10% Fewer Words

I recently finished the audio version of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s geared toward fiction writers, but there is much to commend it to lawyerly writing. The best writing advice I have heard in a while was something that a publisher wrote on a slip rejecting one of King’s early manuscripts. The advice was “draft two — same but 10% less.”

I am preparing to efile a brief in a few minutes. It has a single issue (most appeals boil down to one issue if the lawyer is honest about the case and doesn’t bow to pressure from the client to add more). Draft one was a modest 1,630 words.

Long briefs indicate either the most interesting case in the lawyer’s career, fear that the Court won’t understand the argument, or a search for “cover” for the inevitable pro se habeas. Since there can only be one most interesting case in a lawyer’s career, the odds are that any one brief isn’t part of that case. And fear is hardly a reason for an editorial choice.

I tried King’s advice and began searching for 163 words to excise. I found even more, and this brief is better for it. The final is 1,455 words long. Where are the 163 words in your next brief?

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