Lawwatch

On Improving Drafting or Writing Skills

Writing is done by everyone, every professional and every lay person. In
this digital world no literate person can keep away from writing in one
form or other. A lawyer has to write a lot many things compared to any
other professional. Writing is no longer a skill that some people are
born with and some others are not. Anyone can acquire it. Without it no
lawyer can survive successfully.

Writing is both an art and a craft

Writing is an art; it is a creative art where craft also plays its part.
Craft and creativity are two inseparable ingredients of writing. Good
writing always rests on both craft and creativity. Systematic learning,
strategic planning and hard work can take one\’s writing to amazing
heights.

Writing is not just a mere craft of constructing grammatically perfect
sentences, with proper spelling and punctuation. It is much more than
that. The craft in writing can be effortlessly learned or fine-tuned.
But the creativity part in writing can be refined only to a minimal
extent. It is more related to one\’s inbuilt abilities. It does not lend
itself for significant improvement. Craft is the conscious part of
writing; creativity is the intuitive part. Both need to be combined
strategically for better results.

Writing is a step by step process, from idea to research to writing to
rewriting to further rewriting. When you start writing an essay or a
legal draft you should set its basic objective. Its objective can be for
informing, persuading, explaining or even entertaining the reader. The
objective will define the contours, whereabouts or style of your
writing.

Reader is an elusive person

The reader who you are writing for is an elusive person. Any writing is
meant for the reader to read, but not for self-satisfaction alone.
However self-satisfaction should be an underlying passion for anyone to
engage in writing.

If you are writing primarily to please yourself you will in turn
entertain your readers also. Sloppy craftsmanship in writing may result
in losing readers. Mastering the tools of writing is the best way to
gain elusive readers. In your writing, you say what you want to say. Be
yourself while writing. Put your thoughts on paper regardless of whether
the reader loves them or not.

Arrange your ideas logically

Every piece of writing from an article to a petition to a legal deed is
an embodiment of ideas arranged sequentially. It is meant for
communication between the author and the reader.

Getting the right idea to write on is the first step in writing any
piece. Then think of different viewpoints about the idea. Relax your
mind for some time to get every aspect of the idea. Explore all the
nuances of the topic from different angles.

Clarity in writing

Writing requires clear words and right sentences. Clear thinking leads
to clear writing. Good writing avoids clutter. Strip every sentence to
its barest skeleton to get rid of redundancy.

To write well, develop a passion for words. Words are the building
blocks of any writing. Learn to use them with care and originality. To
learn right use of words read the celebrated masters of writing. There
are many styles in writing. Writing can be improved by reading and
trying to figure out how it is done. The best way to learn writing is to
do some writing regularly. There is no other short cut.

When you think about so many ideas simultaneously, confusion may creep
in. It makes you incapable of thinking clearly. Let all those thoughts
come in without any sequencing. Try to organize all those thoughts in a
logical sequence. Write down them in a sequential manner as a list or
within circles in the form of a mind map. Then organize them on the
basis of their interrelationship and the purpose of the writing. That is
the right solution to address this problem.

Overcome writer\’s stumbling block

When you set your pen to paper for writing, you will face writer\’s
stumbling block. Overcoming this block is the hardest part in writing.
To overcome this, build up your passion to write. When you have intense
desire, you can overcome the initial inertia in writing. When you start
your writing, don\’t think about the grammatical correctness or sequence
of your writing. Just let your ides flow out into sentences. You can
refine them later.

When you finish a sketchy draft with every idea that you want to
include, read your writing from the start to the end. Reading it loudly
is better. Then do some macro editing to fill the gaps in ideas.
Correcting the grammar or structuring the sentences should be reserved
for later.

Use proper words

Use a dictionary if you want to find what a word means. It is a
vocabulary learning exercise as well. Learn the word’s etymology and its
root. It will build your vocabulary.

In terms of choice of words, the right source a writer requires, other
than a standard dictionary, is \’Henry Fowler\’s Dictionary of Modern
English Usage\’. It is an essential practical guide to English usage and
style. The prescriptions of usage in the book are nothing but personal
advice but not the dictates of any God of grammar. \’Dictionary of
synonyms\’ is a useful tool. \’Roget\’s Thesaurus\’ is a must for anyone
who engages in any kind of writing. It enlists different words of same
class at one place.

Rhythm of your writing

When you entwine words into sentences, think how they sound in a
sentence while reading. Rhyme and alliteration are vital to any good
sentence. Think of cadence and resonance of the words while coining
sentences with words. Deliberate word play will be good if it fits well
for the context. A rhyme, a little alliteration and an occasional pun or
a paradox can enliven any writing. But over use of word play is a
danger. Equally distracting is the word play that falls flat. A bad pun
is worse than no pun at all. Use reversed word order in sentences to
avoid monotony whenever it is alright. Substituting a word with another
one and altering the length of the sentences can enliven any writing.

Link sentences sequentially

The first sentence is the most important one in every piece. It must
force the user to keep reading the next one. There is no firm rule as to
how to write a lead but the lead should not let the reader away easily.
The last sentence in each paragraph should be the springboard to the
next one, making all paragraphs eventually linked into a cohesive whole.
Keep your paragraphs short. Visual look of the writing is important.

Every paragraph should be a coherent whole with sequential sentences
making it a holistic piece altogether. The ideas should flow from one to
another and then move smoothly to yet another. Poor coherence will defy
the reader’s comprehension of the concepts. Sentences and paragraphs
should be designed cohesively in a way ideas should flow smoothly
without having any problem for the readers in following them. In
addition to logical cohesion, use rhetorical strategies to engage the
readers.

The verb in a sentence pushes it forward. Most adverbs, like most
adjectives, are unnecessary in a sentence. Use them sparingly. The
connecting words like but, however etc. are good mood changers. Use them
whenever required. Don\’t overstate anything. Paragraph tells the reader
the organisation of your thoughts. Each paragraph should have integrity
of content. Tinker a lot on your writing so as to make it clear and
precise.

Rewriting is the essence of writing

The first draft is probably the worst draft. Rewrite it several times to
make it better. Rewriting, in fact, is the essence of writing. Rewrite
your draft as many times as possible.

Keep in mind some editing tips while rewriting. Linking up one sentence
with the other using connecting words (like because, hence, as,
therefore etc) can make a piece of writing better in cohesion, logic and
sequence. The connecting words emphasise an idea (besides, in addition
etc.), or contrast two ideas (though, however etc.) or show cause effect
(because, therefore etc) in any piece of writing. But over use of
connectors can make your writing style poor. Correct grammar and
punctuation are, as well, important.

After redrafting the piece of writing a few times, please ask someone
else to read your passage to commend on it. Based on the suggestion you
get, redraft it for a few more times. In case, you do not have someone
else to read, you may read your draft critically deposing yourself as a
reader. Then incorporate your critical ideas as inputs while redrafting.

Micro editing of the piece

When you are satisfied with your draft in ideas and sequencing, start
the process of micro editing for grammar, punctuation and further
stylizing. After micro editing keep your near final draft idle for a few
days and re-read it with a fresh mind. Then re-edit the article with
microscopic details and take the final version. The final draft would be
far better and different from the earlier ones.

Effective writing depends closely on things like rhythm and flow of
ideas/sentences, organization of material into paragraphs, and
arrangement of paragraphs into a coherent piece.

A writer must know what not to write. It is a bit difficult task. The
writer must have an ear that can hear the difference between a sentence
that limps and a sentence that lilts. A writer with an ear for language
will avoid trite phrases.

Any writing consisting of short and monosyllable words will last for
long. A shoddily constructed sentence can be read in different ways,
giving no definite meaning. Clarity of thought is an important element
in legal writing. Every sentence must be a logical sequel to the other
in a way the rails on railway tracks are packed into, with no missing
link in between.

Cut redundant words

When you edit your early drafts to make your writing better, do it
ruthlessly to cut all redundant words or phrases.

Avoid all unwanted frills like flowery adjectives, trite expressions and
flabby phrases. Be clear about choice of words. Use only those words you
find appropriate, but not the one with one syllable more than what is
required. A long word, which can be substituted with a shorter one,
needs to be dropped.

Clear writing hinges on clear words and sentences. Choose concrete and
proactive words. Omit every needless word. It is a sparkling rule of
writing. Avoid static words. Avoid unnecessary words, circular
constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargons. The writing must
stop at the right exit point. When you finish presenting the facts and
making the points, stop writing and exit.

William Zinsser in his seminal work titled \’On Writing Well’ offers
many ideas on writing well. The book carries many tips a writer must
know.

Practice, practice, practice

In short, the best way to build your writing skill is nothing but
practice. Anyone can learn to write better. Some writers begin with more
talent than others because of their genetic makeup. Most writers, both
beginners and professionals, will benefit if they pay a little attention
to the craft of their writing.

Hard work will propel any writer to a new level of quality in writing.
Solid craft results in good writing; a dose of creativity will make it
great. Writing is half gift and half hard work. The absence of the first
can be compensated by the surplus of the second. No doubt, tenacious
practice will make anyone a better writer.

Additional Reading

  1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by
    William Zinsser. New York, Harper Collins, 2006

  2. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M Williams & Joseph
    Bizup. Boston, Pearson, 2007

  3. The Lawyer’s Guide to Writing Well by Tom Goldstein & Jethro K
    Lieberman. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2002