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Jerry Cleaver’s catchy “Write Your Novel Now” ad in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletinmay be irresistible. That is, if, as he notes, “the law isn’t making you happy,” and you are eager to write a novel to rival Turow and Grisham. Those would-be writers stuck in sometimes unsatisfactory jobs are exactly who Cleaver hopes to snare. He promises to teach lawyers “how to tap their natural talents and unique experience.” The first step is admitting you’ve dreamt of being a writer. Part social worker, part coach, part writing instructor, Cleaver insists successful novels have been written in as little as “six weeks to three months” and there is no reason his students, despite their busy schedules and home lives, couldn’t write a first draft of a novel in a year. So how can they do it? Focus and discipline, mixed with a little encouragement. Most lawyers already have the focus and discipline. “They are used to taking a beating,” Cleaver said during an interview in his writer’s loft nestled above his home near Chicago’s trendy Wrigleyville neighborhood. Lawyers also are potentially natural novelists, because, Cleaver says, “A lot of them write well and they’re in the thick of things.” They know the adversarial process as well as anyone who can appreciate the need for it in, say, “Romeo and Juliet” or “Moby Dick.” Still, many of them need to be convinced they have what it takes. Audrey S. Hanrahan did. A former partner at the now-defunct Haskell & Perrin in Chicago, Hanrahan has since moved in-house to CNA Insurance where she is vice president and claims counsel. On New Year’s Day 2000, she made a resolution to start writing fiction. She had done it before, writing children’s stories when she was younger. But law school, she says, succeeded in zapping the creativity out of her writing. “I didn’t think I could be creative anymore,” she says. Cleaver convinced her otherwise. Hanrahan recalls him saying, “Anybody can do this. This isn’t like painting or music, where you need some kind of talent.” Rather, Hanrahan learned, fiction writing is about expressing what a character wants, the obstacles to achieving those goals, and the action that will allow the character to get there. Cleaver teaches these lessons, although his primary lesson seems more like a time management course. “It’s easier than we make it, but it’s hard to make it easy,” Cleaver says about writing. To make writing easier, he instructs his students to “never go one day without making meaningful contact with writing.” He expects them to begin with a writing regimen of five minutes a day for 30 days straight. “It becomes a rhythm of your life,” he says. Cleaver, who takes pains to ensure that writing isn’t an agonizing experience for students, has transferred his classroom techniques to a new book, “Immediate Fiction,” due out by the end of 2001. And though his students say it’s tough to follow the five-minute-per-day rule, they all agree that developing some sort of discipline under Cleaver’s model works. “The main thing for me is to keep going,” says Gerry Strange, a trial lawyer in Chicago’s Loop. With some prodding by Cleaver, Strange is now writing a novel about a young lawyer who falls in love with a mentally disturbed girl. “I never would have thought of writing a novel if I hadn’t taken Jerry’s course,” Strange says. “He’s got a background in social work so there’s a little bit of therapy going on there. He’s supportive. He’s fair with everybody, but he doesn’t sugarcoat it.” Before teaching writing full time, Cleaver dabbled in various careers, including efficiency expert, social worker and milkman. He directed plays for the U.S. Army and from the late ’60s until 1980 was teaching writing at Northwestern University. He started his Writers Loft, which he boasts is the largest independent writers’ workshop in Chicago, as an outlet for Northwestern University students who wanted to continue writing during the summer. While Cleaver solicits would-be writers from other professions, he maintains that lawyers are his most represented group. Those who have taken Cleaver’s class even stumbled over an unintended benefit. The fiction writing improved their legal writing. Joel Ostrow, a Chicago Loop appellate and matrimonial lawyer who met Cleaver years ago during his Northwestern days, noticed his legal writing improve as he learned how to flesh out his fictional characters. Ostrow maintains his legal writing “is not nearly as stiff as it used to be. “The more fiction writing I do, the more in my legal writing I am able to shorten sentences,” he says. “I think it makes for a more readable presentation for a judge.”

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