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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Paris Review "Writer's At Work" interview series is great stuff, and one of the things that the interviewer usually gets around to asking is about the actual physical process of putting words to paper. Hemingway wrote standing up, Truman Capote typed in bed, that sort of thing. Writer lore is full of stuff like that, now that I think about it-- I forget where I learned it, but Samuel Clemens desk faced a blank wall, so he wouldn't be distracted. One of my favorite parts about our glamor profession is that a fair amount of what I do is writing. Unfortunately quite a bit of that writing is about stuff that is not so interesting. Even writers who are writing about interesting stuff get stuck, and although you don't hear of many who say the hell with it and go off to dig ditches, most writers will cheerfully complain about what hard work it is. There are tricks to it, things to get started, and at the moment I'm working on a set of motion papers that has required me to use several of them. This post is one such, actually. Because I just finished a section I am rewarding myself by writing something that is less like trying to pass a kidney stone. When I am done here I will go back and turn in another couple of pages. You might think that what I'm really doing is procrastinating, but I'm not. Sharpening pencils, sorting socks, or even doing research-- that's procrastinating. Putting off putting words down is what is deadly to the process. One of the things that I've done on the present project is to write about it. I've written summaries of the arguments the other side has raised; I've made abstracts of the case law that they have cited; and I've written notes about how I want to frame my argument. It would be easier to just write the thing, but I couldn't until I could, and when I could all of those other things helped me to put the project together. I've never really been one for outlines, but that's another trick that sometimes works. It is tempting to go looking for other devices, but that would be sorting socks, and now I need to get back to my papers.

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