I was in my second year of law school when I realized that I was not long to be a lawyer. Quite the realization for any 2L, but it was certainly better to have this epiphany during my second year than my first because by that point I knew exactly how to gain access to the law school faculty’s far superior supply of coffee—in law school, caffeine might as well be currency.
Almost immediately, I turned to Internet therapy for support. No, not pictures of cute animals—although that’s never a bad decision. In this case I’m referring to Wikipedia. It became my unofficial “How-To” manual. Oh so you want to make a blockbuster movie about a tragic historical event while at the same time telling an amazing love story? Just check out James Cameron’s Wikipedia page and follow his path; he’s already paved it.
This guest post is by Alex Shahla. Shahla is a recovering lawyer living and writing in Los Angeles. Lying to Children is his debut novel. He received his undergraduate degree from Haverford College and his juris doctor from Pepperdine University School of Law. He spent his first two years after law school working in civil litigation with a particular focus on aviation incidents. He has since retired from the practice of law and now works in-house for an apparel company. He lives near the beach in Santa Monica, CA.
But I wasn’t trying to become king of the world, because, to be honest, when one is accumulating a massive amount of student debt, one will happily settle for being slightly better than a pauper. And instead of film directors I became obsessed with writers, and in particular, writers who used to be lawyers. Heck, at first, I was obsessed with [insert profession here] who used to be lawyers. And as a brief detour, I must add that none of this is to say or imply that law isn’t a noble and fulfilling profession; it just wasn’t for me. I know a vast number of lawyers who are quite happy with the practice of law—did I mention I learned how to lie in law school? Kidding. I promise.
My obsession with biographies—again, not actual biographies because I was in law school and already had enough required reading—led me to reading numerous entries on Wikipedia (it’s a gateway URL). I don’t know what it is about the human condition that makes us think we are alone when we are very clearly not—in fact, we are stuck on this planet together—but during those moments when we are at our loneliest, it helps to look to others and see how they persevered. In no particular order, here are five writers who inspired and helped me through my most difficult moments when I was dreaming about writing instead of lawyering:
1. John Grisham.
He’s the master of the legal thriller, and truth be told, if he had not romanticized lawyering so much, I might not have ended up in law school in the first place. Chances are that anyone with an “Esq.” after their name has read at least one of his books, or, at the very least, has seen one of his film adaptations. How he manages simultaneously to educate his readers on the law and keep them turning the page is a mystery to me—and also to most publishers of educational legal books and treatises in the United States (remember, I’m speaking from experience.) The lesson I learned from him was simple but important: develop a strong vision.
2. Joseph Heller.
His novel Catch-22 might be the funniest book I have ever read, and even though it was required reading for me during high school, it was nevertheless an enjoyable read. I cannot say for certain whether this is true, but it is believed that the title comes from the fact that the book was rejected twenty-one times. Regardless, the manuscript was in fact rejected—shocking, I know. Still, there’s an important lesson here: if at first you don’t succeed, at the very least, try twenty-one more times.
3. Kathryn Stockett.
One of my favorite anecdotes about any author comes from Kathryn Stockett and how she kept her writing of The Help a secret so much so that she would sneak off to hotels for a night to write. Writing is certainly a lonely endeavor, but it becomes a little less lonely when you hear stories like that one. I love the stories within The Help, but I might actually prefer the story of how the book was written by such a determined author. The lesson I learned from her: work hard.
4. Liane Moriarty.
I’m cheating here by adding an author who I initially read after graduating from law school, but still, she’s such an inspiration to me that I would be remiss not to include her. Back when I first started taking writing seriously and said, “Gee, I think I’ll write a book,” I attempted the impossible in melding together multiple genres—generally, a no-no—but what can I say? I was young and ambitious. Few writers are good at writing funny and thrilling books while addressing a serious subject; Moriarty does it seamlessly. The lesson I learned from her: the impossible is possible.
5. Emily Giffin.
She might be the most courageous of this bunch. When the writing bug struck her, she already had a successful career working in big law. Nevertheless, she decided to give that up so that she could pursue writing, so she quit. Think about that for a moment. It sounds simple, but it’s not. She had a job that most law students would kill for, and yet, she walked away. That takes more than guts. The lesson I learned from her: believe in yourself.
It’s difficult to name just five writers, and the lessons may seem obvious, but you have to walk before you run. I have only one more thing to say: to the law student who reads this in the midst of their finals and is no doubt overworked, sleep deprived, and stressed out of their mind—and I know there’s at least one if not five hundred of you—this is not the article for you. In fact, it’s not an article you want, but a movie: The Shawshank Redemption. If ever there was a person—real or imaginary—who designed the perfect escape, it’s Andy Dufresne. So tune in to TNT or wherever one finds Shawshank these days, and rest assured, that there is a light at the end of that sewage-filled tunnel.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.