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So you wanna write a book?

|Written By Gail J. Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO — Not every lawyer wants to write a book, but there sure are a lot who do. But where to start?

Former prosecutor Marcia Clark is currently writing a novel a year. (Photo: Gail J. Cohen)

Well, first of all pick something you’re interested in. That was the consensus of a panel of successful lawyers-turned-writers at the ABA annual meeting on Saturday.

“I write what I like,” said Marcia Clark, best known as the prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial who has now penned a successful series of crime novels. Her main character’s adventures are “really a vicarious pleasure.”

David O. Stewart counseled that it’s wise to write something “there’s not a good book on,” particularly if you’ve got non-fiction on the agenda. Don’t get too esoteric though. He strongly advised writing “something people might actually be interested in.”

While Clark’s professional career now focuses on appellate work, her prosecutorial experience plays a part in novels. Her Rachel Knight series all have a kernel from the real world within the story.

But you don’t have to practise criminal law to write crime stories. Sheldon Siegel is an M&A and securities lawyer in San Francisco and he is currently at work on his ninth mystery novel.

Although Siegel doesn’t write about what he knows exactly, he said he first wanted to write about “a murder in a law firm out of pure spite and revenge. I set about to nail everyone who’d ever been mean to me.”

The trick with that, he noted, “is to put people in the book so they are not totally recognizable without getting yourself into legal trouble.”

Writing a book is not a walk in the park. Stewart, a constitutional lawyer who has four historical books under his belt, says he actually quit his job when he finally got the go-ahead on his first book. The first year was the hardest he said, describing his new life as living in the “wilderness.”

“It’s hard work,” stressed Siegel. “You have to write a lot.”

When in the throes of writing, he’ll spend all day on it and come out with maybe three to five pages at the end of it.

“If you wait for the muse to strike, you’ll be waiting a long time,” he noted.

But is being a lawyer a help or a hindrance on the writing front?

“I had to unlearn writing like a lawyer,” admitted Siegel.

The great thing about fiction is you can leave stuff to the imagination, which lawyers don’t tend to do in legal writing, he said.

Clark’s appellate practice is now mostly writing and she said writing novels “really changed my style.” Like fiction, the best briefs are compelling — simple, forceful, even “occasionally jokey.”

Stewart, on the other hand, said his style didn’t really alter when he started writing books.

“I went to my first firm because the briefs from that firm were clear and easy to read,” he said. “All legal writing should tell a story.”


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