Improve Your Thinking: Write!

I came across this great quote by George Gopen in the Winter edition of Litigation, “Writing is part and parcel of the thinking process." You think in order to write; you read what you have written to judge what it is you have thought, and that leads you back to thinking. ‘How do I know what I mean until I see what I say.’

Gopen, a writing teacher and Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke University, uses this quote to describe a reader-focused writing system, but the reference reminded me of the importance of clarifying our own thinking by writing it down.

Journaling for Lawyers 

For years, I have journaled daily. My inspiration is Marcus Aurelius, whose journals resulted in the classic “Meditations.” I urge everyone to read this profound book. I am also inspired by the writings of Julia Cameron (@J_CameronLive) and her concept of Morning Pages. Cameron suggests starting each morning writing three handwritten streams of consciousness pages to inspire creativity. Yes, even lawyers need to be creative!

For me, journaling provides a great way to clarify my thinking. I typically start my mornings by meditating for 20-30 minutes and then journaling. Depending upon the day, I reflect and write on some of the following:

  • I work through legal issues that I may be struggling with; 
  • Like Aurelius, I give myself a pep talk if I have a particularly odious day ahead;
  • I sketch out an argument I will be making;
  • I examine my conduct or performance from the preceding day;
  • I visualize and write about a positive outcome I am seeking in a case I am trying;
  • I celebrate a recent success;
  • I work through any anxiety I have;
  • I remind myself of the Stoic Philosophy or Zen Buddhist principles I try to internalize;
  • I do a stream of consciousness writing to spur creativity;
  • When I'm feeling sorry for myself, I remember what I am grateful for.

These topics help inspire me and get me ready for my challenges in the upcoming day.

Writing Rituals

There is no magic to a writing routine. Some prefer to write in the evening, others in the morning. While there is nothing wrong with using a digital journal, I prefer (as does Julia Cameron) ink and paper journaling. There is some magic from moving your hand across the paper. I personally use a Boorum and Pease Journal. While pricey, it’s a good investment. Using an attractive journal and beautiful fountain pen inspires me and makes the process more inviting and meaningful. I look forward to starting my mornings with a hot cup of coffee and my thoughts.

Better Thinking Leads to Better Results

As Gopen observed, writing and thinking compliment each other. Clear thinking promotes clear writing which further enhances thinking. As lawyers, clear thinking is critical to our success. Sonke Ahrens, author of “How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique To Boost Writing, Thinking and Learning” further confirms the benefit of the connection, "Writing is without dispute, the best facilitator for thinking, reading, learning, understanding and generating ideas we have.”

Too often in the hurly-burly of our practices, we don’t take time to think and plan. Thinking, however, is the bedrock of our professional lives. We need to set aside time for reflection. And to enhance that process, write it down. Wrestle with your thoughts, fears, dreams, and aspirations on paper. Think about and analyze legal dilemmas and strategies. You will discover that thinking with a pen in your hand (or keyboard under them) will provide much clarity for issues you confront, both in your practice and your life. 

Published January 30, 2020

About the author


Steven N.Peskind

Principal Attorney

To be successful, a lawyer must have insight into the whole human catastrophe and be able to effectively traverse the legal system. It is the intersection of these two disciplines that fascinate me. I have been a lifelong student of both human nature and the law, and have created this blog to help others following my path.


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