Another lost weekend is behind me. It was spent fussing over a manuscript, reading the same words for the umpteenth time, trying to force the garbage out of my prose, and hoping to catch errors before they see the light of day in the form of a book. It strikes me now, and with fury, that there is a difference between blogging and writing.
I’ve been a mad scribbler for many years, My first job after college and graduate school was as an editorial writer. For five years, I wrote opinions that appeared under the masthead of a couple of newspapers. I left newspapers because I did not like being confined to life’s sidelines. The law beckoned as a more immediate way of getting my hands dirty in life’s grime.
Eleven years ago, I was invited to write a weekly column for the Connecticut Law Tribune. It was too good an offer to refuse, so I have been at it ever since, with the exception of a few months in which I thought I could be happy and content without writing. Five years ago, I learned about blogging, and now I chatter here more days than not.
You would think I know a thing or two about writing after all this.
But you would be wrong. Few law bloggers write beautiful words. Only Jamison Koehler writes because of a love of the language. Most of us write because we love the sound of our own voice, and crave the sound of others’ voices. (Check him out: http://koehlerlaw.net/blog/. I vote him law blogger most likely to appear in The New Yorker.)
Folks often say to busy lawyers, "You should write a book." Well, after hearing it many times, I decided to try to do so. It is in the hands of a publisher now, and will be out soon. The work involved surprised me. I thought I knew about sentences, but when I reread some of the whoppers that slipped from my fingers, I recoiled sometimes in shame, sometimes in horror; rarely was there anything like delight. In one memorable editing session I threw up my hands in despair, announcing to my wife that I was abandoning the project. She smiled and encouraged me to press on.
Yesterday, I took a little piece of the book out for a walk. I was invited with several others to give a reading in a public forum. I culled a few chapters from the penultimate manuscript, spotting even then things I would change. I practiced reading them, to learn a little about how it would be to read in the presence of adults and children. I was struck all at once by how different reading aloud is than reading silently, or arguing to a jury, or tangling with appellate court justices. I have mastered these other acts of speechifying and reading: reading my own words to the world is a skill I have yet even to understand, much less master.
The selection I chose to read was all wrong; I feared it was too long, too dense, to carry a Sunday afternoon. What’s more, the visual cues that are the life lines a lawyer uses to read a jury or a judge were not available to me. How could I connect with a listener when my eyes kept needing to return to the page in my hands? I almost never use notes in a courtroom. By the time you argue your case, you had better know it, it had better have become a part of you, or you are merely a tourist in the well of the court.
I drove home from the reading with hands shaking, fearing that I had drifted away from my audience. I was so flustered as I read, I even dropped a sheaf of papers on the floor, and scrambled to retrieve them, muttering apologies all along the way. The more experienced authors at the event seemed polished, assured. They knew their own voices in this forum. I was hearing mine for the first time, and it terrified me.
A couple of kind souls approached afterward to tell me they were challenged by what I read. They want to buy the book. One wanted to know if there would be a local signing. All these words were music to my ears. Of course, I want readers. I always have. But in this business of making words into a book, I am a novice, as green as a lawyer arguing his first case.
There’s no drug like the learning curve, I believe. So I will dull jangled nerves with the dogged work of trying to master new skills. Last night as I sat with manuscript of another project, some sprawling 105,000 word monster in need of editing, altering, reorganizing, rewriting, I was not quite as panicked. I knew there was order in there somewhere; I just need to learn to let that order find me. Creation, I know now, is less an act of the will than a matter of being open to what presents itself to a mind prepared to apprehend. At least I think I know this.