the workmanship of excellence that will stand the test of time. If we’re comparing a 100 meters dash to a marathon, that is all well and good; if we’re continually looking for results as opposed to the work it truly takes to achieve excellence, which seems to be the case these days, then it is a worrying trend, as Dr Liz has suggested.

Both she and I hope that this trend will reverse for the sake of excellence that will not only live today but last forever.

Well, what do you think? Please contribute to the conversation by commenting! Thank you. 


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