Law School, Critique, and Creativity

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 23, 2011
Comments: 2 Comments

case law

An eon ago in law school I studied the 1929 case of Hawkins v. McGee. Here’s the plot: Hawkins injures his hand and goes to Dr. McGee. McGee says he’ll fix that hand as good as new. He does a skin graft from Hawkins’s chest, resulting in the hairiest palm you ever did see. Hawkins is not a happy camper.

In class that day, my professor let me get nice and comfortable arguing for poor, hairy-palmed Hawkins. Then, bam! He forced me to defend Dr. McGee. Unfair! How could I make the case for such an unscrupulous quack?

Now I see how well my law professor would have fit into Viva Scriva. The Hawkins-McGee flip pushed my brain to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Discomfort puts our brains on alert. It can spark curiosity, if we are lucky—or fear, if we are not. Too much discomfort and we freeze. Too much comfort and we stagnate. The mental gymnastics of a Hawkins-McGee exercise helps us to find the right balance that keeps us moving. It’s a way to shake up the primordial soup that nourishes creativity and sustains a good story.

A critique group session works best for me when it travels into the discomfort zone and then assures me that I’ll somehow manage to turn my discomfort into a better manuscript. So my advice to you: Get comfortable with discomfort. Argue the other side. And watch out for skin grafts.

Post Revisions:

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  1. Joni Sensel says:

    Fun blog/site/whatever! How did the hairy palms case turn out, though? You can’t leave us non-law-students in suspense! 🙂

    • Thanks, Joni. Hairy-palm Hawkins won the case but was awarded only minimal damages–the difference between the use of a 100% good-as-new hand and one with a hairy palm. Now if we could only add a dash of fiction, Hawkins would have run away to the circus and earned a gazillion bucks as a “freak” or — better yet — as a palm reader. Yes! And then he married the lion tamer’s daughter. And then…. but I digress.– Scriva Ruth

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