To Grow to Be a Successful Lawyer: The Pre-Writing Process

I’ve written a few times about the importance of writing. But I haven’t spent much time on the pre-writing process. The pre-writing process is just as important, if not more so, than the actual writing.

The pre-writing process is like the foundation of a building. A building can’t be strong if the foundation is weak. Similarly, the pre-writing process is the foundation of the final written product. Without a strong pre-writing foundation, the final product will not be as strong as it could be.

Much of the pre-writing process happens in our heads. We spend time thinking. First, we identify the issues. Next, we think about how to address them. We consider the obstacles and potential obstacles to our goal and we and ways to resolve them.

When I’m engaged in this process, I make notes of questions and ideas as they come to me. I try to make these notes with a pen and paper. Sometimes I use my computer, but I prefer paper. Studies show that the brain is more fully engaged when one uses real paper instead of a computer. And the actual act of writing generates ideas.

Often it also helps me to discuss around ideas with a colleague. I learn more about my case by trying to explain it to someone else, and the other person often has an angle or insight that I didn’t have by myself.

After thinking a bit, I may need to start research-- or do more research-- to fully understand the law and its relationship to my client’s needs. Sometimes as I research, new questions come to me, and I make more notes. And as I think more, I may need to research more. In some ways it is a never-ending cycle, except that at some point when I feel I have a good enough understanding, I must move to the next pre-writing step: creating an outline.

What steps do you take? Have you found a difference in making notes on paper vs. on a computer screen?