The Toolkit for Beginning Lawyer-Writers

To be a writer, all you have to do is write. Which sounds all fine and well and good in theory, but most lawyers immediately start worrying about the quality and quantity of their efforts, and quickly conclude that since they are not the next Ernest Hemmingway or even produce the volume of work of a Scott Turow or David Baldacci, they cannot call themselves writers.

Don’t make this mistake. Scott Turow did not bust out writing Presumed Innocent as his first work of fiction. He was writing before he went to college, and wrote an entire novel in his first year there. And wrote two other novels before he went to law school. None of those books have been published, even now.

The point is that if you burden yourself with the weight of having to write brilliantly, you will not write. No writer, no matter how famous or admired, can write with that kind of pressure. It’s writing from the outside in, which never works.

Instead, write from the inside out. Write down your erratic, unfinished thoughts. Write down what pisses you off. Write down what makes you cry, even though you think you should be able to withstand such slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Withhold your attorney judgment, and just write. Often, you won’t be able to see where a particular rant is going; that’s OK. That concern can, indeed should wait.

And if you need more specific help than that, let me introduce you to a few wonderful books that never stray far from my desk or bedside:

The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron. It’s a particularly useful book for attorneys who want to write, but are very, very worried about what might happen if they do. In other words, it’s an excellent book for blocked writers. Cameron is a gentle, wise guide to take along on your writing journey. She had loads of useful exercises to get you writing.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. I only read this book in the past year, and I sorely regret not reading it sooner. Lamott knows it all when it comes to writer insecurities, particularly how we are most inventive when it comes to sabotaging ourselves, and she’s funny as shit about it.

Legal Writing in Plain English, by Bryan Garner. If you’re just not ready to tackle the idea of becoming a creative writer, this book can at least help you work on improving your on-the-job writing. This is the book I use for my legal writing classes. Garner offers a really useful analysis of the four different hats every legal writer needs to don to write both well and effectively: Madman, Architect, Carpenter, and Judge. (Check out pages 5 – 7, particularly.) I quibble with his idea that the hats must be worn in the order he presents them, because most writers typically dart back and forth among them. But his point that most attorneys spend far too much time on the Judge and far too little on the Madman is dead on.

So now that I’ve got you all worked into a froth to write, I hope you’ll go with that. Sit down for just ten minutes, maybe, and write what comes into your head (yes, including “I don’t know what to write”; I’ll bet another thought enters your head before that ten minutes is up. If not, work on your penmanship.) Next time, we’ll talk about how to transition to a writing career.

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