Writing conjures up creativity

April 27, 2012

By Mary Hutchings Reed

If you write or want to write fiction in your nonbillable time, this new monthly column is for you. Writing is a solitary effort, but it need not be lonely. Writers need readers when they type, “The End,” but along the way, we need cheerleaders. This column is meant to be your companion in your solitary, nonbillable hours as you write your first novel or short fiction, share your drafts, find an agent and publish your work.

I began writing almost 20 years ago, when I was a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP, practicing advertising, marketing and entertainment law, and my daily writing included opinion letters and contracts. One day after I’d presented on “sponsorship law” at a conference, I was asked if there was a book on the subject and I said no. I went home and wrote it in my nonbillable time, drawing largely on my experience putting together professional boxing events for promoter Don King. A year later, when my 500-page, linen-covered masterpiece arrived in my office, I knew again what I’d known since when I was in kindergarten and received a toy printing press for Christmas — I wanted to be a writer.

Because I could — but it’s not necessary — I reduced my practice from full time to “of counsel” status and began to remake myself into a writer of fiction. I started with local writing workshops I found advertised in the newspaper, joined a weekly writer’s group which I’ve attended for 15 years, subscribed to Poets & Writers and Writers Digest. I polished a few short stories, sent them to literary journals and contests, collected rejections, joined a novel-writing workshop, went to some national conferences, wrote my first novel and a couple more, found an agent (who died before she could sell my work!), self-published “Courting Kathleen Hannigan,” wrote a musical about golf and saw it produced three times, finally placed in a few contests, found a new agent and last month wrote the last page of the first draft of my 10th novel. In short, I wrote a lot.

I had a lot to learn about narrative writing — and I’ll share some of the key differences between legal writing and story writing in later columns — but to my surprise, my legal training had given me many of the skills needed to write and to enjoy the process of creative writing from the get-go. Lawyers are, ultimately, truth seekers and problem solvers. We understand rules and consequences, probable causes and effects. We understand the complexities of right and wrong, the gray areas, the mitigating factors, the pleas for mercy. We appreciate small differences and can distinguish one character’s case from the next. We delight in forseeing the unforeseen and anticipating “Acts of God.” We know deceitful clients and unreliable victims. We understand client motivations, tactics and the end game. In short, even those of us in corporate law are familiar with the human condition, the stuff of novels.

As lawyers, we can crank out the work product to address the problem at hand, but a blank page can be intimidating. With all the problems and all the characters in the world at our disposal, how do we begin to fill a waiting page? Julia Cameron, whose “The Artist’s Way” is an inspirational guide to unlocking your creativity, suggests we limber up for the novel by practicing uncensored, spontaneous writing. First thing every morning (or possibly on the train) you sit down and write (by hand) three spontaneous, sloppy, non-linear, probably incomprehensible pages. (If you don’t know what to write, she says, write “I don’t know what to write” over and over until you write something else.) I wrote out all my frustrations with both clients and partners, what I should serve for a dinner party, concerns about my parents’ health, reactions to local news stories, golf tips — you name it, it was just stuff coming up and out. I have, as instructed, never looked back at these pages. What they did for me was simply to get the words flowing, to hear my daily concerns and observations, and ultimately, to hear my own wild and crazy voice — what would become, with more attention to the craft of writing, my writer’s voice.

Next time, we’ll talk about actually starting to write your story. But if you absolutely can’t wait to get started, my friend and author Marjie Rynearson is offering a day-long story structure workshop on May 12. Visit marjorierynearson.wordpress.com and mention this column when registering.

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4 Responses
  1. Carma

    Congratulations on the blog! It’s well-written (of course!), and is well-focused on your primary audience–lawyers who want to write. It will be of interest to others as well.

  2. Stacey K.

    Love this tips here, Mary! Look forward to the next installment! Congratulations on finishing the 10th novel. You are my hero! 🙂

  3. I’m a writer and attorney, self publishing as well as performing my work locally. I hope to follow your lead to a major publisher some day soon! thanks for the encouragement.

    1. admin

      Thanks, Mike. I do have an agent now working on finding that elusive major publisher for
      one of my subsequent novels, but our “little secret” is that Courting Kathleen Hannigan
      was privately published (self-published with the expertise of Susie Isaacs at Ampersand).
      See, when self-publishing is done professionally, readers don’t know the difference.
      The real issue always is marketing, both for major publishers and those of us self-
      publishing. It’s very satisfying, either way, to be read. Thanks for spreading the word!
      Write back and tell me about your novel!

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