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Doing it by the book

Duncan Wood
Duncan WoodEditor

They say everyone has a book inside them. If you’ve got a burning idea for a new title on the law, Duncan Wood, Law Society editor, talks to four authors published by the Law Society about their writing experiences, how to get started, and advice on the creative process.

Man sat at desk writing

First steps

Tracy Calvert runs a consultancy business providing services in connection with regulation, compliance and ethics to lawyers and law firms authorised by the SRA. Since 2011, she has written (by herself and with co-authors) three books published by the Law Society, including the Exit Strategies Toolkit with Helen Carr, a consultant who provides advice and training on risk and compliance to solicitors and law firms.

The Law Society approached her and Helen Carr to write the Exit Strategies Toolkit. Her other two books were her idea. "I had been part of the team which had written the SRA Handbook, so I knew that there were a lot of questions around these topics, but there wasn’t a simple guide. I spoke to people I trusted at the Law Society and that was the start of the process. Luckily, Law Society Publishing saw that these would be a good fit with their other publications."

It’s good to road-test your idea first, remarks Rebecca Atkinson, director of risk and compliance at Howard Kennedy and author of Assessing and Addressing Risk and Compliance in Your Law Firm.

"I wanted to write the book I never had when I started out, about where to begin with risk and compliance. I mentioned it to Janet Noble (Law Society Risk and Compliance product manager), at a conference – she told me to put my thoughts down on paper and that we could then work through it together. Sometimes, you just need to tell someone your ideas and ask for help.

"I think the important thing is that you need to make it clear when you’re pitching to publishers that your idea is something that people are going to find useful. I knew that it certainly would have helped me at the start of my career."

Planning your time

Practitioners are busy people, and you may be reading this wondering how they found the time to squeeze in writing a book. It’s unlikely you’ll have the luxury of taking a few months off work to dash it out, so a disciplined, structured approach to writing is a good idea if you want some free time for yourself, too.

Rebecca Atkinson called it her ‘Saturday job’: working 12-hour days, there was little chance of her picking up her pen on weekday evenings. "I would work all day Saturday, and set myself a weekly target of 3,000 words, creating the structure of a chapter and then filling in the gaps. It’s amazing how quickly you can get to 30,000 words. It’s about being consistent over a number of weeks, not trying to blitz it in three days."

Tracy Calvert generally gives herself about three months to write a book, to fit around her consultancy work, and also "because I don’t want the process to drag on for too long, as I want to capture consistent thoughts". Living in Devon, she normally had a few three-hour train journeys a week, a perfect time and environment to focus on her writing.

Darren Sylvester, owner of DJS Law and co-author with Rachel Roche of How to Start a Law Firm, sometimes wrote at the weekends, but preferred to grab a few hours at the start and end of the day. "But if I wrote another book, I definitely wouldn’t burn the midnight oil again!"

Writer’s block

Hitting a wall in your writing is something most authors dread. Unless every aspect of the law your book discusses is a passion of yours, there may well come a point where you have to tackle the chapter that discusses the drier points of practice.

"Certain aspects of compliance I don't find interesting, so you just have to plough through it," remarks Rebecca Atkinson. "I am very much a believer in getting the less fun stuff out of the way first. If I ever struggled, I just went to another section that I felt more comfortable writing about."

The hardest part for Tracey Calvert is always putting pen to a blank piece of paper. "I now realise that you don’t have to start at the beginning – I tend to write chapters on an ad hoc basis and then fit them all together."

Writer’s block hasn’t been a problem for Mena Ruparel, family law solicitor and lecturer, and author and co-author of several Law Society Publishing titles, including the Matrimonial Finance Handbook. "With the law, all the material is there – there’s too much material, to be honest. The problem for me can be writing it in a coherent manner so that the reader will find it easy to navigate the book.

"I could easily have added another 10,000 words to the last book I wrote. It is hard to let go sometimes and accept that you have finished."

The law can move fast at times, especially in risk and compliance. Keeping the content as topical as possible can be a challenge when deadlines loom. Darren Sylvester was in the midst of writing when coronavirus struck. He was able to get his deadlines extended so the book could cover COVID-19 and was updating the chapter every day up until the end.

Tips for budding authors

Do something different

If you have an idea for a book, just make sure no one has thought of it first. "It’s important to do your research and see what's available out there on the subject, and how up to date it is," says Rebecca Atkinson. "If you think you’ve got something fresh, then pitch it."

Be realistic

Set aside time every week to meet a word count and try to stick with your plan, advises Mena Ruparel. "You can’t wait for inspiration to strike to start writing. It is a marathon rather than a sprint, so you need to pace yourself."

Don’t be daunted

"Go for it – it's a great feeling being a published author," says Darren Sylvester. "It's hard work and time-consuming, but once you start don't look at it as though you have to write 300 pages and 15 chapters. Break the writing down into small chunks and treat each one as a stepping-stone to the final goal."

Find your own voice and enjoy it

One thing that surprised Rebecca Atkinson was how creative she found writing her first book. "Risk and compliance to a lot of people is dull, especially if they have been tasked with it unexpectedly," she says. "It was a creative process in terms of trying to lighten the subject and make it accessible, but it meant that my real voice came through in the writing, as my old boss told me."

If you have an idea for a book contact Law Society Publishing at Publishing@lawsociety.org.uk.


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

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