Caption from a cartoon on legal drafting: “Never use one double negative where no triple negative will not prove unnecessary.”

Very cute. And all too common.

Writing to think things through

I need to bicker with a language not because language is unsuitable or because I fear I may be unfit for it, but because I find myself saying what I think I wanted to say after, not before, having said it. Nothing could seem more dislocated. You do not write an outline first and then spill your words on paper; you write because you cannot write an outline. You write the way you do because the other kind of writing is unavailable to you. You write unnaturally not only because you do not have a natural language, but also because writing and thinking have become unnatural acts.

To parody Michelangelo, you do not chip away at marble in order to bring out a hitherto undisclosed statue; testing the marble, hiding its imperfections, covering up mistaken chisel marks is the statue.

You write not after you’ve thought things through; you write to think things through. You chisel in order to imagine what you might have chiseled with better eyes in a better world.

—André Aciman, Parallax.

Remember to speak human

Lawyers-Essential-Guide-thumbnail.jpg I’m reading Marie Buckley’s excellent book on writing for lawyers. Her argument for plain English is compelling:

Clients speak a modern language, so lawyers should too. Speak human.

Must remember…

The uberskill

Legendary computer scientist Donald Knuth on “the strange kind of brain-organization” that marks “geekhood”:

The main characteristic is an ability to understand many levels of abstraction simultaneously, and to shift effortlessly between in-the-large and in-the-small.

In a world of exponential complexity, this ability has become the uberskill. Not just for technology—for law, business, and everything else.