LawProse Lesson #332: Going to school.

LawProse Lesson #332: Going to school.

Golfers use a great expression to describe what happens when one player follows another player on the putting green—someone with a similar putt. The second player “goes to school” on the first—that is, learns about the speed and break of the putt. Going second lends an advantage.

          At LawProse, perhaps because we’re erstwhile golfers, we talk about “going to school” on other writers. This expression extends the golf sense: it simply means learning from excellent models of nonfiction. (Reading fiction is fine, but lawyers are—or should be—nonfiction writers.) Read for technique. Notice hyphens and em-dashes. Notice sentence-starting conjunctions, whether you’re reading nonfiction from yesterday or from 100 or 200 years ago. Notice introductions, and think about what they’re doing. Notice conclusions, and think about what they’re doing. Notice contractions.

         Most of all, pay attention. You can’t write well if you don’t read well. Constantly. (Oh, and also notice verbless sentences and how they’re used.) Read with the intention of literary thievery: not plagiarism, but stealing techniques.

          As Vladimir Nabokov once observed, “In reading, one should notice and fondle details.” Do that with good writing—habitually—and you’ll be going to school.

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