How Law School Affected My Writing

When I started law school I was worried it would kill my creativity. No more beautiful prose (ha! Like I had that to begin with) because bland and formulaic writing would take over. I’d forget how to be a writer, or a reader for that matter, because I’d be bogged down reading nothing but case law. Well, yea, you have to read a lot in law school, and it’s not the same as the reading I had to do at my liberal arts undergrad, but there’s still time for non-law reading. I think law school in conjunction with outside creative writing classes changed the way I read and write, in ways both good and less good.

Legal writing did change my writing in a negative-for-creative-writing way because it strove to teach me to be succinct and to the point. No showy language, no artistry, focus on facts and plain language. That’s not to say that lawyers aren’t creative (um have you seen some of the arguments they can come up with?), but the creativity is channeled in a different way than what I need as a fiction writer. I’d read short stories then look at my own work and think, mine doesn’t sound like this. I don’t write like this. Had to go back to the basics and Creative Writing 101—punchier verbs. Finding my writerly voice will likely be an ongoing process, but it was weird to put conscious effort into rebuilding that tone. I read older stories I’d written pre-law school, and after the cringing subsided (apparently I like to shift POVs. A lot. Often within the same paragraph) I had an idea of where I’d been and the direction I wanted to go in order to hit my stride. Part of that meant accepting that law school had affected my writing. Livening up some dead prose probably occurs more often for me than others. But, it does make those moments when I get a sentence of word-gold especially fulfilling. Unless I have to cut it later. Some darlings I cannot kill.

I’ll never be an artsy writer, one who picks up the pen and Shakespeare falls out. Flowery language and sentences that you need to re-read a few times to fully appreciate the word use—not me. The opposite tends to happen in that I get too plain trying to state the point. Finding the happy middle has been/is an odd journey, but an entertaining one. It’s an interesting position to be in, writing and wondering “who am I?” without any of the teenage angst.

As a consequence of law school and the almost tunnel vision approach it imparted, how I read and the books I enjoy have changed a bit. Of course, this isn’t all law school’s “fault,” as some of it comes from me studying the craft of writing and learning to be more critical. But, I do find that I don’t enjoy wordy, flowery prose anymore, or intense worldbuilding.

If I have to do math/charts/whatever to figure out monetary systems or the calendar, I’ll just substitute in something from reality.

I like pacing to be quicker and to the point. I’m tired of the mega-novel, dawdling behemoth works that are super popular in fantasy, my genre of choice, right now. It feels wrong to say that I want “simpler” books, but in a sense, I do. Not bad or boring writing, but a story that can be told without spending X number of pages detailing the interior of the room. So, really, I guess law school made me a boring writer with the attention span of a ferret.

2 thoughts on “How Law School Affected My Writing

  1. I doubt you are a boring writer–more likely an intense writer, keeping us on the edge of our seats. I remember when my daughter was taught in elementary school that she could “abandon” a book–she didn’t have to finish a book just because she started it (unless it was required reading!). I have a feeling no one will have time to consider abandoning one of your books! Your readers will already be swept up into the plot!

    Kindra @ Together


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