Killing Your (Essay) Babies

In light of Anna's recent blog entry about good writing (here), I thought I'd chime in and add a little tidbit about good writing as well.

Professor Sherman, a Harvard Law grad and phenomenal teacher, once solemly whispered to me, "You must be willing to kill your babies."

This was in reference to good writing. =)

Over the years, we (the Anna Ivey Team) have helped countless aspiring law students with their personal statements. And I'm shameless at admitting that we're pretty darn effective at drawing out the best writing from their creative minds. It also reminded me of an important piece of advice as people go through the process of applying.

I remember sitting down to read an applicant's personal statement once, only to call her three minutes later and tell her to kill her babies (get rid of some paragraphs). Her writing wasn't bad. However, it wasn't excellent, either.  Like many, many applicants, she had written a personal statement that sounded more like high-minded hosh-posh, proclaiming the meaning of justice and the virtues of law. She had forgotten one thing: her audience. Law school admissions officers, law professors, and even law students probably know more about the subject matter than she could have mustered convincingly on a 2-3 page statement. Knowing your audience is an important element of good writing.

Unless you have geniunely substantive things to say about law or legal practice (e.g. your experience interviewing clients during your internship with the public defender's office), it's generally a good idea to choose a topic you know something about.

Writing a winning personal statement certainly takes time. It also takes flexibility and good judgment to know when to "kill your babies."