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3 Things Lawyers Can Learn From NaNoWriMo

By William Peacock, Esq. on November 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. It's an artificial deadline, chosen in an arbitrary month, meant to force people to finally conquer that dream of penning the next great American novel. Because everybody has a story, right? And if everyone who wants to be a writer finally just shuts up and writes, and chases that dream, they'll finally know whether they are the next Hemingway or Faulkner.

But maybe you're not a novelist. Maybe you're perfectly content with being a hell of a lawyer. That doesn't mean there's nothing for you in NaNoWriMo. Here are three stream-of-consciousness takeaways that apply equally to the practice of law:

1. Be a Storyteller.

This is especially true for trial attorneys, but it goes for anyone who has to be persuasive or wants to connect with people: You need to be a storyteller. Yes, you need a strong case. And you need at least a somewhat non-frivolous legal argument. But nobody is going to be enamored with a string of citations -- they want to be lured, romanced into siding with your client.

Many years ago, during my third year of law school, I was hungry. I was hungry and I was damn tired of the same old chicken salad sandwiches and pizza that they had in the school cafe. (Love you Jenny -- those sandwiches were phenomenal.)

Anyway, I go to check my phone and there is a law notice about some event happening upstairs -- a storytelling for lawyers event. Hell, that's just about the corniest idea for an event ever, but guess what? Free food.

And you know what? All those kids who were persuasive, who kicked others' butts in mock trial and appellate advocacy, also tended be great storytellers. And those who weren't? I had never seen them before in my life and never would again. They're probably doing due diligence work in a basement somewhere. The point is that they were utterly uninteresting folks who would probably make terrible advocates, especially to a judge or jury.

2. Set Arbitrary Deadlines.

Why do it now when you can do it next year? Procrastination is the fundamental problem addressed by NaNoWriMo: By setting the end of the month as your deadline to pen the next great novel, there is no tomorrow.

Now, if you don't make that deadline, it'll probably have no effect on your life whatsoever. But the mere deadline, sitting there, mocking you -- it's the same reason why people make New Year's Resolutions: artificial motivation.

For example, I wouldn't let myself go get an iced tea until after I finished my fifth blog post of the day. Sure, that meant that I sat there, eyes dry from staring at a screen, mind wandering to thoughts of cold calorie-free canned satiation, all the while checking my phone for signs of human contact as I'd been cooped up in my room all alone all day while working from home ... but I banged out that fifth post.

And then the sixth. I'm still thirsty, damn it.

3. Just Shut Up and Write.

When my editor suggested this topic, I was like, "meh." And then the storyteller anecdote came to me. But that alone wasn't a full blog post. So I started writing. And writing. And taking the advice from another article my editor sent me on countering writer's block by just spilling stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto the page. (Good tip, FindLaw Product Manager Michael Wallevand!)

And that's what one would have to do if he wanted to pen "the next great American novel" on a month-long deadline, presumably while working a day job: Just write. Write crap. Write brilliance. Think on the page and maybe you'll end up with something of value. A lot of our time is spent thinking about what we will say: What will I argue in that brief? What will I write in that email to that annoying client that will get him off my back for a few days?

Next time you have writer's block, just turn off the distractions, stop the planning, and just spill your guts. Sure, you'll have to do some heavy editing, but you might be surprised at what you end up with. And if not, at least you can submit it to your editor and say: 711 words -- boom!

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