For Law Students

Join Now

When is the time for writing? Right now.


Back in October, which now feels like a lifetime ago, I was asked to write a post for the NaNoWriMo Project on a topic of interest to law students who are working on a novel. I started a piece about turning stories from your day job into fiction. Then Election 2016 happened.

Since then, it has been a tumultuous, stressful period, no matter your political stripe. Frankly, NaNoWriMo could not be happening at a worse time. This week I sat down and spoke with a lot of fellow authors. All anyone can talk about is the election.

Every writer I know says that, post-election, they are getting no fiction writing done. I was hearing fellow novelists say that, suddenly, writing fiction feels “irrelevant” or “frivolous.” How can it possibly matter or make a difference what my little fictional people have to say when it feels like the world is going to hell in a hand basket?

I, too, am struggling to make sense of this post-election world, to figure out and recalibrate my sense of place and purpose within it, my priorities and responsibilities and duties and objectives, and how best to refocus my work and redouble my efforts to make sure I am using my time and abilities to do something meaningful and that serves a positive and worthy purpose.

Many writers and aspiring writers I know are doubting their sense of purpose, asking the question, “What are we all writing for?” I’ve heard some people say they’re giving up on National Novel Writing Month, giving up on their manuscript altogether.

And then, as it happens, the National Book Awards ceremony was held on Wednesday night. And Colson Whitehead won the prize for fiction for “The Underground Railroad,” his stunning novel about a young slave’s odyssey for freedom during the antebellum era.

Whitehead’s acceptance speech really spoke to me. This is what he said:

“This time last year I was finishing up the book and was like, Don’t mess up the last 20 pages, Colson. Every day I’m like, Only 19 pages to go, don’t mess it up, Colson. And you never know what’s going to happen in a year. And now the book is out and I would never think I would be standing here…. People have been like, ‘Do you have any words about the election?’ And I’m like, ‘Not really’ — I’m sort of stunned. And I hit upon something that was making me feel better, and I guess it was, I think, hopefully applicable to other folks: Be kind to everybody, make art, and fight the power. That seemed like a good formula for me, anyway.”

For me, too. Be kind to everybody and make art. Don’t give up. Write your novel. Keep the thoughts and words flowing. Make them mean something. Novels and books matter, even at — especially at — a time like this.

Helen Wan Helen Wan is a lawyer, author, and speaker best known for The Partner Track, in which a woman of color competes for partnership at an elite law firm. Her book is taught in law schools and universities and used by businesses in diversity, equity, and inclusion training. It’s also now a Netflix series.