When Emotion Can Get in the Way of Writing

Emotional conflict is a natural part of the law. Whether you are blogging about a controversial legal issue or responding to a pleading or email from an opposing counsel, you may find yourself wrapped up in an emotional response. But that emotion can get in the way of your writing, and in resolving your issues.

This week has been very emotional for me. Interpersonal conflict, financial issues, and legal conflict have all added up to a lot of stress. Stress makes it far too easy to react emotionally when tensions raise. But when you do allow emotion to cloud your writing, you can find you are less able to make your point and it can even make a tense situation worse.

Writing With Passion Can Be a Good Thing

Let’s take a minute to distinguish passion from emotion. Passion is a compelling commitment to an idea or purpose. Emotion is a feeling that results when presented with a circumstance. Both are far larger than the written word. They can happen in relationships, in interactions, or as part of your life in general.

Writing with passion can be extremely powerful. The more passionate you are for a cause, the more you will work to advocate for it in writing or online. This can lead to a fully researched, nuanced, and thoughtful exploration of the topic. It can compel readers to come along with the writer and persuade them of the truth of the matter.

Emotional Writing Can Be Messy

While passion makes many writers dig in and write more thoroughly, emotions can get in the way of writing meaningful messages. Strong emotions cloud your thoughts and make it hard to articulate what the issues actually are. Sometimes they can even distort your thinking, making you believe something is true when it isn’t.

When emotions charge your writing, the result is often messy. It may be that your thoughts are moving faster than your fingers. You writing can become disorganized and seem to ramble from one point to the next, sometimes ping-ponging back to the aspect that caused the emotional response in the first place. In many cases, your grammar and structure will suffer as well, making it harder for the reader to grasp the purpose of your writing.

Emotion Can Get in the Way of Resolution

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this kind of emotional writing often escalates challenges in the legal field, and in life. Emotionally charged pleadings move parties further from resolution and push them down the path of litigation. Wrathful emails only make you look unstable or erratic. Angry blog posts can make you sound full of bluster and undercut your credibility in your field. Whenever strong emotions arise, there is the chance that comments, emails, and briefs written in that heightened state will come back to hurt you later on.

The Solution to Emotional Writing? The Second Draft

When you are wrapped up in an emotion, nothing feels better than to jam that send button and shoot off that scathing response as quick as you can type it.

Don’t.

I have found that nothing works better to bring me down off my head of steam than what I call the “Anger Email”. This is a draft with no name in the To line, where you get to live in the good feelings of getting all your emotions down on electronic paper. It’s a space where you have permission to lay into the person who caused the negative emotional response. It’s cathartic.

But here’s the key: Don’t send it.

That’s why the To line is empty. If you get overly aggressive and slam down on the send button, nothing happens. Or at least no harm is done.

Instead, when you are done writing, walk away and do something entirely different. Take a walk. Have a nap. Read some fiction. Whatever brings you back to calm. Once you are there, go back and read your anger email and compose a second draft. With the emotion out of the way, you can respond to the parts you are passionate about, without the mess of an emotional outburst.

All the stress in my life over the last week means there is an Anger Email in my drafts folder as I write this. Will it get sent? Probably not. And certainly not without a second draft. But it allowed me to move past the emotion and think clearly about an issue I feel passionate for, without further complicating matters.

The Anger Email has saved me from more than a few embarrassing and unprofessional emotional written responses. It gives me a space to vent while promising that I will come back to it with a clean head. If you want to be a zealous and passionate advocate, consider the second draft. It will let you separate yourself from the emotion and make your point in a clear and thoughtful way.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She provides blogs and web content for lawyers and small businesses. If you need help crafting content for your website, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.

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