I sometimes tell people that my experience of law school was one of irreversible brain surgery, which inadvertently helped me write better. As much as I resisted, the Borg won out over the course of those three intensive years, and my brain, and life, were permanently changed.
Resistance was futile.
Image from Pixabay.
The process began before I even got accepted. The standardized LSAT (Law School Admission Test) was created to correlate with grades in the first year of law school, to assist school admissions staff in picking likely candidates. The test was heavily skewed toward sequential reasoning, and included two sections of “logical reasoning” tests – sneaky multiple-choice analysis of intricately worded facts and arguments – and another section in “logic games.” You know, when Ruth and Zafir and Consuela and Kelly sit around the table and lie to each other – or do they?
Of the four exam sections, one tested reading comprehension, which I understood. The other three? All about the logic. I crashed and burned when I took a sample test. The intuitive leaps, flights of fancy, and room-reading abilities I had relied on up until that moment failed me.
Brain image from Unsplash
What changed my brain and saved my chances was the random good fortune of getting a teacher in an LSAT prep course who was able somehow to get through to my resistant neurons. That teacher’s skill got my brain to go places it had never visited in its thirty-plus years. As a result I did well on the test, and got into a good school. (Bonus: it was within walking distance from my home.) It took me a few years to admit it, but long before I paid off the loans, I had to acknowledge: I was able to write more and better as a direct product of immersing in all that logic. And there was no going back. My brain was permanently altered.
I do not suggest law school as a method for honing your craft as a writer. For me, the writing benefits were a happy byproduct of a difficult and fraught time. I was surrounded by shark wannabes who seemed to feel right at home snapping at one another and competing for favor. I still remember the smiling young woman in the library who asked if she could “see” a reference book that my study partner and I were using for an assignment. We said sure, assuming she’d bring it right back. We never saw it again. Last I heard, the book poacher had made partner at a big firm.
I think the lesson here, if there is one, is that the skill of sequential thinking can be valuable. If you come by that skill naturally, then you have a tactical advantage. If, like me, you learned early in life how to skate past the need for logic and only later chose to tackle its rigors, then perhaps you share with me an appreciation for something you once dissed or dismissed.
Has this made me into a hardcore outliner, refusing to start writing until I know the architecture of the entire edifice, down to the size, shape, and materials of the cabinet door pulls? Nope. I’m still mostly a pantser, although I did approach #Nano2022 with a general idea of the shape of the manuscript. Planning out extensive writing projects does not come easily to me. I realize, however, that for complex undertakings like books, courses, and big presentations, the ability to plan a logical sequence of ideas, processes, or plot points is nearly essential.
In an odd way, I’m grateful for the events that led me to grasp at least a rudimentary sense of how it is done. Did the Borg win? I like to think we came to terms.
— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Through Anne Carley Creative she provides creative coaching and full-service editing to writers and other creative people. Decks of her 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase from central Virginia booksellers, at Bookshop.org, and on Amazon. A new journaling handbook is forthcoming.