Legal Advocacy Book Gives Great Writer’s Block Advice

Say what now?

You read that right. Now, I promise I don’t read legal writing books. That would be boring. My sister, on the other hand, has to for very necessary academic reasons. Her profs wouldn’t be too happy, after all, if they cold-called her and she hadn’t done the reading.

In the fourth chapter of A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy, on pages 85-89, Mary Beth Beazley starts her section on procrastination with advice that all writers have heard many times. She talks about that critical voice in our heads that does its best to keep us from finishing a draft of anything. Anybody who’s read Anne Lamott is familiar with that concept—writing a less-than-ideal first draft with little regard for perfection.

Ms. Beazley, though, offers something a little more to help balance freewriting with the need to self-censor. She calls it “private memos.” What this means is that you write down the thoughts you have—questions, criticisms, or other miscellaneous ideas—as you go. She suggests using footnotes (Law People love footnotes). This allows you to “preserve” your thoughts while still saving them for later and allowing you to continue writing unimpeded.

She also contends that procrastination is a major issue within writer’s block and that it is caused by three fears: those of commitment, failure, and pain. The first two she nails spot on in a way useful outside of law and academia. The third, I’m going to twist to be just a little more relevant for us lay people.

Her commentary on fear of commitment can only be said in her own words:

“Research is like dating and writing is like marriage, and one of the fears that inhibits writers is a fear of commitment. Just as marriage forces you to commit to one person, writing forces you to commit to a particular writing decision.”

Mary Beth Beazley, A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy, page 86

That can be paralyzing, but that’s where, of course, her private memos can come in handy. Also, you can always remind yourself: I can go back later and change this. Until it’s published, nothing is set in stone. It’s a royal pain in the neck when you have to go rewrite/restructure six chapters, but it’s doable.

Fear of failure, stemming from feelings of inadequacy and not wanting people to see we aren’t good enough, that’s I think one of the more difficult ones. Every writer has insecurities. The one’s who don’t are probably in for a rude awakening later, at least from what I’ve seen. Showing things to people you trust is a good way to get safe but constructive feedback. Ms. Beazley also suggests writing early as a means to combat this. What this means for the average writer is probably to write alongside some of our research, rather than trying to fight the hopeless battle of plunging the depths of any and all possible knowledge we might need to have. Because something will always come up later. I guarantee it.

Lastly, fear of pain. Here is where we depart Ms. Beazley and forge our own track. For writers of the creative persuasion, the two greatest pains are workshop and rejection. Workshop is the first rejection. There will always be someone who says: This can be better. Worse, they’re almost always right. Consigning yourself to the pain of having all your writing weaknesses exposed for a whole group of writers to see (even though they’ll be baring their own, shortly) is its own kind of torture. As for rejection, well, the publishing world is a hard, hard place. I think I covered that well enough last week.

And this all just goes to show that somebody’s law textbook is another person’s random writing gem.

I rest my case.

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