Welcome to the very first “Writing in the Workplace.” This biweekly series will focus on how professionals-in any field of work- use writing. If there are industries you’d like us to spotlight or you’re interested in being featured, we’re only a tweet away!
Ben Morse is a paralegal at a law firm in downtown Boston; he graduated from Penn State University in 2013 with a B.A. in journalism and is in the process of studying for the LSAT.
NEU Writes: What mediums do you rely on for your writing?
Ben: Most of my writing is done at a computer, in the office. We work with a program, called Salesforce, which allows us to take detailed notes on potential clients. Additionally, paralegals are charged with keeping the lawyers informed of virtually everything: this mostly entails the writing of detailed, formal memos.
Describe your writing process.
My writing process is very much front-loaded. At work, the quality of my writing is heavily dependant on the notes I take beforehand. As I mentioned, writing is very much a computer-centered activity for me, though when I’m actually interviewing a prospective client, I revert to a pen and paper.
What kind of feedback do you seek out for your writing?
When I started working as a paralegal, I sought feedback regularly: when it comes to the client-interview process, there’s a definite learning curve. I wanted to be sure my notes and the subsequent memos were substantive enough to provide the necessary information to the lawyers I work with. My background in journalism made the transcription and framing of the notes I’d taken a pretty simple task. After a few weeks-as the process became second-nature- I sought less feedback; now, I’m in a position to answer questions less-seasoned coworkers might have about memos and such.
What has been your most challenging writing experience?
Hmm. My most challenging writing experience happened at my last job, before moving to Boston. I worked as an insurance broker, and often had to construct riders and write addendums for clients’ contracts. This was entirely different from any other sort of writing I’d done to this point: there was very little argumentative language, no “thesis” to speak of. It taught me how to construct succinct sentences using precise language: a skill I find extremely useful in my current position.
What has been your most meaningful writing experience?
My most meaningful writing experience didn’t happen at work: it was an essay I wrote in my last year at Penn State. I took a course on the history of punk rock and wrote a paper comparing the general tone and sentiment of early 80’s rap with those prevalent in punk-rock during the previous decade. The paper allowed me to blend studies of pop-culture and history, both subjects that have always interested me. I suppose highlighting the connections between two genres that are typically cast in very different lights was just really fun. I’d like to do more work along these lines.
What’s your favorite way to procrastinate?
Podcasts! I’m big into music and an avid reader, but nothing beats a nice hour long episode of Radiolab or listening to Seth Godin spew entrepreneurial brilliance. With music or vegetating in front of a TV, there’s usually not much going on, mentally. Podcasts are the perfect way to trick yourself into believing you’re actually doing something useful, even when you aren’t.
Do you listen to music while writing? What kind?
Always, but it can’t have any words. Words distract me, completely derailing any semblance of thought. I create playlists on Spotify all the time, so I’ll usually just throw something instrumental on. J Dilla. Madlib. A lot of Flying Lotus, lately.
Most important book you’ve read?
The most important book I’ve read, at least in terms of my own reading experience, is probably Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights. It’s an amazing snapshot of high school football in Texas, as well as the socioeconomic and racial tensions of the time. The book is very well written, and it really portrays the pressure that communities can pile onto high school athletes and coaches. The idea of Bissinger’s total immersion in the culture of a small Texas town, carefully noting the tiniest details, is what drew me to my initial pursuit of journalism.