the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Friday, May 27, 2005

Word Artist

I want to be a great writer. I don't know if I'm allowed to say that. I don't claim to be a great writer now, but I have a goal, and that is to one day read my own writing and say "That's really good. No one else could have thought of that." Like many people, I have moments of this, but they are few and far in between.

I've been in a stranglehold with money lately, thanks to the IRS, and I started looking back at my legal career a little fondly. It was so nice to know where to go each day, know that the work would come in, know that if I put my time in, my bank account would magically plump right up every two weeks, thanks to the miracle of direct deposit. Once in a while, I used to have fantasies of being a really great court attorney, but all those fantasies just centered around striding up and down the courtroom in a Yves St. Laurent power suit and dismantling a hostile witness question by question. Then, of course, there's the press conference. I didn't, however, imagine the painstaking details that every trial attorney must go through--prepping witnesses, going through files, discovery motions, demanding clients, choosing a jury (only to have it turn against you), making up the exhibits...who cared about that stuff? I just wanted to win in court. It didn't take long for me to realize that this had nothing to do with being a great trial attorney. It was just theatrics; I wanted to pull out the stops and give a great performance.

So I'm a ham. But when I think of being a great writer, I think of different things. Don't get me wrong--I think of nice juicy advances and magazine profiles and all those literary prizes that everyone feuds over. I too want to be the Next Big Thing and have all my books adapted into highly inventive independent movies. But mostly, when I think of being a great writer, I think of getting more and more accustomed to sitting in front the computer, pulling things out of my head and molding them with words until they make good sentences and not suffering through the process like it's some kind of torture--which happens more than I like right now--but actually enjoying it, relishing it, feeling like...an artist. A word artist.

Because while it was all the outward trappings of being a lawyer that attracted me--the money, the prestige, the trapped audience of a jury--the only reason I do what I do for a living is because of those few, rare moments when I can re-read a sentence and think "wow." As if someone else had written it.

So I want to be a great writer. I don't just want to sell books. I want to last. I want to evolve. I want to Say Something and manage to Entertain at the same time. It feels insufferably grandiose to say all this. I should just say that I'm happy I ever got published. But it isn't enough. Maybe it's not meant to be enough. Maybe that's what keeps you going.

2 Comments:

Anonymous qksail@aol.com said...

What is a great writer? Is it a skilled pen lending the ability to express a thought with clarity and panache? A creative genius with wicked or hilarious inventiveness for narrative and plot? A focused perfectionist that can research, organize, develop, massage, and produce a piece of intriguing complexity, authentic detail, and satisfying closure? Or an subtle observer who sees and records for later use the nuances of human emotion and behavior?

Perhaps a great writer has all of these gifts. Yet, I suspect most just have the ambition and intelligence to recognize and leverage their talents and knowledge accordingly (the extension of the first law of writing "write what you know.") I suspect this is true whether it is a strangely erotic novel of Japanese punk subculture or an edgy handbook on petty crime law.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous qksail@aol.com said...

What is a great writer? Is it a skilled pen lending the ability to express a thought with clarity and panache? A creative genius with wicked or hilarious inventiveness for narrative and plot? A focused perfectionist that can research, organize, develop, massage, and produce a piece of intriguing complexity, authentic detail, and satisfying closure? Or an subtle observer who sees and records for later use the nuances of human emotion and behavior?

Perhaps a great writer has all of these gifts. Yet, I suspect most just have the ambition and intelligence to recognize and leverage their talents and knowledge accordingly (the extension of the first law of writing "write what you know.") I suspect this is true whether it is a strangely erotic novel of Japanese punk subculture or an edgy handbook on petty crime law.

3:04 PM  

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