Monday, December 27, 2010

On the irreversibility of writing: Procrastination and writer's block—Part 3. Solutions

To develop a case theory, legal writers profit from deep thought, which they can't turn on at will. These stages depict it:

1. Immersing in the subject, typically legal research;
2. Thinking concretely at a local level, as necessary to refine the research process but insufficient to attach the writer to a theory formed ahead of its basis;
3. Maintaining a reflective and receptive attitude toward the subject for days (only after completing most research);
4. Conceiving an integrative idea (a deep thought), without its immediate instigation;
5. Attending to the thoughts following (but not by inhibiting potentially relevant competing lines of thought).

Hence, the problem: the busy attorney can’t drop everything when blessed with a breakthrough deep thought that evokes more thoughts. Busy attorneys can note the deep thought, but they can’t follow it when it’s fresh. Nor can they afford maintaining a reflective attitude over a span of days. Because attorneys can’t randomly interrupt their workday, the unstructured lifestyle of a writer is more compatible with deep thought, a reason ghostwriter may produce, all else being equal, work superior to attorney’s.

Deep thought isn’t the only way to stave off premature commitment, although it might be most powerful. In free writing, the writer records every thought, while avoiding preoccupation and premature structure. Free writing is hard, and it may prove impossible for a slow typist. You can combine deep thought and free writing; then deep thought should come first.

Trouble deciding between the alternatives, deep thought and free writing? This correlation might help: personality traits distinguish free writers from deep thinkers. Extraverted personalities, seeking external engagement, do better with free writing; introverts with deep thought. Deep thought has one advantage over free writing: it dedicates more mental resources (such as working memory) to thought rather than—as happens no matter how fast the typist—draining resources by typing.

Bryan Garner (The Winning Brief) proposes another method for avoiding premature theorizing, the "whirlybird," popularly called mind mapping. A mind map is an outline that maximizes the amount of information a page displays. (You can see an example of a mind map.) Aficionados are prone to over-rate mind mapping as a creativity device. Although Garner uses mind mapping in the “madman” phase of the writing cycle, it’s more suited for trolling memory. In Garner’s terms, it best serves the “architect" phase.

If deep thought or free writing have laid the groundwork, the writer will continue to conceive deep thoughts while paragraph writing, which compares favorably with mind mapping in fostering creativity. Nobody has explained why paragraph writing beats outlining as a thinking tool. (Few have even noticed.) I offer this conjecture. Paragraph writing encourages deep thought because in finding the right word, the writer unconsciously generates a lexical selection pool. This goad to the unconscious generation of ideas is the missing ingredient in mind mapping and outlining, which discourage linear thinking for spans sufficient to escalate the unconscious production of alternatives.

Deep thought and free writing are options when the misery of procrastination informs you that you aren’t prepared to write—but always keep in mind, they’re no remedy for shallow research, in legal writing the most common cause of procrastination.

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