By Kathleen Elliott Vinson
Professor of Legal Writing and Director of Legal Writing, Research, and Written Advocacy
Staring at a blank screen, cursor blinking, you wait for the words to pour out from your fingers. Looking at your calendar you notice a writing deadline looming. Whether it is writing a paper, reading a recent case, or even doing laundry, the paper you need to write keeps going to the bottom of your list.
Writer’s block and procrastination are common problems that can plaque any writer. Do you ever procrastinate when faced with a writing deadline? What do you do? What time, space, discipline, and accountability are needed to write?
Writing lockdowns are one way to help dive into writing with concentrated time, effort, and support. Writing lockdowns help writers stop procrastinating and jump start a writing project. They are free for all law students.
We schedule writing lockdowns at least once a semester at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. We set a date and location for law students to write in a quiet environment. Participants provide the words and Suffolk provides the space and support (as well as lunch).
By sitting together in a writing lockdown with others, participants harness the power of the group (like going to a gym and working out with others). They find that their productivity and peace of mind increases. Law students focus on their own writing project during the lockdown (a memorandum, a law review article, a seminar paper, etc.). They bring their own laptops, writing utensils, paper and any materials or resources they need.
All students are invited to attend a writing lockdown. They are voluntary but space is limited and usually fills up fast. Student signups are online (we use signupgenius.com, but any online form would work). Space is usually limited to around twenty.
We typically hold lockdowns in a comfortable quiet space such as a meeting room, where students can gather around a large conference table in an area they don’t normally work in for a change of scenery. Our faculty meeting room has a large conference table where 20 can fit comfortably and it also has a wall of windows overlooking downtown Boston.
To encourage productivity, the writing lockdowns are silent (there is no chatting while writing). Students shut off phones and email to concentrate on their writing without interruptions. Students should come prepared with a writing goal in mind. At lunch, there is a chance to share with the group what you are working on and your goal for the day, or you can mingle with colleagues.
We typically hold lockdowns from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a break for lunch around noon. You can come for just the morning, just the afternoon, or come for the whole day. It is not a writing class, and writing is not reviewed or edited; however, a professor is present and participating in her own writing. We also typically provide handouts with resources and tips about writing well and how to avoid procrastination.
Participate in a writing lockdown and you may be pleasantly surprised how quickly time passes and how much work get done. By focusing on writing during the lockdown you learn how much time and attention is needed for good writing. Best of all you can then apply that discipline and focus on your own, whenever you need to write.
Kathleen Elliott Vinson is a Professor of Legal Writing and Director of Legal Writing, Research and Written Advocacy at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. For more on Suffolk’s legal writing program, visit suffolk.edu/law/lps