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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Writing and Experimentation

I appreciate Glenn's "how I write" post below.  Glenn asks for others to offer their own experiences and practices.  I won't this time around, because I'm fairly certain I've written on this before.  But I wanted to say two things about why it can be difficult to answer this question.  The first is that at times, imagining writing can be like imagining being sick; it's a visceral, all-encompassing experience when you're going through it, but difficult to recall in anything other than a vague dreamlike fashion when you're not.  I tend to have two temperatures as far as writing is concerned: red-hot, and icy cold.  I can go for a year or two in a very productive state, with lots of emerging ideas and the time, energy, and discipline to carry them out.  But there are other periods where very little comes -- sometimes because I'm reading up on the next project, sometimes because I'm waiting for inspiration, sometimes because I'm having a part of my body replaced (or, for others, both men and women, because they're caring for a young child or a sick parent, and so on), and sometimes because the Muse is taking a vacation somewhere else.  I would like to be an complete perennial, and certainly my productive stretches can last a long time, but right now the writing is coming less naturally.  You'll usually be able to tell because I'm blogging a whole lot.  (And yet I have two papers and one set of book revisions due in the next three months!  I guess that one way or another I'm going to have to emerge from the icy-cold stage pretty damn soon.)  Maybe when I'm back in my productive mode I'll try to figure out how I write, but until then it's like trying to figure out the question how I would walk on the moon.

The other reason, and it's the one I wanted to focus on more, is that I think there's a great deal of room for experimentation in legal writing, just as in any other form of writing.  That goes both to what you're writing and how you're writing.  It can be fun and productive to change things up.  Of course there are certain modes that are productive for each person: some of us have our favorite times, or places, or approaches.  But now and then it can be refreshing, personally and in terms of the work product, to leave those comfort zones and try something new.  Every now and again, if I've written in a style in which the first draft is already fairly polished and full of footnotes, I'll switch over to a rawer first draft approach.  If I've written several long pieces, I'll experiment with a short essay.  As I wrote here recently, when I was in the middle of my law and religion book, I took a break with a short humor piece.  That book was pretty broad and synthetic, and it was a pleasure to put it down for a couple of weeks and work on a piece (for Rick's First Amendment Stories collection) that focused substantially on just one piece.  I would enjoy writing a paper at some point that has virtually no footnotes, or that has the free-form, suggestive, koan-or-parable-oriented style of Joseph Vining.  In short, I appreciate the "how I write" recommendations.  But I encourage those -- including untenured professors -- who have a particular method or style in which they can be sure to be comfortably productive to change things up occasionally.  God knows that legal academic writing can use more variety and experimentation, and -- at least if you want to do this for several decades without burning yourself out or reducing yourself to utter cynicism, and its eventual and sad denouement, the roman a clef novel about one's colleagues -- so could we.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on December 7, 2011 at 04:46 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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imagining writing can be like imagining being sick; it's a visceral, all-encompassing experience when you're going through it, but difficult to recall in anything other than a vague dreamlike fashion when you're not.

Could not agree more. To me, this is one of the aspects of writing that makes it so fulfilling when I'm in the middle of it and so frustrating when I've let enough time pass (sometimes only weeks) that I can't remember how I ever got from A-Z.

Posted by: Brad A. Greenberg | Dec 12, 2011 2:40:00 AM

By the way, in the second paragraph, it should read "focused substantially on just one case."

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 8, 2011 7:52:22 AM

Good post, with a hilarious last sentence.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 7, 2011 7:36:58 PM

Thanks Paul. Great post! One thing I've found invigorating is occasionally writing for a different audience (short medical or bioethics journal articles) and taking on a co-author (for example, to do an empirical project).

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Dec 7, 2011 5:53:10 PM

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