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Monday, March 12, 2018

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

That's Hemingway and its the quote I've had on my office door for the past eight years. I don't drink, but I do write drunk. And I edit both drunk and sober - until something great floats to the surface (which is tricky because, well, shit floats, gold sinks, as we say in Hebrew). This week I am speaking to my students in my two writing seminars about good article writing. They've all selected promising research topics and now they need to turn in first drafts (also per Hemingway: all first drafts are shitty). In preparation for what we'll be talking about, in addition to assigning them as always Eugene Volokh's Legal Academic Writing as a reference book, I pulled up some note files of mine which I had prepared for past years. I found a list of 22 pieces of advice from writers I admire which I gave the students as handouts - and which I might print out again this week. I thought I'd post them here as well. My favorites are #3, #5, #8, #9, #13, and #21. And all this advice does generally translate to legal writing, including #22. Of course, #2 makes me laugh because law review writing is especially prone. 

"Write drunk; edit sober." -Ernest Hemingway [1920x1080]

  1. The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway
  2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy
3. Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. -Paul Theroux

4.I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee

5. You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London

6. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell

7.There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham

8. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

9. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman

10. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright

11. If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser

12. Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut

13. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway

14. Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft.  The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk

15. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain

16. Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman

17. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde

18. The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. -- Mark Twain

19. “Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” - William Faulkner

20. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker

21. "It's a luxury being a writer, because all you ever think about is life." -Amy Tanh

22. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

Posted by Orly Lobel on March 12, 2018 at 01:11 AM in Books, Culture, Life of Law Schools, Orly Lobel | Permalink


Funny quotes , really amusing , but most of it ,and even all of it , has nothing to do almost , with legal writing . In legal writing for example , space , empty space , is no less , and sometimes more , than , writing !! This is for example ,one of the utmost important advice. Space talks , not less than words …

Posted by: El roam | Mar 12, 2018 7:28:25 AM

Just clarification :

" Space " , as synonym to : Sectioning , the art of sectioning …. One may suggest . Very complicated and crucial doctrine or art , in legal writing .


Posted by: El roam | Mar 12, 2018 8:00:42 AM

I have the same quotation on my office door.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 12, 2018 8:56:41 AM

Eugene Volokh is not qualified to offer instruction in English usage. I have tried nu numerous times to correct his penchant for using the construction "The court will forbid him from testifying" instead of the correct construction "The court will forbid him to testify." He remains recalcitrant. Is there anyone who can prefer "He was forbidden from testifying" over "He was forbidden to testify"?

Volokh needs to read some KJV Bible, Garner on proper English usage, or American Heritage Dictionary before he spouts more grammatical nonsense.

Posted by: jimbino | Mar 12, 2018 5:20:07 PM

I think most of these are relevant to legal writing. I call my first draft the "SFD" (shitty first draft). The first presentable draft is "FNF" (friends and family) but usually 8 or 9 drafts later.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 13, 2018 10:12:44 AM

Anon I like the acronyms but I also tell my students to share often and early so probably earlier than draft 8. Howard the question is whether you have an expansive collection of hard drinks in your office like one fellow prawf or your office is eternally dry like mine :)

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Mar 13, 2018 11:16:48 AM

The only hard drink I have in my office is a SodaStream.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 13, 2018 11:19:19 AM

Sodastream = the Israeli hard drink ... lechaim 🍸

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Mar 13, 2018 12:12:45 PM


". . . before he spouts more grammatical nonsense."

What's the rule of grammar that Volokh's phrasing violates?

Posted by: Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | Mar 14, 2018 1:29:58 PM

Loved this post--For a variation, take a look at Annie Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She calls the first draft the diaarrhea draft; all subsequent ones are "clean up"!

Posted by: Beverly R Buck | Mar 19, 2018 2:58:55 PM

thanks Beverly I get the image of diarrhea writing and then clean up...It's actually how i write and edit - by eliminating more than adding...
you motivated to post the second installment of this blog real soon - coming up - visual tips for structuring your paper...

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Mar 19, 2018 4:00:33 PM

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