Thursday, May 11, 2006

Question: How do I improve?

A lawyer sent me this question.
  • If I am not a great writer, what types of things would you recommend to improve upon this skill?
First, stop saying "improve upon." (Just a joke.)

I think mainly two things will help you improve, and they are equally important.
  1. Study. You must study the principles of good writing, and you must keep studying consistently. I say every lawyer should have two or three writing guides in the office and should read a book on legal writing every year. If you really want to improve, read a few each year.

  2. Practice. You must try what you are learning. You must experiment, and you must be critical of your own work, measuring it against the standards in the books you are studying.
Some say practice alone is enough. I disagree because then you tend to repeat your own mistakes and never improve. Some say reading great writing is enough. I disagree and, actually, believe reading great writing is of little value. You are reading to be entertained or informed, not to learn to write. You just don't pick up that much from reading great writing.

Some say say you should seek critique and welcome candid suggestions for improving your writing. This I agree with, and it is perhaps part of practicing. But please get the critique from someone knowledgeable--someone who has read the sources on good writing.

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