Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.
Cedric Merlin Powell is a Professor of Law in the Brandeis School of Law, a member of the Ohio and New York state bars, and is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, and the federal courts of the Second and Sixth Circuits, and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. He has written over a broad range of topics including affirmative action and Critical Race Theory, the First Amendment and hate speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment and structural inequality. All of his scholarship critiques neutrality as a means of preserving structural inequality, and advances theories of substantive equality which reject colorblindness and post-racialism as normative principles in constitutional analysis. Professor Powell has also been named the Dean for Research for 2016.
Location: University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law
Current project: Race Displaced: Buchanan v. Warley and the Neutral Rhetoric of Liberty
Currently reading: David E. Bernstein, Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform (Chicago 2011)
1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
My writing consists primarily of law review articles, essays, book reviews, magazine articles, and op-eds in the press. I plan on writing a book in the near future.
2. When/where/how do you write?
I usually write late at night when everything is peaceful in my home. I like to write for extended periods of time, so I feel that I am truly productive when I have a significant period of uninterrupted time to compose my ideas and get them out in draft form. I have an office at home where I write, it is a comfortable space, and it is a functioning office away from my more formal office space at the law school. I write by doing extensive research (I want to know what everyone in the field has said about the topic that I am contemplating writing about), and then I take notes from the readings to ensure that I fully understand the topic and its underlying doctrines and nuances, and I draft an outline to write from. Before I start writing, I take my research notes and plug them into specific sections of the outline so that my discussion will have continuity; and, hopefully, to avoid repetition.
3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
I don’t need any special tools to write. However, I do need long legal pads because I write everything out in longhand (it takes me a while to draft an article). After I come to the end of the writing process, I am confident that I have covered everything, so the only question is how the piece should be revised and edited.
4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
My best tip is to just get started; writing is a process, so that means your first attempt will not be perfect. This is precisely why revision and editing a draft is essential to the writing process. I must admit that this is my least favorite part of the process; but I realize that it is necessary, and it always makes the work much better than it was before.
5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
The best writing advice that I have ever received was to write as much as you can as often as you can. Everyone’s writing process is different, so it is important to trust your process. I hope that I will heed my own advice on future projects.
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