Confessions of a Bi-Professional

 I just realized that I have been suffering from a case of the “Terrible Twos.” I haven’t thrown a tantrum, kicked or bit anyone,  or refused to share while shouting, “Mine.” No, my version of the terrible twos has to do with being what I call a “bi-professional,” someone who has belonged or still belongs to two different professions. In my case, this means that I am a lawyer/mediator and that I am also a writer. No big deal, right? You might rightly suggest I keep my day job until the writing pays off a little more. But, the problem isn’t having two professions; it’s how the job as lawyer/mediator can affect the writer’s writing.  Here’s what I have learned about writing as a lawyer. I need to write clear, concise, and persuasive words to sway a judge to my client’s position. The reality is that judges are overworked, underpaid (yes, they make far less on the bench than in private practice), and don’t have time to read through a lot of pages. If I don’t get everything I want to say in by the end of page two, I’m in trouble. So I have learned to pack facts and arguments into sentences that still flow, but do not thrill a fiction editor. When I was first asked to examine my sentence structure, I was surprised and almost insulted. I spent eight years in parochial school and can still diagram a sentence in my sleep. I’ve often been praised by judges and clients, who have appreciated my legal writing in both trial and appellate courts. One of my favorite compliments is that I write a “killer affidavit.”  But I am also a fiction writer and I want to be the best fiction writer I can be. I put ice on my bruised ego and did what I always do when I am in a quandary. I bought a book.  “It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences,*” by June Casagrandeturned out to be a very funny and liberating book. I got to feed my inner grammar nerd, which had apparently be starving for topics like Dangler Danger, The Truth About Adverbs, and Size Matters: Short versus Long Sentences. Armed with examples, Casagrande doesn’t just tell you, she shows you where a sentence can go wrong.  I discovered myself becoming a tad self-congratulatory while reading the book. I knew this stuff. I loved studying grammar like some kids like doing math equations. But then I had to ask whether I was practicing the sound principles the author was advancing. It turned out I was writing fiction like a lawyer. Not stories about lawyers, but as if I were writing for judges in courtrooms who needed succinct information in well crafted, but crammed sentences. My journalist friends tell me they fall prey to the same trap when they switch from who, what, where, when, and why to telling a story that is not true. Here’s where I became liberated. I realized I don’t have to jam information into a sentence. I can vary length and structure and take my time as long as I keep the reader engaged and entertained. When I returned to my manuscript, I had fun unraveling sentences that were too clunky for my novel. I think I’ll survive the terrible twos as long as I remember what I am writing and who is my audience. Any confessions from other bi-professionals out there?             “It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. A writer’s guide to crafting killer sentences” by June Casagrande (Ten Speed Press, Berkley) 2010 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *