Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Last semester, I was part of a creative writing workshop. Each week a few of us brought in short stories, and we all commented on them. I just got an e-mail asking for feedback about "how the group worked in your lives at the law school and in your lives as writers" with an eye toward renewing it next year. I got inspired by the prompt to write something a bit broader than they might be expecting. I think there's a chance I'm overdramatizing the whole thing, but thought I'd share some of the thoughts I sent...

I thought the creative writers group was a good idea, but only marginally useful in its execution. I feel like one of the sad things about law school is that there are so many talented people here, and so many people who, in past lives, did all sorts of interesting things with their time -- not just writing, but other passions and pursuits as well -- and then they come here, and either forget about those parts of themselves, or they let the comparative lack of clear opportunities to pursue those passions frustrate them and make them miserable. With writing specifically, I think there's a chance to create a real community of people who want to write more than just law review comments and case briefs -- and even though maybe it's not really the job of the law school to do it, and it doesn't really have anything to do with our legal education or any of the things we're supposed to be learning here, it would be an added bonus to being here, around all these smart and talented people, and maybe improve some people's quality of life. And there's such a tradition of lawyers-turned-writers -- Scott Turow, John Grisham -- and, even more so, writing of all sorts is so important to so many types of legal practice -- that it seems like a worthwhile goal to somehow facilitate a writing community of sorts.

I've heard other writers I know here talk about the lack of opportunities to meet other people who write, and how at times it seems no one thinks much about anything besides classes. Of course, there are absolutely opportunities for writers on campus. Beyond just the journals, there's the Parody, and the Record, and whatever anyone can find in greater Boston and the broader outside world. But there's also not a real culture here, among the students, of talking about your passions outside the law, or of pursuing them. I got weird looks when I told people 1L year that I'd written a musical. I have at least one friend here who writes things and has said he's afraid to mention it to people he doesn't know really well. It's sad. It makes the life of a lawyer seem sad. It makes law school a less spiritually rewarding place than it could be.

So where I think the creative writers group failed is that it didn't create a community much at all. In a way, the parameters of what we could write, and how we could write it, were kind of stifling. It limited us to short stories, and was very much focused on a certain kind of story. Which was fine, and it got me writing some things that were different from what I might have otherwise written, and stretched me as a writer. But I can imagine it turned some people off -- people who wanted to play around with literary nonfiction, or poetry, or essays, or something else. Not that the instructor would have necessarily stifled that, but it seemed like it just wasn't what the workshop was for. Similarly, each session was very much the same. Comment on the pieces, and leave. Some push toward collaboration would have fun. Some push toward getting to know each other -- getting a sense of who these other people were -- if there were aspects of the workshop that weren't just about the writing, but about the life of a writer at law school -- a forum to talk about the opportunities for creativity on campus, to talk about how some of us might be reconciling the urge to write with the life of a lawyer, and how to make that work into a fulfilling and satisfying life.

Some of this goes beyond what a writers workshop can be expected to do, I know -- and maybe this is really a push for a "life skills for creative law students" workshop -- or maybe even therapy -- but the sense I get is that there are lots of people here who feel stifled or frustrated or that the creative parts of themselves don't belong in law school. Too many of my friends and classmates do very little outside of class besides waste time. Surely they didn't used to. Surely they had interests and passions at some point. It makes me sad, a little bit. Sometimes. I've been fortunate to find outlets for my writing; not everyone here has been able to find the right outlet to express their own personal passions, whatever they are. I think the law school can probably either make some sort of an effort to facilitate that, or at least acknowledge it's a problem. I mean, maybe it's not a problem, and I'm wrong. But maybe it is.

I'm not sure if any of this makes sense or is helpful, or even comes close to addressing the issue of whether the writers group should continue. But the prompt inspired me to start thinking and this is where I ended up.