Spinning Yarns (Figuratively) Part 3

Back to my journey in writing.

There was a long hiatus before I wrote much after grade school. I didn’t have to write much in college, as a music performance major. I don’t have any of my writings from those years. I don’t even have any of the writing that I did while getting my degree in paralegal studies after I finished my music degree. I remember writing a lot (on the same typewriter that I used in high school) and finally taught myself to type properly. It made a big difference in my ability to get work done.

Then came a few years of being a tax accountant for a bank, and I didn’t do any writing during those years, but I remember reading a lot of James Michener’s epic novels. My mother was a big fan of his, but, as a kid, I couldn’t get into them. Now as an adult, I found the long-form narrative really enjoyable. I guess I was ready for it.

I was a paralegal for the Ontario County Attorney’s Office and wrote a lot of legal research memos. These were quite successful and put to good use my legal writing skills that I had learned from a Paralegal school.

Then came law school at Syracuse University. From that point on, I did a lot of writing, but none of it fictional. It was all VERY technical and scholarly. The journal I mentioned in the last post was my chance to record events and feelings, but not to construct anything other than a journal and never intended for anyone but myself. Isn’t that often what journals are?

I have to digress here on technical writing for law school. In my first semester, I was amid students who had just completed college and had probably done a lot of writing for their various degrees. I had some life experience behind me, including all the memos I’d written as a paralegal. These experiences helped me in class negotiate the minefield of first year law school where my professors saw their job as weeding out and retraining our minds like Professor Kingsfield did in “The Paper Chase”.

When the first exam period came around, I had a reputation for understanding the material and being a good student. Well…what I didn’t understand was exam gamesmanship. Somehow, I didn’t “get the memo” in how to construct an exam answer in the law school format. I wrote my exam answers as I had written my legal research memos. I thought I answered the questions and knew that I had done a good job, in most cases.

But when the grades came out, they were mostly C’s. I was devastated. I knew this stuff. How could that be? Ito try and find out what went wrong, I reviewed the exams with a a Teaching Assistant who told me that I failed to write my answers in I.R.A.C. format. Say what? What’s that?

She explained to me that if I’d gone to the review classes (which I didn’t think I needed because I preferred to study on my own) I would have learned that there was a particular way of writing legal papers. “I”= Issue; “R”= Rules; “A”= Application; and “C”= Conclusion. Well, unfortunately, having missed this important information, only available through these sessions that were held outside of normal class hours, also meant that my GPA was pretty low compared to many of my classmates who were then in line for interviews for good summer jobs after the first year.

So much rested on those first exams and I was clueless. I did learn my lesson and from then on, I had mostly A’s for the remainder of my law school career and ended up graduating cum laude. But the damage was done as far as employment opportunities.

I hope never again to make the mistake of not knowing how to play the writing game. I was lucky enough to get a clerkship after law school with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Again, there was a certain format to the drafting of memoranda and opinions for the judge. The IRAC format was the key. Because of the volume of cases we were expected to review and research, there wasn’t time for the judge to re-write things. So many times, what we wrote became the final words that went out of our office. In the case of Opinions, they were published in those big bound books that sit on library shelves, and I. The background of movie and TV sets where they need to look “legal”. But, because the judge was the one whose name was on those opinions, that writing was not be my own. But I know what I did and am proud of it.

Perhaps this focus on format, led me to try to learn to tell fictional stories. After having read and studied books on writing by James Michener, Stephen King, aIMG_0352nd numerous others, I ran across a book that would change the way I thought about storytelling.

This was Robert McKee’s book “Story”. Bob McKee teaches a seminar to screenwriters, writers and directors, on how to tell compelling stories. This book takes apart the elements of storytelling in such a clear manner and with compelling examples in classic films, that I was completely mesmerized. I’ve found its concepts to be indispensable and have tried to apply them to my more recent efforts in fiction writing.

I’ll share more about that, as I share the writing of those projects. It’s been quite a journey to this point.


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