Like most writers, for years I stole bits of time from myself–and my day job–to write. Half a dozen published stories, four mystery novels in boxes in the closet, and a notebook filled with ideas–one line, two paragraphs, three pages.
Now that I’m making the transition from practicing law to writing full-time, I’ve been thinking about how my day job of nearly thirty years has influenced my writing. Most notably, my legal work gave me the subject matter for Books, Crooks & Counselors. It gave me first-hand experience with many of the issues of criminal and civil law I wrote about, the skills to research what I didn’t know, and the ability to identify what writers needed to know. It enabled me to give them real-life examples, and ideas for using legal issues to complicate and deepen their own work.
It's given me discipline and experience writing on deadline. You can’t tell a judge you’ve got writers’ block.
It's taught me to think about my readers and what they need to know–whether it’s to make a decision about a case or get caught up in a novel. As a civil trial lawyer, I might write to a client, an insurance adjuster and his or her supervisors, opposing counsel, a trial judge or an appellate judge—each with different interests and needs. That experience has taught me to think ahead to what my readers will do with the information I give them, and plan my own next steps. It's also taught me how to read more carefully.
While my legal career has been a boon to my nonfiction, it's also a great help for writing fiction—even in my cozy mysteries, where lawyers take a back seat to small-town shopkeepers, artists, and chefs. Lawyers can choose to solve problems—or make them worse. And since story depends on giving our characters goals, thwarting them, and repeating the process for 300 pages, it’s great to be able to analyze both sides. And while making things worse is an irresponsible choice in real life, what fun in fiction!
Writers, how has your day job benefitted your writing? And readers, does knowing what an author does–or did–by day influence your book choices?
Leslie Budewitz is a mystery writer and practicing lawyer. Her first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, Oct 2011), won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and has been nominated for the 2012 Anthony and Macavity Awards. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers on her website (www.LawandFiction.com) and blog (www.LawandFiction.com/blog), or join her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor.
Her cozy series, tentatively titled The Food Lovers Village Mysteries, set in a small lakeside community in Northwest Montana and featuring the manager of a specialty local food market, will debut from Berkley Prime Crime in 2013.
Leslie lives in Northwest Montana with her husband, a doctor of natural medicine, and their Burmese cat Ruff, an avid birdwatcher.