Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why do I do this to myself?

Writing is a rather torturous process for me.  Rather unfortunate as the bulk of my job is writing.  You might think that after years of expressing my ideas and arguments in writing, I might have honed a process for my writing.  But I haven't.  After all these years, the process of me writing a legal brief is still something resembling my dog trying to find just the right spot outside.  She paces, she sniffs around, she wanders into the neighbor's yard, she gets distracted by the appearance of a squirrel or the sound of a car, and then she winds up squatting pretty much exactly where she started.  I'm guessing that's how I come across when I am deep into brief-writing mode.  Oh, sometimes the words flow from the sheer force of my indignation. But more often than not, it's a one sentence, or sometimes one word, at a time thing.

I write a sentence, then I play a game.  I look up a case on westlaw, then I move on to the local paper's website.  I write another partial sentence, get stumped on a particular word or turn of phrase, and so give up, going to refill my water cup instead.  Anyone watching me would think I was just some nutty nut girl who's nuts.*  They would think I had the attention span of a gnat, needed medications, or was just the biggest procrastinator ever. Well, I'm all of those things, but I think I'm also a pretty good legal writer in the end.  It's just I take a windy, maddening path to the end.

Because throughout all my nutty fits and starts, these words and thoughts and ideas are constantly roiling around in my head.  I'm thinking about it in the shower, I'm mentally conducting the oral argument while I drive to work, and those games are just a mindless activity for my hands while I'm searching for exactly the right wording to impress upon the court just why they should care about the errors committed in my client's case.  The whole argument, the facts I want to pull out, the explanation of prejudice, are all right there, always threatening to bubble over into proper paragraphs.  It's just the process of getting them to actually bubble over that is so aggravating.  Translating my clear thoughts into the written word shouldn't seem that difficult, but somehow it is.  It doesn't help that I'm a perfectionist and don't like to commit a sentence to paper until I am completely satisfied with it.  Or that  I feel  the weight of my client's world on my shoulders, knowing that I have to strike just the right balance of logic and passion and persuasion to get him the relief he wants.  I wish those paragraphs I can visualize so clearly in my mind would jump, fully-formed like Athena, out of my head and onto my computer screen.  But, alas, they never do. 

Sometimes, I force myself just to start typing stream of consciousness.  And sometimes I go the old-fashioned route: pen and paper.  A good flowy pen can help the words flow.  Sometimes, I just lie in the big, comfy chair in my office.  More than once, the exact right phrase has occurred to me just as I was drifting off to sleep.  Which means I have to jump up and find a computer or a pen so I can write it down before it gets lost again. 

It's a ridiculous process that frustrates me more than I can say.  And yet, it's my process.  I can't seem to change it, and my results over the years would suggest there's really no need to tinker.  When I'm done with a brief, I invariably think it's awful, a loser, that I've screwed my client by being such a terrible lawyer, etc.  Nothing good could possibly have come out of the laborious way I write briefs, I think.  I can't bear to look at it again for months.  I dread oral argument prep, knowing that I will have to confront my awful written advocacy.  But, equally invariably, I do re-read that brief before argument and realize it's not so terrible after all.  In fact, sometimes I even think that issue I've been embarrassed about for months is actually pretty darn winnable.  So why couldn't I just write the damn thing in the first place and save myself all the misery?

In case you couldn't guess, I am currently deep into brief-writing mode right now.  I guess I can add "writing rambling, fluffy blog posts" to the list of silly things I do in between writing one or two sentences.

*That's a quote from one of my favorite t.v. shows.  Anyone know it?

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