My Seven Stages of Legal Writing
Since the beginning of this blog in 2014, I’ve written at least one blog post per month. This has been a relatively easy goal to reach.
This month I started several posts only to get stuck in my own writing process. Which made me realize that I actually have a writing process. It’s not one that I strategically developed; it’s more like a process I fall into time and time again without any conscious effort. But in the end, it seems to work for me.
So, I ditched the last draft I was writing and decided to write about the seven stages I proceed through every single time I write something. Almost like the seven stages of grief, every time I draft a blog post, factum, statement of claim, affidavit, or article for a publication, I inevitably go through the following:
Stage 1: “Woohoo! I’m excited! I love writing!”
I’m always excited and filled with anticipation when I start with a blank page. I feel the creative juices bubbling beneath the surface ready to move my fingers on the keyboard. I’m excited about the prospect of creating something from nothing and the potential for greatness. I’m excited to craft a winning argument to help a client win their case. I’m excited to tell a story in an affidavit. I’m excited to share my thoughts in a blog post or article. This is one of my favourite stages in my writing process.
Stage 2: “I’m the worst writer ever and my client’s case is crap (or the idea for this article is crap).”
And…. from the soaring heights of excitement, I come crashing down into the depths of despair.
This usually happens after I start writing for a bit and put some words on the page. I then realize that perhaps the client’s case is not as great as I initially thought. Or, what I thought was the legal issue I was researching perhaps isn’t the one I should be focusing on. Or, the article idea now seems boring. I can’t seem to get my ideas straight. The paragraphs don’t flow. There is no organization. What I’ve written is an incoherent mess (or at least I think it is).
Stage 3: “I’m back on track. I totally know what I need to do now!”
Once I get the initial mess out on to the page and stare at it long enough, I reach a point where I can see through the mess and clarity emerges. [Cue image of clouds dispersing and sun shining through – this is the “aha!” moment] The structure and ideas all make sense. At this point I can really start writing. I get into a groove and the words start flowing again.
Stage 4: Dun Dun Dun! …..The Dreaded Spin Cycle
This stage of my writing process always sneaks up on me. I think I will make it through without visiting this stage, but inevitably it arrives. It’s the stage where I am sucked in so deep into the writing, I feel like I have fallen down a rabbit hole. Sometimes at this stage a factum has ballooned to 100 pages, or the legal opinion has 20 different possible outcomes to questions that weren’t even asked. This is the stage where I keep reading and writing and writing and reading and reading and writing…but I don’t feel like I have made any progress. I just sit there spinning around and around and not going anywhere, like a hamster on her wheel.
This is the time that I must WALK AWAY.
I normally leave the work and start another assignment or work on my invoices or some other task I need to do. I try to stay away for a day but if that is not possible, at least a few hours.
Stage 5: “Phew. I have something done. Maybe it’s not horrible after all. I can work with this.”
When I come back from the time away, I am usually pleasantly surprised with what I have written. There is enough there for me to work with, and now it is time to do a “big picture” edit or to cut and slash (saving the stuff I cut, obviously, because I will likely change my mind and want it back again). This is where I mold what I have into the first real draft of the final product.
Stage 6: “Sweet. I like this. This is not bad, not bad at all.”
As I work with the written product, I start to like it more and more. I get excited again. It’s turning into something that makes sense, is clear, cohesive and concise. I get excited about editing it and revising it and making it better and better with each draft.
Stage 7: “I’m finished! It’s good. I’ve served it (or given it to the client or posted it on my website). It’s out into the world. Such relief…… Maybe I will read it one more time. …..NO! How did I not see that TYPO?”
This happens too many times for me. Despite reading it over many times, out loud, and backwards, there is always that one typo I never see until it’s gone and out into the world. Sigh. But also, at this stage I feel a deep sense of pride about what I have written and accomplished.
And then I start on my next project…..
What’s your writing process? Is it as crazy as mine?
4/1/2021 01:39:36 pm
Loved this, Erin! I can totally relate. Not to writing 100-page legal drafts obviously but the constant back and forth feelings, and finding that typo after it's too late!!
4/1/2021 04:58:06 pm
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Erin C. Cowling is a freelance lawyer, entrepreneur, legal career consultant researcher & writer, and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.