LawProse Lesson #312: Krauthammer’s Writing Process.
Shortly before he died last month, Charles Krauthammer, the illustrious political commentator, gave an interview in which he discussed his writing process. Just as we do in LawProse seminars, he emphasized the architecture of writing: “You write a column, an essay, anything: if you get the structure wrong, you’ll never get it right. You’ll spend hours whacking your way through the weeds with a machete, and you won’t be able to escape the marsh.” Krauthammer’s method of producing a first draft was unremarkable—he simply dictated it into a tape-recorder. The key to good dictation, of course, is having the outline first. He always had that covered. No, the remarkable thing about his process was what happened after he had a complete draft: “I spend four or five hours editing the text. I go through it 15 times from beginning to end—cleaning, sanding, polishing, just like a clay ornament—until I get it right. Then I sleep on it. That’s the best part. Then I wake up in the morning and spend an hour because by then, I discover 15 egregious errors or wrong ways I’d put things.“ That’s a total of five or six editing hours for a column of usually under 1,000 words. Maybe that’s surprising only to people who aren’t professional writers. For those devoted to the craft, that amount of editing time seems quite normal. What’s really great about Krauthammer’s statement is that in just six sentences, he summed up an excellent regimen for producing lapidary prose. Further reading: The Elements of Legal Style 218–19 (2d ed. 2002). HBR Guide to Better Business Writing 31–32 (2012). Legal Writing in Plain English 162–64 (2d ed. 2013). Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 80–81 (2008). The Winning Brief 68–70 (3d ed. 2014).