Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fear of writing

Over at the (new) legal writer blog, our good buddy Raymond Ward suggests that "fear" may be at the root of most bad writing.   (Mr. Ward relies on this post from the Illinois L@wyer blog):

I was reviewing my  notes from Stephen King’s On Writing that I wanted to share with you. I recently read On Writing and found that I liked King and that he really cares about his craft. (Not that anyone who sells millions of books needs my approval.) Some random advice from On Writing that might be helpful to you. (You can buy this book new for under $10.)

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

“Timid writers like the passive voice because it is safe. They also think it sounds authoritative.” Hmm… why write, “I have a dream” when you can write, “A dream was had by me”?

“I believe that the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” His analogy is that adverbs are like dandelions—a few are nice but not an entire field of them.

These posts reminded me of a short essay by Bryan Garner I read many years ago that talked about how writing professors undermine their students' performance when we demand too much of them at once (i.e. pay attention to citation form, large scale organization, small scale organization, active voice, grammar and syntax, etc.)  He analogized such an approach to parents who put too much pressure on their young children which turns them into stutterers.  As Bryan explained, we produce "legal writing stutterers" when we demand so much of our students too early such that fear and anxiety keep them from getting any of the words out. 

Food for thought.

I am the scholarship dude.



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"Unbalanced Briefs: Their Multifarious Causes" (http://tinyurl.com/y9ptezq) agrees that conformist causes are the most common source of bad legal writing.

Posted by: Stephen R. Diamond | Jan 15, 2010 12:21:54 AM

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