Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Kids on the (Writer's) Block

Writer’s block stinks. Just when you need to be productive, you suddenly find you have nothing to say—or you know what you need to say, but you don’t know how to say it. Writer’s block is particularly challenging for lawyers who, as a group, tend to procrastinate and then try to cram a day’s worth of writing into a few hours. The best way to overcome writer’s block is to write every day—practice makes perfect. But these tips can help too.  

Write at the best time for you
I’m a morning person and am always more productive in the morning. Thus, my best writing comes early in the day. Write at the time of day you have the most energy and can be the most productive. If you work best after lunch, use the morning to answer emails, make telephone calls, and handle other issues, then devote the afternoon to writing. If you’re already suffering from writer’s block, don’t force yourself to try to write when you aren’t your most productive.  Of course, this requires planning—you can’t procrastinate or you’ll be stuck writing night and day.

Avoid distractions
This is easier said than done. But try to minimize things that distract you from writing—emails, telephone calls, Facebook etc. Turn off your cell phone or turn on the Do Not Disturb feature on your office phone. Close your office door and ask your assistant not to disturb you. If you need sound, listen to a Pandora station that won't distract you, such as Classical for Studying. If you lack the discipline to keep yourself from playing online while you should be working, invest in a program like Freedom that will block your internet access for a period of time.

Keep reference materials nearby
Don’t give yourself any reason to get up from your writing and become distracted. Keep your reference materials, such as a dictionary, Bluebook, and style guide nearby. If you are relying on cases or statutes, keep copies handy for easy reference. And cite as you go along rather than try to go back later and add citations—it’s much easier to do it right the first time.  

Write the easy part first
If you’re having trouble starting at the beginning, start somewhere else. Draft the standard of review first if that seems easy. Or start by drafting the statement of facts. Once you get going, the words often will start flowing. You can go back later to add or delete sections and homogenize your document.

Try writing on paper
If you’re like me, you write everything electronically now. But if you’re stuck, try changing things up. Move away from your computer and use a pen and notepad to make an outline or jot down some general thoughts. Once the creative juices get flowing, go back to your computer and use your hand-written notes for reference.

Talk it out
If you’re struggling with what you want to say, talk to a non-lawyer. Ask a friend, family-member, or spouse to listen to you explain the topic you’ll be writing about. Take notes as you go and pay close attention to areas that are confusing to the listener. Use the notes you’ve made from your conversation as a starting point for writing. Of course, avoid violating your attorney-client privilege by disclosing privileged information.

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