The Unhappy Lawyer/Wannabe Writer

Are you an unhappy lawyer longing to be the next John Grisham? A lot of you are. Writers who are also quite good at academics often get drawn to law, because law is a wordy profession. In school, we smarty-pants writers aren’t encouraged to pursue our creativity, because it’s viewed as too risky a career. (The risk of being suicidally unhappy somehow never gets factored into that equation, go figure.) So law has a fair number of unacknowledged writers in it.

The Mythology of Writing

There’s a lot of mythology around writing. People can (and do) have elaborate rituals involving just-right notebooks or gadgets to write on, precise amount of coffee required beforehand, the level of silence or kind of music, and the space surrounding them. Just for starters. And if one of those rituals cannot be met, then no writing can occur.

man in glasses with typewriter

Try using images, instead of thinking, to get your writing and your life going.

Then there’s myths about the writing itself. There must be a perfect opening sentence, nay paragraph. The whole piece must be completely planned out before any writing actually commences. Not too many adjectives, that’s the sign of bad writing. Don’t use forms of “to be” or “to have” very often, that’s weak, flaccid writing. And so on.

No wonder you all sit there hyperventilating at your computer with a brief or memo deadline breathing down your neck. The number of obstacles to actually writing that writers can create are truly impressive feats of creativity.

Why It’s Hard for Lawyers to Write

Here’s the tough thing about being a writer, rather than most other types of artists: While imagery and creativity reside in the right brain, language resides in the left brain—the analytic side. Yet another reason writers mistakenly get sucked into law. To create their art, writers must meld their work from both sides of the brain. Writing is a rich, powerful art, for just that reason. But it can also be the trickiest art to navigate, because your inner critic holds its salon of never-ending doubt and fear on, you guessed it, the left side of the brain. When you’re searching for words, you risk stumbling right into the critic.

As a fledgling writer, you might be better off avoiding flat-out battles with your critic every time you try to write. I’m just sayin’. Instead, try powering your writing from the non-linear, right side of your brain, by using images as your launching point. Whether you want to write fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction or a blog about something important to you, start with the picture in your head about it, rather than what you think your story should be about.

Do Try This, at Home or Work

I know some of you are really wanting more detailed direction. So here are a few ideas:

  • Collect 5 images that appeal to you, for any reason at all. They can be a place you want to visit, a memory, something you want to be or feel. Whatever. Magazines (even legal trade journals), brochures, newspapers, websites, Flickr and junk mail are all good image sources. Pick one image at random, and write 3 sentences about what the image says to you. And yes, you’re allowed to write more than 3 sentences if you like!
  • Pay attention to the movie in your head. As you work on a story (fiction or not), notice what images are in your head as you write. You may need to stop straining so hard for words for a moment and just get quiet, so the image can be seen. For example, in my half-finished novel, there is a 50s-style kitchen, with white enameled metal cabinets. I don’t know why this is so important to the story (yet), but it’s a persistent (actually, pain in the ass, nagging) image. So I write about it. In most of my blog posts, there is at least 1 image, if not 5 or so. When I focus on the image, my writing flows better.
  • Sketch your day. Now, don’t freak out and say you don’t know how to draw. I don’t either. But we can all draw imperfect squares, circles and triangles, and squiggly lines. That’s all you need to be able to draw to do a sketch, really. You don’t need to make your sketch match the image in your head; it‘s just a very, very rough idea of what you see. So pick at least 3 parts of your day with consistent or evocative images: your deskscape, the view from your window, something along your commute, the flower stand, the book store, the character on the train or the street. Now, write a paragraph or two about those images.

The idea with all of these exercises is to invite the right side of your brain into your life, and your writing, more fully. The right side of the brain is what creates your life, while the left side plans and executes. If you leave your left brain in charge, your writing, and your life, become terribly sterile, airless, and dead. Romance the images on the right side of your brain, and watch your life change.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer with the proverbial half-finished novel who spent a decade in the writing and publishing industry. She coaches unhappy attorneys on how to nurture their writing, career and life. See if coaching can help you by trying a discounted sample coaching session with Jennifer. Email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule your session today.

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