WHY DO SO MANY LAWYERS WANT TO BE WRITERS?

WHY DO SO MANY LAWYERS WANT TO BE WRITERS?

I have posted on why so many English language writers live in Thailand, and  what an author might read after writing a book.  I have also posted about my writing group, Keybangers Bangkok and the writing prompt workshop I attend.

I have not weighed in on one question, stated above, that several people have recently asked, presumably because after more than three decades as a criminal defense lawyer, I have just published Bangkok Shadows, my first novel. I think it is a great question, very interesting, and I’d like to take a shot at answering.

                     WHAT IS IT ABOUT FICTION WRITING THAT ATTRACTS LAWYERS?

From Washington Irving to Franz Kafka, to Louis Auchincloss, lawyers have turned to fiction writing, especially about a world they know so well. Today, former lawyers like John Grisham, Meg Gardiner, Scott Turow and Lisa Scottoline dominate the mystery/suspense/thriller genre and have for many years.

Speaking from the vantage point of a criminal defense lawyer and a fiction author, I can attest that the two have at least one thing in common: each tries to create scenarios that does not exist, but which  readers or triers of fact can accept as true. (Readers and jurors aren’t all that different.) And of course, both fiction writers and lawyers work their magic with words.

There is another reason. Lawyers fancy themselves as artists of sorts-story tellers, wordsmiths, actors, directors, poets, philosophers, communicators. Indeed, any good trial or appellate lawyer must be all of these and more.

There is in every lawyer a burning desire to be free from the shackles of real evidence and demonstrated facts. Whatever the public may think of my former profession, the truth is that nearly all attorneys play by the rules and accept the findings of both the law and the facts in any given case. Sometimes those facts are devastating for their side, and the lawyer wishes they could change them, but understands they cannot.

Well, in the world of fiction “facts” do not mean anything like in the law. A fiction writer can create their facts, change them at will, have the characters judge those facts as the author sees fit, not as some jurors or judges might decide. It’s quite a liberating feeling

                        HOW DOES ONE FIND TIME TO WRITE AND PRACTICE LAW?

If I knew, my novel might have been published a few decades ago. Plus several more!

People organize themselves differently and assess priorities differently. During most of my legal career, I was devoted to making a living, taking care of and spending time with my family, and of course, doing the best possible job for my clients. When there was spare time, it was dedicated to  physical activity and spiritual pursuits, of which I have no regrets,and  politics, which may or may not have been a mistake. There were a few false starts at writing, but they went nowhere. My MA in Creative Writing gazed down at me from my law office wall but didn’t get much of a response.

Other lawyers have managed to combine both careers. Louis Auchincloss was one of America’s most prolific literary authors, and kept writing good novels into his nineties, all the while a partner at a major Wall Street Law firm. Scott Turow managed to write Presumed Innocent on his daily train commute. For whatever reason, I was not able to do the same. So now I’ve been making up for lost time!

If I could do it over again, I would force myself to find the time to write. Having managed to eke out time from my busy schedule for the gym, for yoga, for meditation, religious services, listening to music, watching television, working in local politics, surely there was room for writing. It was my decision not to write; no one else can be blamed in any way.  And if you don’t write, it’s your fault alone. 

               MY ADVICE, FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH  (Applies to all writers, not just lawyers)

If you really want to write, then you must find the time. It may not be a great deal of time, but if  you do it consistently and with focus, it will pay off. Had I spent even a half hour a day, a few days a week, writing my fiction, the re-learning curve would have been shorter and my stories and novel would have been written in less time today.

We all know how hard it is to buckle down and write; every possible excuse to not do so comes alive as you approach your writing desk. 

If you are too distracted at home, find someplace else to write. Libraries, coffee shops, maybe even staying an extra half hour after work just to write a bit.

I prefer writing at home. After decades of brutal commuting, being able to walk a few steps to my “office” is a pleasure. Both in Bangkok and in Tampa I have a room that is dedicated to writing (sometimes doubles as a guest or all purpose room, but mainly it is for writing.) When traveling, I enjoy writing by the side of a pool, by the beach, or gazing out at mountains, but that is really a bit of exotica and not a serious work regime. I have met fellow writers at coffee shops for group “write-ins” and it is fun and good to get immediate feedback, but my mainstay is sitting down at a desk at home and hoping the words flow. Find what works for you, and do it!

You should also join a writers group. This will bring you in contact with fellow writers who will help you with your work and will inspire you to keep going. If you haven’t read my post about KEYBANGERS BANGKOK, you should.

If none of this works for you, and you wind up like me, waiting until you retire or otherwise have the time, you can still write. You may need to work harder and be more productive in order to catch up, but with a good writers group to help you, and with the right place to work, you can create. With the independent or self-publishing option available today, you can definitely create quality fiction and enjoy seeing it read by others.

Don’t write for the market; write the book you want to write. You will write best about what you feel and what moves you, not about what others feel and care about. If your work is good, readers will dive into it.

Don’t write for the money. (Most writers, whether with traditional publishers or self-published, are not getting rich. Write because you enjoy it, you feel compelled or driven, or you just have a story you want to tell. As Stephen King ( a non-lawyer) once wrote, “if you write for the money, you’re a monkey.”

Good luck to all you would-be lawyers-turned-authors!

Louis Auchincloss (Photo by Tina Brady)
Franz Kafka
Lisa Scottoline (Photo by April Nanby)
Washington Irving

                   These four were all lawyers who became great writers. You can do the same.

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