Writer’s block can hit anyone at anytime, and it can have consequences that range from annoying to downright devastating. For us lawyers, when we’re drafting a motion, we’re not trying to write the next great American novel, but strict deadlines can lead to high pressure, high stress writing situations which are naturally conducive to writer’s block.
Fortunately, legal writing is professional writing. It serves a purpose, and as such, there’s no need to stress over the actual craft of writing, meaning that the anxiety can be saved for the merits of the actual argument. Legal writing isn’t rocket science, but there are definitely a few formulas that you can use to simplify the process.
Below, you’ll find five tips on how to get past writer’s block when drafting a motion, or other legal pleading.
1. Cheat (Without Really Cheating)
Seriously, if you’ve never drafted the motion or opposition that you’re writing before, find yourself a form. Unless you’re off on some novel litigation theory testing or opposing uncharted waters, or even if you are, there’s likely a form that you can copy to at least get a start.
Find a law library, find a big old dusty tome of forms, and start typing it verbatim into your pleading. Then add your facts, do more research and reviewing, and fill it out. Don’t think, just follow the form, then edit aggressively later and cut what doesn’t make sense. Minimally, a form can give you the basic outline you’ll need to follow on what parts the court expects to see (don’t forget to consult your local rules).
2. Ask Questions, Then Answer Them
The easiest way to move your motion along is to write down the questions you are asking the court to answer, then answer those questions. If you find your questions to be too broad and difficult to answer, go as narrow and as simple as possible.
Start simple and feel free to use the language that comes naturally (even expletives or slang), and go ahead and write down the conclusory statements you need to make your case. After you have the questions and answers down on the page, you can go back to add the legal and factual support, and to edit the language so that it’s free from expletives and flows in the traditional issue, rule, analysis, conclusion format.
3. Read Something
If the words just won’t flow, you may need to get away from your blank page for 10 minutes, but keep your focus on the written word. First, re-read something related to the case. The operative complaint is a good place to start if you are drafting the first motion in a case. Prior motions, or the motion you are opposing, or a prior order, are also good to re-read.
However, if after reading a few a pages of a related pleading, you haven’t found your muse, try something completely unrelated. Read a novel, a poem, your Facebook or Twitter feeds.
4. Energy Level Lows
If you’re tired or grumpy, or just not thinking straight, you might need to have a healthy snack, or a drink of water. Maybe you need something more drastic, like a cup of coffee, or a full meal (though beware of overeating or heavy foods that might put you to sleep). It may also be that you need a nap. Sleep is really good for you, and a short 15 minute or half hour nap could end up saving you time and frustration. Alternatively, if you’re burning the midnight oil, maybe consider putting it down for the night (if you’re not up against a deadline in a few hours), and waking up at or before the crack of dawn to resume work.
If you’ve been at it for hours, or just finished your research, and are now trying to get right into the writing without any success, take a walk. If you like to jog, or exercise, that’ll do wonders, too. Getting the blood flowing and a short distraction can really help you get to it. Just make sure to bring along your smartphone, or a paper and a pen, in case of an epiphany moment.