I promised a post about the questions I was supposed to be prepared to answer at the panel I was on. I haven't been terribly inspired to write it, but I'm forcing myself before heading to sleep tonight. So here goes. The questions were provided by the moderator of the panel, in advance. The answers aren't exactly what I said at the panel, but the essence is probably pretty close.
1. Why write? What drives you to do it?
Honestly, I don't know. I write because it helps me think. It helps me sort through the stuff in my head and figure things out. It helps me save my thoughts so I don't lose them. This is going to sound overblown, and it probably is -- and I would never, ever, be able to say this out loud to anyone without feeling like a crazy person -- but in a way, at least right now at the moment I'm thinking about this, I feel like without writing, or I guess I mean without expressing yourself somewhere in some form that's less fleeting than the thoughts that pass in your mind, why bother thinking? And I guess, for me, I'm not sure where the satisfaction is in a life where you don't have a way of expressing what you're thinking about, of putting your thoughts into words, of reflecting on your experiences instead of merely experiencing. Writing forces me to think, which I can't accept is anything but a good thing. Writing forces me to have thoughts and opinions and feelings and emotions. And I write because I'm better at expressing myself this way than out loud, or by painting a picture, or by blowing into a clarinet. Or, looked at another way, I write because if I didn't, I think I'd feel profoundly alone in my head, and profoundly useless to myself.
Okay, see, before the panel, I didn't actually write anything down. I guess I barely thought this question through, because I didn't think any of this, let alone contemplate saying it. I said something about discovering in college, when I started writing sketches and songs for a theater group, that I liked having a way to express myself, and that I started to feel like this was really something I got satisfaction out of doing. But I was writing before then, even though it wasn't anything organized. When I was about 7, my grandpa bought me a word processor. Somewhere between a typewriter and a computer, made by a company called Brother. It was a typewriter, but it had a little screen so if you made a mistake, you had 12 characters to catch it before it would be inked on the page. The colored pens inside the holder started to bend and turn the font from something normal into something that looked like the machine had penmanship problems. But I wrote a whole bunch of parody advertisements as a kid -- infomercial parodies, fake catalog ads, things like that. And I've written songs since I was about 6 or 7. So I was writing before college, I just hadn't found an outlet for it. But, to come back to the question -- I don't know what drives me to write except that when I don't write I get very frustrated at myself, and I start to feel like I'm "wasting time." I don't know why. Other people don't necessarily feel that way. I don't know. But that's my answer.
2. What's the relationship between your identity as a lawyer and your identity as a writer?
I can discard this one pretty easily. I have no identity as a lawyer. My grandma keeps saying she keeps forgetting I went to law school. I don't think she means really forgetting, like in a she-needs-to-see-a-neurologist kind of way. Just that I'm not a lawyer. I went to law school but it didn't take. I don't think I think about things like they say law school is supposed to teach you how to think about them. In fact I hope I don't. I have no lawyer identity. Aside from the way it all turned out, there's no good reason that I should have gone to law school. But I'm inlined to believe that has something to do with how it turned out, and had I really internalized some sort of lawyer identity, I'm not sure I would have been able to write Anonymous Lawyer, while summering at a firm, without feeling really conflicted about it, which I didn't, at all. I should have, right? But I honestly didn't.
3. Clearly, you all have stellar legal credentials/training, have you formally studied writing in the same way? Elaborate.
I'm ignoring the legal credentials/training and letting it slide as a given that Harvard is a fine school. I would pursue -- certainly not on the panel, but here -- the question of what constitutes good legal training and whether law school is doing much of anything to get you there, but it's clearly not the focus of the question. I credit pretty much anything good about my writing to the stuff I did for the theater group in college, getting to work with the writing professionals they hired there, and getting to see my work on its feet, in front of audiences, and see the reaction. To get the chance to see and hear my stuff performed, sometimes very soon after being written, sometimes through six or eight or ten drafts, was extraordinarily valuable. To have the chance to workshop material in meetings, to see other people's work at every stage of the process, to give and receive feedback and then see the results of that feedback, to be forced to revise and reconceive and figure out how things can fit together in the bigger picture... all of that was tremendously valuable and as good a training as I can imagine. I've taken some writing classes since -- a couple of classes, in college, after college, and in law school -- and none have come even close, or really added much value at all. It's unquestioned in my mind that the four years of theater stuff trained me to whatever extent I'm able to do this with any degree of competence or ability.
4. Let's talk about moving between genres -- what's been your experience of that?
The question ended up aimed more at form than genre. The novel is my first piece of fiction. I don't think it reads like a novel, because I can't read most novels without losing interest and putting the book down. I'm not sure I see a huge difference between any of the stuff I've written -- blogging, writing the novel, and now working on the pilot script all require different conventions, and there are plot elements that needed to be in place for the novel that weren't required in the blog, and there were things that needed to be massaged differently, but it still all felt like writing, and I'm not sure I have a satisfactory answer to this question. I've written before about the difference between Blog and Book, and the process of making that transition, but fundamentally I don't think it was all that complicated. It's all just writing. If I were to work on a graphic novel, maybe that's different because of the art aspect, but even then I'm not sure it's really as different as it seems....
5. Obviously, blogging is relevant to all of your writing at the moment -- can you give some thoughts about blogging as a genre? Why does it appeal to you? Why do you do it?
The connection to an audience. The instant feedback. The motivation it provides to write regularly. The ability to throw something out there and, right away, see if it sticks. When I was first starting out with the blog, at the beginning of law school, my goal was to write things that were funny or appealing enough that people would link and I would get new readers. And you throw something out there and sometimes you expect nothing and it gets a reaction, and sometimes you expect a reaction and it gets nothing, and it's an awfully addictive high to get someone linking to a post or sending you an e-mail. With the Internet -- especially 4 years ago when the blogosphere was so much smaller -- I felt like with the right post, with something funny enough, good enough, smart enough, I could reach anyone, I could make an opportunity happen, I could stand out. That's an awesome feeling. That's powerful. And then you start getting e-mails from readers and it can make you feel like you're part of something bigger than yourself, that you're not necessarily all alone in the world, all alone in your head, and... blogging is big, blogging is a hugely empowering thing, I can't be more emphatic about that. Even just as a testing ground. Write a hundred words, throw it out there... do it every day for a year and you have half a book. And a hundred words is nothing. Nothing.
6. We've all heard the old saw that studying/practice law saps people of their creativity, and makes it hard for them to write in anything other than legal jargon. Do you agree? Do you think lawyers have to do some "untraining" or re-education in order to be able to write creatively?
The answer I gave to this is that as a law student and as a summer associate I just didn't really think of any of the legal writing I was doing as "writing." It was something, but it wasn't writing. It was just assignments and work and something you had to do. But if you're writing to express something inside of you (and if you're not, then why are you writing?) then how can you confuse this with a memo about tax law? It's not the same activity. I don't have a ton of sympathy for anyone who's worried about law sapping them of their creativity. If studying or practicing law is all it takes to sap you of your creativity, I'm not convinced there was much there to begin with, and if you're using it as an excuse not to write, I'm not sure you're a writer. Maybe I'm just naive as to the power of an 80-hour workweek, but, really, I'm not convinced the people worried about this are the people whose writing I really want to read. Sorry.
7. What's the advice you'd offer to any lawyer who came here tonight wanting to know how to make the move from lawyer to lawyer/writer?
One of the other panelists gave the right answer to this, which was "have something to say." If you don't have something to say, I don't know why you're writing. Frankly, this is part of what I'm struggling with as I work on the very beginnings of what could plausibly be a second novel. I'm not sure I have something to say right now, and if I don't have anything to say, I shouldn't be writing a book, and no one should have to read it. As I write, I've been discovering that maybe I do in fact have something to say, which is good because otherwise I'd need to find a real job. But, really, if you don't have something to say, keep the law job. And the other part of the advice is that you're not a writer unless you're writing. Write something. I don't think people have to write every day to be writers, but you have to write something, I don't know, at least every couple of weeks or I'm having trouble believing you're a writer. That's why blogging is really neat, incidentally.