What writing my novel taught me about being a lawyer | Rachel Goldenberg
Friday, December 24, 2021 @ 10:17 AM | By Rachel Goldenberg
From then on, I preferred writing op-ed pieces. Sharing bits of myself with others, while gaining confidence in my writing style. It occurred to me — maybe I’m a good writer? At least a decent enough writer that some people might enjoy reading my work?
Bolstered from positive feedback for my articles in The Lawyer’s Daily, I decided to take the plunge and pursue my lifelong dream of writing a novel. And guess what? I did it! Gratuitous plug: Check out A Deadly Truth by Rachel Goldenberg for a fun vacation read! Link is below in my author bio.) Inspired by John Grisham, Scott Turow, William Landay, and so many other lawyers turned writers, I wrote a psychological thriller with a female lawyer as the protagonist. As they say, write what you know.
Writing a novel was an incredible, terrifying, therapeutic experience. It was so different from everything I had written before. I started my legal career drafting pleadings, affidavits and facta. How do I write about characters that don’t exist? How do I give breath and life to ideas that up to this point I have only imagined?
I started with the basics. I started with what I learned as a lawyer. Just like an affidavit, tell the facts. Figure out the story you want to tell, and in consecutive order, set out each fact. And I did just that, setting out a 10-page outline of facts to tell my story.
But 10 pages of facts is not very interesting. It is helpful for a motion, setting out the evidence required to prove your position, but it is flat. I switched to my persuasive writing skills. Just like a pleading, you set the stage for the facts and you describe the overall picture. Just like a factum, you put a spin on your position to persuade the reader to believe in your story.
Finally, I had to tackle the last and trickiest layer of the story: adding emotions. You want your reader to not just believe in your story, but to feel it. To meet these characters and become invested in them. To relate to them. To root for the protagonist (or antagonist, no judgment here). This was the hardest part for me because it was so different from all my prior legal writing experiences.
It went against all my training as a lawyer. Image drafting an affidavit in support of a motion and including descriptive backgrounds and emotional insights. Imagine what cross-examinations on those affidavits would be like! But do we as lawyers go too far and sometimes forget about the emotions? While it may be just another file for us, for our clients, this is their lives. The stakes are high. The process, and even the outcome, can be traumatic. That can be easy to forget as a lawyer.
So what did I learn about being a lawyer from writing a book? I learned that being a lawyer has taught me invaluable writing skills. It taught me to write efficiently and persuasively. But I also learned that being a lawyer has the potential to squash my emotional side. That sometimes we need to activate our sympathy and empathy when dealing with clients. I also learned that buried deep down me was an artistic, imaginative storyteller waiting to be released.
And I released her. I wrote a book. How cool is that? For any other lawyers out there who have a secret aspiration to write a thriller novel, I urge you to do it. Try something new. Push your boundaries. What’s the worst that could happen? You crash and burn and no one reads your book?
Oh no. I hope I don’t crash and burn. Please read my book!
Rachel Goldenberg is executive property manager at Adams & Waks Construction and the author of A Deadly Truth.
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