Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The personalities of drafting; or, why I learned to stop worrying and started outlining more

Many years ago, Betty S. Flowers proposed thinking about the drafting process in terms of four different personalities: the Madman, the Architect, the Carpenter, and the Judge. Each should have its turn at the helm during the writing process. For Flowers, this meant writing and re-writing a lot. 

  1. Madman: The brainstormer with all the ideas--good and bad. Let her loose to write whatever comes to mind, almost stream-of-consciousness. Write rationally, write emotionally. Don't stop to edit, just produce. When you're out of ideas (or reach a certain time you've set for her), set it aside for a day or two. 
  2. Architect: After a bit of time to cool off, turn things over to the Architect. She will sort through the pile of ideas and select the best ones to develop. This is a cold-blooded process; no time for emotional attachment to your creations. She's just going to start envisioning what the structure will look like and how the pieces before her will fit in. She thinks on the paragraph level. 
  3. Carpenter: With a general blueprint in mind, it's the Carpenter's turn. She thinks on the sentence level, fleshing out the Architect's ideas into something more connected and seamless, focusing on logical sequence, clear writing, and smooth transitions.  
  4. Judge: Finally, it's the Judge's turn. Like a building inspector, she looks at all the small details--word-level thinking. She examines punctuation, spelling, grammar, tone-all the finishing touches.

While this sort of writing and re-writing may serve for most essays and creative writing, I think it's inefficient for legal writing. I know because I used to write this way. When I had finished going through the record and reading the relevant cases, I would have only the vaguest idea of my organization and would just start writing. I figured that it was through writing process that I would come to understand the issues. It worked, but it took many re-writes. My boss suggested that I spend more time outlining and less time writing. I was skeptical; this was how I had always done it and I didn't want to mess with the process (as messy as it was). But I decided to give it a try.

It was a revelation. I found that as I thought about and worked on my organization first, the actual drafting was much faster and more efficient. When I started, I probably spent 10% of my time outlining and 90% writing. At this point, it's more like 70% outlining and 20% writing--and the writing is so much easier. I think there is still room for Flowers's personalities, but they need to be divided up into outlining (Madman and Architect), drafting (Carpenter) and editing (Judge). First, the Madman spins out possible responses. I let those sit for a while before letting the Architect organize the good ones into paragraph-level thinking (complete, in the best cases, with topic sentences). This is where I spend the bulk of my time. Once I have my outline to the point of solid topic sentences (complete with supporting record and case cites), I'm ready to start drafting, letting the Carpenter have his go. After that, the Judge edits.

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