Overcoming Writer’s Block: A Guide for the Appellate Advocate

In the intricate dance of legal practice, appellate attorneys often face a formidable opponent that transcends the courtroom: writer’s block.

Janet R. Gusdorff, a seasoned appellate law specialist and the principal of Gusdorff Law, P.C., offers an exploration of this challenge. Understanding that the stakes of appellate writing are high and the deadlines tight, Gusdorff provides practical strategies for attorneys to break through the barriers of writer’s block and excel in their craft.

Post-trial motions lawyer writing on documents

Identifying the True Enemy

At the heart of writer’s block often stems not from a lack of ideas or legal acumen, but from our own internal critic. Expectations, perfectionism, and insecurities wield the power to halt our creative processes. Recognizing these underlying issues is the first step toward overcoming them.

The Paradox of Getting Started

Ironically, the solution to writer’s block lies in the very act that it impedes: writing. Gusdorff suggests a counterintuitive approach where one simply begins to write, regardless of the content. This act of writing, she argues, serves as a reset button, clearing the mental clutter and refreshing the mind’s focus.

Leveraging Legal Writing’s Structure

Appellate attorneys have a unique advantage in their writing toolkit: the structure and precedent inherent in legal writing. By adapting previous work or starting with case law summaries, attorneys can generate momentum that propels them forward, making the task of writing less daunting and more manageable.

Time Management and Focus Techniques

For those moments when distractions abound, Gusdorff recommends the Pomodoro technique—a method of breaking work into focused intervals separated by short breaks. This strategy, along with the concept of “body doubling” or working alongside a partner, even virtually, can significantly enhance productivity and focus.

The Power of Outlining and Starting Small

Another effective strategy is to begin with an outline, progressively fleshing out headings and points into full sentences. This process not only organizes thoughts but also gradually transitions the attorney from planning to writing, often without the psychological barrier posed by the thought of drafting a complete document from scratch.

Embracing Imperfection in Early Drafts

Echoing the wisdom of Ernest Hemingway, Gusdorff reminds us that the first draft is not meant to be perfect. The essence of good writing lies in revision. Thus, attorneys should focus on getting their ideas down without immediate concern for eloquence or precision.

Creating a Conducive Writing Environment

Finally, Gusdorff champions the creation of a pre-writing ritual to cultivate a conducive mental space for writing. Whether it’s clearing the desk, enjoying a cup of tea, or a short meditation, these rituals can signal to the brain that it’s time to focus, potentially unlocking the state of “flow” where writing becomes effortless and engaging.

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In the appellate arena, where every word can tip the scales of justice, overcoming writer’s block is not merely a matter of personal achievement but a professional necessity. Janet Gusdorff’s comprehensive guide offers both novice and experienced attorneys alike a roadmap to navigate through the fog of writer’s block, enabling them to craft compelling, persuasive legal arguments with confidence and clarity.

For those in the trenches of appellate law, remember that writer’s block is a common adversary, but with the right strategies and mindset, it can be overcome. Gusdorff Law stands ready to assist you in your appellate journey, offering the expertise and support you need to succeed.

For those interested in diving deeper into Janet Gusdorff’s insights on writer’s block, you can read her full article in the February 2024 Edition of the Advocate Journal, published by the Consumer Attorneys Association for Southern California. Gusdorff, with her extensive expertise and practical advice, offers a lifeline for appellate attorneys wrestling with the challenges of writing under pressure. Accessing this edition will not only broaden your understanding but also equip you with the tools to navigate the complexities of legal writing with greater ease and confidence.