Free writing makes attorneys sound less professional and be more successful

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“Writing is thinking on paper,” said William Zinsser. As someone who does a lot of thinking and a lot of writing, I have to agree.

Years ago, I read an ode to writers and would-be writers, “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,” by Natalie Goldberg. If you love writing–or want to–this book can help you overcome doubt and unshackle your hidden talent.

It was in this book I first learned about “free writing,” a technique for writing quickly, without editing or a hint of self-consciousness. Free writing is raw and uninhibited, allowing you to find out what you think, and what you feel. Goldberg describes it as “writing practice,” a warm up before getting down to “serious” writing and a way to create raw material that can be cultivated into finished work.

For some, free writing is a cure for “writers’ block”; for others, it is a form of therapeutic journaling, unlocking hidden memories, imagining a better future, or reconciling a troubled past. For me, it was the key to becoming a better writer and a better attorney.

As a young attorney, I wrote in a way that could only be described as “constipated”. My writing was clear, my points well thought out, my letters and pleadings effective, but I still wrote “like a lawyer”–stiff and constrained. Free writing helped me stop trying to sound “professional” and start sounding like myself. My writing came alive and in a way, so did I.

Free writing helped me not only to write better but to get clear on what I wanted and what I could do. It helped brainstorm ideas and simultaneously see what I thought about those ideas. It helped me weigh pros and cons and make better decisions. In short, it helped me to think better.

I’ve just read, “Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content”, by Mark Levy, a writer and business consultant who teaches free writing to his business clients to help them, “. . .spot opportunities and options, solve problems, create ideas, and make decisions.”

As Goldberg does in “Bones,” Levy uses a series of writing exercises that stimulate thought, but more importantly, action–the action of writing. In free writing, quantity produces quality and writing exercises get the hand moving and keep it moving long enough to bypass the critical mind and produce meaningful results.

I like Levy’s ideas and recommend his book; his exercises are suited to writers and professionals alike. And yet, as I read Levy’s exercises, I couldn’t help feeling, “this is something I should do,” whereas when I read “Bones,” I felt, “this is something I want to do.”

It may be because I was at a different place in my life when I read “Bones”. I haven’t read it in years but I still remember how it made me feel. Goldberg’s voice was comforting, warm and empowering. And, she got my hand moving. Her exercises were simple and unstructured and I did them all. I wrote and wrote and wrote and I felt good about it. I never once looked over my shoulder to make sure I was doing it right and that, of course, is the point of free writing: letting it happen rather than making it happen.

Levy references several books about free writing (I’ve read most of them); curiously, he never mentions, “Writing Down the Bones,” the book that introduced me to free writing and helped me discover my “accidental genius”. In my view, “Bones” is a seminal work, one I’m sure he’s familiar with, and I was surprised by its¬†omission.

Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic and if I read “Bones” today, as the person I am today, I would see it as more suited for writers than professionals and look for something else. Nah, I’d probably be too busy writing to give it any thought.

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What do SEO and client relations for lawyers have in common?

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“I’m a busy lawyer. I don’t have a lot of time to write a newsletter or blog.”

Good. If you have time to write a lot, your clients and prospects might not read what you send them.

While frequency of contact is important, quality is far more important. Instead of writing low-quality weekly messages, you’ll do far more to strengthen your relationships and build your reputation by sending a high-quality missive once a month.

I am subscribed to hundreds of blogs and email newsletters. My email inbox and RSS feed reader are inundated. Several times a day I peruse these offerings. I spend most of that time skimming the headlines and deleting or archiving nearly every article. I may scroll through ten or twenty percent but I probably read no more than two percent. The ones I read (and, often save) are where the real value for me lies.

I stay subscribed to this multitude of newsletters and blogs because they give me a sense of what’s trending in my areas of interest. I also find articles I can share with my Twitter and Facebook companions. And, I do find articles worth reading. If I don’t have time to read them on the spot, I save them to read later. Many of the publications I follow publish several times per week; some of the bigger publications publish twenty or thirty articles per day.

I filter through a large quantity of articles looking for the few of high quality. Sometimes they come from the multitude. More often, they come from the handful of sources that consistently provide high quality material. They may not post frequently and not everything they post is golden, but the most useful material (for me) usually comes from the same sources. Those are the ones I look forward to and make sure I read.

So, if you write a newsletter or blog, you don’t have to write every day or three times a week or even weekly. Write when you can but make it worth reading. Your clients and prospects will appreciate it.

Apparently, uncle Google agrees. Carolyn Elefant writes that while in the past, quantity of keywords and links to a web site determined primacy in search engine ranking, Google has modified its¬†algorithm to better reflect the quality of those keywords and links. You don’t need everyone linking to your site, so long as you have the right ones.

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