The art of writing begins with simplicity. When I started law school, I had a habit of being verbose in my writing. I also believed that I was quite a good writer; so when in my first year I received a C in Research and Writing, I could not understand why – I blamed the teacher’s incompetency and ignored my own.
Two years and sixty credit-hours later I entered my Advanced Writing classroom; my professor, Ron Richards – a lawyer and partner at one of Michigan’s most prestigious law firms. He had a very simple demeanor; he exhumed ‘I am your guide’ more than ‘I am your teacher and I know best.’
Over the next thirteen weeks I learned writing. He taught me to be simple, precise, and consistent. His lessons had a poetic rhythm; he was never harsh in his critique, nor dominating in his guidance. Though, he was the toughest and most diligent grader.
For our first assignment we had to condense a twenty-page contract down to eight pages. Obviously, I panicked. Not only did I have to eliminate verbosity, I also had to preserve the document’s legal and intended integrity. I never had and never have since spent more time editing a piece of writing.
Professor Richards was always available for guidance and critique. For the next four weeks, I emailed him, hounded him in and out of class, relentlessly trying to outperform myself. I think he enjoyed my zeal almost as much as my cynicism – I challenged his word-choices and sentence structures.
He encouraged this scholarly dialogue. He always said, “yes, you can write it your way – just be simple and precise” or “you can use any citation method – just be consistent.” I received a B-, the highest grade in class for that assignment. Somewhat disappointed with myself, I continued learning.
In the remaining nine weeks, I fell in love with writing. Class became fun; a healthy competitiveness grew within each student – instead of competing with each other, we began competing with ourselves.
I strove to sharpen my own craftsmanship. Classmates challenged one another, to help each other be better. Be simple, precise and consistent. This became our chant. This has become my chant. I got an A- for my final grade – more importantly, I learned the art of writing.