Being an American with affinity for our constitutional republic, I am certainly no fan of monarchy. But the nearly 24/7 media coverage of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth made me think about one key word that was evident throughout that event, but that term is fast disappearing in society today. That word is excellence.
As I watched the funeral service, the long march to the hearse, and the long, slow journey to Windsor Castle for the interment, I could not escape seeing order, organization, precision, protocol, pomp and circumstance, tradition, quality, planning, and timing--in short, excellence.
It was evident in the adult attendees, the military personnel, the policemen, the spectators along the route, and even the nine and seven year old great grandchildren of the queen.
Such excellence doesn't just happen. It must already exist within one's character and soul. It must be planned, practiced, cultivate, lived.
Contrast such excellence with American society today. We now live in a society that sacrifices the very idea of formality and excellence on the altar of personal comfort and convenience, diversity, and equity (i.e., equality of outcome). Few people know how to dress up for even formal occasions. Awards are given not for excellence and achievement above and beyond the average but for participation, regardless of its quality or the effort--if any--exerted.
Excellence begins with aspirations to achieve, to excel, to make something of oneself above average, to be the best at something. It implies a standard above the average, a quality exceeding average. It "presupposes intellectual, moral, and spiritual ascent . . . growth and development by dint of effort and commitment."*
And what, you might be asking yourself, does this have to do with writing?
It has everything to do with every writer who is sincerely committed to excellence in his or her work.
True excellence in our writing requires that we have and try to meet or exceed a high standard. It requires organization, planning, method, timing, and precision. And the level of the standard and the efforts exerted to meet that standard offer rewards or consequences that we must face.
I recognize that some writers who, following the example of some allegedly great writers, seem to think that becoming a great writer requires disorder, disorganization, erratic behavior, drunkenness or drug use, and eccentricity. But such writers wrote in spite of those aberrant characteristics, not because of them. Even the "mad" writers had some order to their madness, and they, too, sought excellence, albeit perhaps secretly lest they mar their perceived image as eccentric writers.
In your writing--in all of life, in fact--strive for excellence, not mediocrity, averageness, or equality. Dare to set the standard high, and strive to meet--and yes, even exceed--that goal. Have a purpose for your writing larger than yourself that you pursue with excellence. Doing so will set you apart as royalty among the other writers who are mere commoners.
*George Panichas, "What Happened to Excellence?" The Imaginative Conservative (September 18, 2022).