There is no such thing as perfection in legal writing—and there never will be. But surely there is something approximating perfection. You see it in the work of those who have won the Pulitzer. But there is no such thing as total perfection. If there is such a thing, I haven’t seen it.
Because when it comes to writing, you can always cut and edit and rearrange. Endlessly.
And why are you doing that? Because you’re a lawyer. Because, like ad copywriters, you write not only to be understood, but to be persuasive.
I’m sitting here—we’re all sitting here—facing the blank page, and the blank page curses anyone who refuses to confess.
The first sign of a nervous breakdown is when you start thinking your work is terribly important. –Milo Bloom (Berkeley Breathed’s cartoon creation)
Block? What Block?
If you want to avoid writer’s block, to never be blocked again, you’d do well to follow these two points:
- Set limits. Copyblogger’s Robert Bruce wrote about how to kill writer’s block and produce great work in a limited amount of time. Famous ad man Eugene Schwartz set a timer for roughly 30 minutes and sat down to write. He couldn’t leave his chair or do anything else but drink coffee and write. Then he took a break, came back, and set the timer again.
- Write first, edit later. The advertising copy that Schwartz produced in those 30 minute blocks of time probably wasn’t perfect, but it led to millions of dollars of products sold for his clients and a healthy living for himself. For us lawyers, who are trying to get things done for our clients with our legal writing, it stands to reason that we can also write first, edit later. A big part of that is focusing and eliminating distractions.
What Happens When I Forget to Confess
Here’s what happens when I forget to confess: Everything goes to pot. I freeze up. My mind goes blank, like the page. In legal writing, the moment I start to feel that what I’m putting down on the page is important—so terribly important, as Milo Bloom says—is the moment I block my creative energy.
Your trial brief might very well be terribly important.
But are you likely to be any more persuasive when you’re striving toward the unattainable goal of perfection? Is one more session cutting and editing and rearranging going to make a difference—when what you should have been doing was allowing your creative energy to flow onto the page?
So I confess. I’m not perfect. I shouldn’t expect my legal writing to be perfect, either.