Draft No. 4, a book by John McPhee stood out for me across my readings last year. I must admit I didn’t know who John McPhee was till I went for a deep work retreat1 in the summer of 2020. A deep work retreat for me is typically a couple of days, maybe two nights and two and a half days, away from family, friends, and familiarity, staying in a place to spend time reading, reading and more reading. The deal is to go in without an agenda and dig deeper into what you find interesting while reading. Take note of every idea that flashes in the mind and come out at the predecided time. So discovering Draft No. 4 and McPhee this retreat was a delight and it stayed like that for the year. John McPhee, a Pulitzer prize winner is considered a pioneer of creative nonfiction, the subject he taught at Princeton University. Draft No 4 is a book on the process of nonfiction writing. ‘Writing is a selection’ is a line from this genius work that stayed with me. In fact, ‘writing is a selection’ is the sentence I had read somewhere before making my commitment to read the book. The chapter, Omission, while explaining the concept of selection of words and details in the writing process gives examples of selection from other areas too. Like the book says- sculptors address the deletion of material in their own analogous way. Michelangelo: “the more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”
‘The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” Ernest Hemingway, the short story writer, called this concept the theory of Omission in writing where the writer omits things that he knows and the reader will have a feeling of all those things as strongly as if the writer had stated them. The deeper meaning of a story should not be evident on the surface, but should shine through implicitly.
Writing is a selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language.John McPhee
In this first edition of 2022, when we are tempted to make a new year resolution or a commitment to keep at least one thought in our minds, I want to bring your attention to the concept of selection. But there is an irony. While in today’s habits for thinking we talk about selection and omission, it is our heart that is always seeking more, there is never enough.
Many years ago amongst a group of friends, we decided to share our new year resolution with each other. Many new year resolutions had happened before and after but this stayed in my mind for years, not for any other reason but trying to find an easy explanation for others to understand. The resolution was to adopt simplicity. Holidaying in a fancy resort, playing and partying with friends, planning the year ahead full of travels didn’t help me in explaining my meaning of simplicity. I tried saying simplicity doesn’t mean austerity but it didn’t work. As the weeks and months and years progressed, my framework of simplicity became clearer to me. As the weeks and months and years progressed, I also became conscious of the fact that we chase abundance in day-to-day life, both materialistic and non-materialistic gains. More money, more success, better car, bigger house… it doesn’t end. The word enough is always in the backseat of the car, maybe even locked in the boot but not in the sight. That is the human design and that is also the human drive. This inherent human behaviour of ‘seeking more’ reflects in real life like in the book, Joyful, the author Ingrid Fetell Lee describes ‘abundance’ as an aesthetic that creates joy. ‘More’ reflects in the Veblen effect in economics where it means that the more the price goes up for a luxury product, the more demand comes in.
The ‘seeking’ behavior is explained by science.
Neuroscience confirms that to be truly happy, you will always need something more, writes Quartz. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp argues that of seven core instincts in the human brain (anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and seeking), seeking is the most important. Huffpost reiterates in an article– “The minute you wake up, the SEEKING system is in gear: where is the coffee, where is my cell phone, what is going on, and where can I find it.” Quartz reaffirms., ‘Whether we’re striving for a new job, more meaningful relationships, or personal enlightenment, we need to actively want something more in order to live well. In fact, neuroscience shows that the act of seeking itself, rather than the goals we realize, is key to satisfaction.’
Yeh Dil Maange More! is an advertising slogan coined for Pepsi at JWT by Anuja Chauhan in 1998. It combines Hindi and English, literally meaning This Heart Desires More, which later became a popular slogan.
Bringing the two together – Selection and More
If it is always about seeking a little more than being satisfied with what one has, then let us accept and acknowledge our inherent behavior of seeking more, but accept it with a little difference, select the one that is a ‘good more’ over the one that is the not-so-good more. Making choices is a thinking selection and thinking, though done both consciously and subconsciously, also reflects the voices that we keep in our head. A new year resolution is just that one voice. Like the theory of omission keeps a lot of knowledge omitted out of the text and retains and showcase only like the tip of the iceberg, in this article the urge is to choose carefully and select which ‘more’ we want to chase and how that more will shape our thoughts and actions. My simplicity resolution practice comes from choosing the good more.
Seeking more money no matter how rich one gets is a good more.
Seeking more money no matter how rich one gets is a good more when the hows and whys of seeking are right. Seeking more money turns bad when one leaves the moral ground. Ms Chanda Kochhar, the illustrious woman banker lost her reputation and years of hard work while seeking the not-so-good more money through other channels. There was no harm in seeking more, but it was not a ‘good’ more.
With seeking more, there is always a not-so-good more too. Keeping ‘The Good More’ as a voice in the head can be a selection framework for peace, health, happiness that comes from growth, success, money…
The good more can define the control lines.
Like instead of saying I will quit youtube to control my distraction, I will focus more on the quality of accounts that I follow. I can choose the good more.
The good more is in tracking happy moments.
The good more is in tracking happy moments vs tracking the number of parties. Pandemic-related controls are tough to accept and cause worrying impacts on social well-being. If you have missed or have fear of missing out the social circle, channelising the focus on the good more may help.
The good more is keeping more positive words in the vocabulary.
Showing somebody or something down doesn’t necessarily mean that one gets elevated. Elevation comes from practicing empathy and respect. Just one actionable way of adopting ‘the good more’ is to omit the negative, foul words and focus on using more positive words2.
The good more is more focus on the process vs focus on the goal.
It can get dizzying to keep any eye on the goal only. Ask Neerja Chopra or Abhinav Bindra or The Hockey Team or Mirabai Chanu or P V Sindhu or any person in the competitive sport and they will tell you that all their energies go towards the process. Every single effort is to get better than their earlier state in order to reach the goal. The good more is more focus on the process vs focus on the goal.
The good more is just a selection in the choice making. If ye dil mange more, make it the good more.
1Deep work retreat- an article on the grand gesture