How long does it take to understand elegance?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an blog post written by Seth Godin…

I read Seth Godin’s blog every day. Not every posting is brilliant but most of them give me something interesting to think about. One of his more clever ones, headlined “Obvious or elegant?” appeared last week, Jan. 20/16.

Although he was writing specifically about marketing copy, I think his conclusion in his column applies to all writers and readers: It does take awhile to understand something that’s truly elegant.

Note that when I endorse this view I’m not suggesting that elegant writing should be complex or hard to understand. Instead, I’m talking about the ideas or the content being shared.

Let me make this clearer with an example. I saw a documentary on television last week presenting the idea that, in our society, alcoholism is considered an issue relating to willpower — not a medical problem. Although this isn’t a brand-new concept, it came across as fresh, elegant and convincing because of the way in which the script was handled.

The writers — and the subjects — were the same people. One of them, a psychologist, was an alcoholic. And that he had a relapse during filming — and had the guts to make it part of the story — made their argument so much more powerful. To me, this was an example of the type of elegance that Godden was citing. I even watched part of the documentary twice to ensure I understood it.

Do your readers ever read your articles twice because they’re so eager to understand more? Think about how you can be more elegant in your own writing.