This weekend, I spent time revising my novel per editors comments and suggestions and attending a writer’s conference. I prepared 10 Tips for Powerful Writing and thought they would be helpful to attorneys. So here goes…
1. Know thy audience.
This is common sense but so many of us forget it when we are writing. If I am writing something legal for a judge, what is the one thing that a judge does not have a lot of? Time. So I think what can I do to make whatever I am writing for this judge more reader friendly? Would the judge appreciate headings? Would white space between paragraphs make what I am doing more reader friendly and literally give the judge’s eyes a rest? How about sub-headings? The answer is yes. So these are all tools that can he used to make us better writers. The same is true for any kind of writing. Know thy audience.
2. Follow your characters.
What does this mean? It means that so many writers get caught up in what others think about their writing, that they loose track of (and faith in) their character’s motives. Think about what makes your character tick and write from that perspective. Don’t worry about the nay-sayers (unless it comes from your editor). Then take the criticism to heart and make what you are working on better.
3. Show – Don’t tell.
How many of us make this mistake when we are writing? My trick to overcoming this problem is to literally close my eyes and pretend that I am the character in the scene. Think about your senses. What would the character see in this scene? What would they hear? What would they feel (both emotionally and literally)? What would they smell? What would they taste? If you integrate the answers to these questions into your writing, you will take the reader with you into the scene. This is the magic of good writing.
And for lawyers, how many of us have read briefs that start with “On or about July 12, 2014…” Really? Who writes like this? What if you wrote the facts of your next legal brief or motion like a novel. For a car accident how about, “For Jenna Morris, February 16, 2014, started out just like any other day. It was clear and sunny and she was driving down Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, her 14 year old daughter, Trisha, next to her. They were laughing, trying to figure out if they should go to Doheney Beach or Disneyland for the day…” (Then describe them being T-boned or whatever).
So what have you done for the judge?
1) you have given the weather conditions,
2) you have let him know that date and approx. time of accident,
3) you have created in his (or her) mind a vision of a caring mother with a young child in the car,
4) you have created a sense of tension. He (or she) knows something bad is going to happen, and
5) you probably have made him visualize his own family in that car.
You have made him (or her) care about what happens to this family. You have made him wonder about their injuries. You have made this family human. And most important, you have made the judge want to read more.
4. Less is more.
Sometimes less is more. Yes, it’s true. To illustrate, I am reading a best selling author’s work right now. I am on page 147 of a 350 plus page novel. Without giving any names or a title, the novel could have opened on page 147. In the first few pages of this chapter, you get the information about the killer, the title for the book, you get information as to the killer’s psychosis, you get the back story of the family he murdered and you meet the protagonist of the novel and his detective partner. So what was covered in the first 146 pages could have been shelled out here with a little more depth. Saving 146 pages. Wow!
5. Follow your soul.
When we write, we worry about what people think. We worry about how good it is. We worry about what our agent is going to think. We worry about what our editor is going to say. We worry about what our friends and family are going to say. After all, writing is like giving birth. This is our baby that we are putting out there into the world to get torn apart, to be criticized and beat up. Think how great our writing would be if we took all the energy we spent worrying and redirected it into our writing? Enough said.
6. Do thy research.
As a lawyer, I cannot begin writing a legal brief until I have the facts from the client. The same is true as a writer of fiction or non-fiction. Even if I am writing a fictional character, I cannot write honestly about him or her without some research into their occupation, etc. Often research will actually make your characters richer because it may reveal motivations and perceptions that you had never thought about. Again, it comes back to what makes this character tick.
7. Do not be afraid of the blank page.
As a writer, we have all been faced with that time when you look at the dreaded 8 by 11 blank white paper and nothing comes to mind. You freeze. Your thoughts are blank. You think, oh cr-p, not this again. Your mind takes over with sheer paralysis. And you don’t write. As writers, we must write. Do not be overly critical. Even if you know what you are writing is cr-p, write it. Fill the page with cr-p, go on to the next one and fill it with cr-p. You can always come back and edit or delete later. The act of writing is a must. Like the ad says, Don’t over think it – just do it.
8. Think the five page rule.
When I sit down to write, I try to produce 5 pages of finished text. I have seen this mantra repeatedly in interviews with famous best-selling authors. They routinely go for 5 pages. Why? Think about it. If you write 5 pages a day for 20 days, you have 100 pages completed. Given the average length of a novel, you could have a novel completed in 2 and ½ months. A writers and editors dream.
9. One rule does not work for everyone.
Some writers are plotters and planners. Plotters plot out an entire piece of work from start to finish before they start writing. The opposite just write and let the story go where it may. Planners do some plotting but they let the story take over at some point. I am a Planner. I find it works for me. After about the first 100 pages, the story and characters take over for me. After this, I plot role reversals and decide which ones to use. The point is that every one has their own methodology and what “works” for them. Figure out and follow what works for you.
10. Remember to keep relationships strong.
Writing is a solitary task. Just you, your laptop and an obnoxious white sheet of paper. And yet, as writers, what is our greatest gift? It is the ability to meet someone, to look at them and create a character in our mind. It is our ability to take a reader to a place they have never been. It is the ability to transport a reader to meet someone new to them, who they will care for and hopefully cry for. It is about people and hope and love and faith. All part of the human spirit. All coming from human communications. So to be a better writer, we must interact with others. We must communicate with others and draw out the best in others. This is where strong characters come from. It is what makes for great writing. So nurture the relationships in your life. Nurture your friends. Appreciate your colleagues. And always write from the heart.