Saturday, December 26, 2009

When Blogging Infects the Ego

Sitting at a computer blogging about whatever I happen to be thinking this morning is undeniably an exercise of ego, an electronic form of mental masturbation -- fun to do but not much fun to watch.  Personally, I like it.  Blogging, I mean.  I have decided to do it more, even if I go blind.

Each opening day of a certain law school class in Connecticut, a learned professor  began with the question: "How many of you intend to pursue a career in professional writing?"  Thirty fresh faces, as yet unscarred by the horror of what they were proposing to do for the rest of their lives, routinely came up blank.  The still-human folks behind the faces no doubt wondered whether they had signed up for the wrong course. Silence begets fear of grade deflation, so the wise professor sat silent, waiting.  Tick-tock.

After enough tick-tocks, one student, reliably and timorously, always raised a hand.  About shoulder high.  Emboldened, others followed, until the whole class finally tumbled to the idea that all of them were in fact planning a career in professional writing.  Lawyers write.  They get paid to write.  Some think before they write; others do not.  Some write well, others do not.  The ones who do not write well beget lawyer jokes and deservedly so.

So, yes, I'm a lawyer (DISCLAIMER ALERT - whoop, whoop, whoop!) but not here in Florida.  I practice law in Connecticut.  Ask me for legal advice here in the sunshine state and plan on being politely brushed off.  The local bar casts interloper lawyers into dungeons and chains.  So I don't interlope.  Even my Connecticut practice is becoming an occasional thing, ever since I came to my senses and bagged it for this sunnier clime.

But I arrived with a lifetime of writing prejudices and nowhere to park them.  Well, technically, it's not a lifetime yet.  Just a little hyperbole there; so sue me.  Anyway, I used to teach baby lawyers how to write like professionals.  Short, simple declarative sentences, strong verbs, active voice, that sort of thing.  Some got it; others will write about the party of the first part, being subrogated to the rights of the party of the second part, for the rest of their regrettable lives.  These issues are no longer my concern.

But I come here with a few firmly held beliefs:
  • "Legal writing" is a euphemism for "crappy, unintelligible writing."   My friend Mark Dubois, who still teaches baby lawyers in Connecticut, will steal this line for his next class.  I hope.
  • Good writing is universal.  It is sufficient to writing about the law, about what I did on my summer vacation, about an old man and the sea.
What I have been doing here in Eye of Newt has mostly fallen into the "summer vacation" essay genus.  Somewhere in another venue, I am writing about old men and the sea.  And Lord knows I have written enough about the law, although, like Vicodin, that last is hard to put down entirely.  Still there remains, what to do with the teaching gene that has so disrupted my life.

Enter Shaking the Writing Tree.  Yup, another blog tossed upon the blog-o-heap.  SWT differs from my earlier teaching experiences in that it does not seek to tell others what to do.  I admit to a little regret in this regard.  Teaching law students was sweet in that, if students failed to do what I told them, I flunked their asses and ruined their pathetic little lives.  My readers - if I ever develop any - will be made of tougher stuff.  I hope.

Instead, SWT discusses why I do what I do.  The subjects will range from "Arrant Pedantry Up With Which I Do Not Put" to "Why Adverbs Stink."  Responsible opposing viewpoints will be encouraged.  I hope you enjoy it.  There are links to Shaking the Writing Tree elsewhere in this blog, and here's another one:



  1. Mac sent me a cogent comment, as follows, but I deleted it in the process of trying to figure out how to make the bells and whisltes work on blogspot. Sorry, Mac, this recreation is the best I can do:

    And my prejudice is using words like “this,” “these,” and “now” in past tense, followed by a couple “thens.” -- Mac

  2. Whereupon, I observed that he could do worse, perhaps conflating "which" for "that."