back to Screen-Friendly page

Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Legal Writing Tip: Overcoming Writers Block


By Leslie A. Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor


“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write,” William Goldman said. Writers block doesn’t just affect novelists – it hits attorneys too. Why? Because, as William Zinsser noted, “If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard.”

To overcome writers block, first make sure you have all your tools – background materials, reference books. Next, have a specific and realistic goal. Mark Twain advised: “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks.” So assign yourself one section of a brief or plan to write for a certain amount of time. (You wouldn’t believe how many 10-minute increments I spent on this very column.) You don’t have to start at the beginning – start with the least daunting section. No one will know what you wrote first.

In between tasks, reward yourself with a mocha, a walk or by booking your upcoming vacation. Avoid internet distractions – use Facebook as a reward.

Switch it up by changing locations (move to the library or a café) or methods (if you normally write on your computer, try a legal pad or dictate into your iPhone).

Determine the time you’re most productive and then tackle what you’re most stuck on. William Faulkner said, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” Mary Heaton Vorse similarly noted, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
In other words, just write. Allow yourself a rotten first draft – revising is easier than fretting about blank pages. Margaret Atwood admitted, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” James Thurber likewise advised, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”

Remember, writing involves thinking. I’ve resolved writing conundrums in movie theaters, in school pick-up lines. Let it gnaw at you.


A former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco.

Our partners at BASFAhern Insurance Brokerage