Sunday, January 1, 2006

fitting it all in

A few years ago, Professor Jill J. Ramsfield wrote a legal writing textbook that is elegant in its concepts, writing, and production.  In The Law As Architecture:  Building Legal Documents (West 2000), she encourages legal writers to approach each document with the systematic care and practical creativity of an architect designing a building.

A more plebian analogy occurred to me today while packing the family car to drive halfway across the continent.  Everything we arrived with has to fit in the car, minus two bags of gifts we arrived with and distributed, plus three bags of gifts we received and an odd assortment of items purchases while traveling.  The space into which these things must be packed has not changed.

The challenge is a bit like having a word limit for a legal document.  You might decide to edit out some paragraphs, lines, or words that aren't working hard, aren't using your word count efficiently.  But then you may have found an additional authoritative source or thought of some stronger points to make.  The "space" into which these additional things must be packed has not changed.

The key in both situations is to take time and care to sweat the details.  Sort through items to pack in the car and arguments to pack in the document, to figure out which will best fit next to each other, using the least "space."  At each level of scale (small containers placed in larger bags placed in the vehicle or words placed in sentences placed in paragraphs placed in sections), make sure everything is neatly arranged, with no wasted space or words.  At times you may need to re-approach sections of the car or sections of the document, pull things out, and rearrange them for a better fit.  Don't be afraid to try ordering or arranging things in a way you haven't tried before; you might just discover a better way.

Pack everything systematically and creatively, as an architect would, into your car space or document word limit, and it will all fit in.  (spl)

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