Writing in Monotone: Using Purpose to Set Tone

Last week, I got the chance to participate in a writer’s retreat on Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan. The retreat taught me a couple of things: (1) Not all seminars need to resemble studying for the bar; and (2) Literary writers are as susceptible to group think as the rest of us.

If you are at all interested in pursuing writing as part of your career, rather than just as marketing for your underlying business, you’ll definitely want to attend some writers’ conferences. I’ve learned this lesson rather late in life and have only gone to two or three in the past year, but they have been key in motivating me to make the shift from “attorney who writes” to “attorney and author.”

That’s why I was happy to attend Lynne Golodner’s 2015 Writing Retreat on Mackinac Island. A small group of writers came together to work on their respective projects and get feedback from one another. Unlike the many lawyers’ conferences I’ve gone to over the years, the pace was relaxed and the schedule full of “inspirational” opportunities and time to ourselves to write, refresh, or do whatever else we might need to do. It wasn’t about cramming as much information as possible into the day. It was about exploring the art of writing.

I brought a draft of a book I am writing about school discipline and student rights. Like this blog, it has a direct, somewhat casual, tone and focuses on information and persuasion. It doesn’t use much in the way of flowery language or metaphor.

Lynne and several of the other participants were more traditional literary writers. The pieces they shared were excerpts from their own lives, told with imagery and descriptive details to help the reader empathize with the situation.

By the end of the conference I found myself pulled in that literary direction. I found myself wondering if there were ways I could “show” the points I was making instead of “tell.” My private writing turned much more literary as well.

Some would say this is a sign my writing was improving – that I was becoming more of a writer instead of a lawyer. But I disagree. If everyone who writes uses the same symbolism and style, then the literary world will become monotone. Even as the conference began with a discussion of voice and the question “what makes your writing unique?” by the end we had all begun to sound the same.

Tone is at least as important as imagery in conveying your message. If you are trying to be informative, then descriptors and metaphors will often just get in the way. That’s not to say there aren’t lessons to be taken from a study of imagery or value in “showing versus telling,” but any such lesson must also be put through the lens of your own writing style and purpose.

Knowing how to write is, at least in part about knowing why you are writing. Before submitting to the group-think of literary imagery, make sure it makes sense with what you are trying to accomplish. Otherwise you may just be showing the readers the door.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist. She provides blogs and web content for attorneys and small businesses. If you need help with your web-marketing, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.

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