Miscellaneous legal-writing web sitings
My Christmas newsletter

“The first draft of anything is shit.” —Ernest Hemingway

At Writing, Clear and Simple, Roy Jacobsen reminds us that the first draft is, well, just a first draft. Roy’s point is to do something Bryan Garner advocates: When writing the first draft, put your judge (your editor or critic) in the closet; just get the damned thing down on paper. That’s good advice. For legal writers, I would add this: Remember that, according to Papa Hemingway, your first draft is probably shit. So don’t get too defensive when it comes to editing. Nobody—not even a Hemingway—usually gets it right on the first draft. And chances are you’re no Hemingway.


Roger W

Hooray! I'm pretty much in agreement and think that even the third, fourth and fifth drafts sometimes are a bit rotten too.

Melvin S. Merzon

My late father, a non-English-speaking immigrant, came to the U.S. when he was 16. He quickly learned the language, completed his undergraduate and legal education, and ultimately practiced law for over 60 years. I never once in my life heard any vulgar--much less any four letter word--pass from his lips. Once, as a youngster, I swore in his presence. Calmly he counseled me: "The English language has so many truly expressive and meaningful words; there is never any need to resort to improper language." Would that I could have lived up to his counsel, lo these many years as a teacher of English and practitioner of the law.


Melvin: Thanks for your comment. I always welcome dissenting viewpoints. Yours is stated very well and very gently.

I will use the occasional four-letter word here. Though the topic here is legal writing, the setting (a blog) is most informal. So the language used in this blog will not have the same formality as a brief or a business contract. And I believe that the four-letter words are part of the language. But I promise to use them only sparingly — such words lose their punch when used too liberally.

In this instance, I’ve got a direct, pithy quote from one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. Better this time, I think, to leave the quote unaltered.

Benjamin Opipari

In his blog, Jacobsen mentions Anne Lamott, who wrote the famous--at least to rhetoricians--essay "Shitty First Drafts." I always assigned this when I taught rhet/comp courses. Full text here:


David Gottlieb

Might as well change the history books to have Hemingway be a teetotaler. It's a great quote; there is no reason to change it. He was a drinking, fighting, swearing, ray of sunshine. And his contributions greatly outweigh whatever offense people take at his use of profanity.

By the same token, there are many beautiful things that people could paint, draw, or photograph, without resorting to "improper images." But we would all be worse off if artists, concerned about everyone's sensibilities, only made variations of fruit on a table.

Roy Jacobsen

Thanks for the link. I'm gratified, but I'm a bit surprised that this topic has generated such a buzz among legal bloggers and twitterers.

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