“A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem to be a happy accident.” – Somerset Maugham
Really great writer have the ability to take you off the page and into the world they are relating. You are no more aware of the style or effort than you are of breathing in and out, and just like the act of breathing, it is only something is wrong that you really notice it.
I like the phrase here “a happy accident”. In our day-to-day life, we can be made happy by something that we come upon unexpectedly. The stunning sunset that we notice as we are waiting at a red Traffic light, or when hurrying down the street we suddenly spot a spring flower valiantly struggling through the late snowfall.
These are happy accidents indeed, and the written word should take us to those places, without us quite realizing that it is only an artifact of the words, merely a construct of the sentence structure.
What Somerset Maugham refers to in respect of writing, is, I believe, true of much of life.
I have had a few different jobs in my life, but this quote males me think in particular of the ones where I was in charge of the operation of a unit or a project. Here, if things went smoothly, it would seem that I wasn’t doing anything much – it was all a happy accident that everything went smoothly. No one noticed that the tasks were delivered on time that all the necessary paperwork was where it needed to be, or that the processes worked efficiently.
And nor should they have noticed! Because if the process works well, you don’t need to notice it and instead can focus on getting the project completed and the job done.
I’m sure we have all experienced the alternative scenario, where the equipment doesn’t work, the data doesn’t arrive on time or a new software package suddenly appears on our desktop without any training material.
I once had a temporary job in a company where the systems were so badly out of date that we needed to do much more manual operation than was really needed. This was not only frustrating to us temporary workers, but less than cost-efficient to the organization. With better systems, they might not have needed us temporary workers in the first place!
So it is with many areas of life, from keeping home to balancing one’s checkbook. The best compliment one can be given is that no one notices that any effort has been made. They will maybe see the clean floors and tidy cupboards, but it should seem that it came that way, that no real effort was involved. It can be galling to a homemaker that their efforts are never remarked upon.
It is the nature of Human Beings to focus more on an issue that needs to be fixed, than one that has been solved, and for this reason we can see the strength in this quotation.