A Note from Kurt Vonnegut

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a long article with a client for a magazine. He asked me about a phrase I used early in the piece, and wondered if it wasn’t just a tad too specific? As in, aimed at one or three people at, perhaps, the exclusion of the other, oh, thousands of readers.

It was. We were writing about something that has a lot of lawyer-skeptics (you all know the type), though the majority have bought in, if not somewhat warily. 

I wrote a paragraph specifically to grab the skeptics for at least a few more paragraphs, those who were already on board, I figured, would stick around no matter what. 

This isn’t new, though I’d love to take credit for it as a writing strategy. I got it from Kurt Vonnegut.

A long while back Vonnegut published his ten rules for writing a short story. Not novels, but short stories, of which he was, of course, a master. Most of the rules are about character and plot, so they really don’t help all that much with blogs, particularly legal blogging, no matter how inventive we try to be.

Two of the rules, though, absolutely apply and should be stringently applied to all ‘lawyerly’ writing  in my humble opinion, and we will always strive for this:

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

This goes to our ‘stomp out writing to federal law clerks in our lifetimes’ mantra.


Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.