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Reflections on Law and Creativity

Photo of April Xiaoyi Xu
Courtesy of April Xiaoyi Xu

Have you ever felt an urge—an itch that you really, really wish to scratch?

Author By April Xiaoyi Xu HLS ’21 Published 11.18.2021 Share this page on Facebook Share this page on Twitter Share this page on LinkedIn Copy Link

For me, this urge has always been writing. My longtime dream has always been to become a published fiction author. Looking back, the biggest hurdle for my younger self as a writer was a curious blend of immaturity and self-censorship. Whenever I would read my earlier writings, I saw gaps that I wanted desperately to fill. And it never stopped. With sadness, I tossed my earlier creative writing projects aside.  

Meanwhile, I also dreamed of a fulfilling career in the law. Law—full of tensions—attracted me in an indescribable fashion. Law is broad, for it is the most all-encompassing way in which all aspects of society organize themselves; but law is also intensely narrow, in that it demands precise thinking and minute details in each case. Law embodies grandiose principles of justice, but even landmark decisions may involve great injustice. Now at Harvard Law School but ever a hopeless romantic, I still dream about realizing a revised version of my childhood dream: publishing my first book—a legal thriller/romance novel. 

During my law school years, I have focused much of my attention on law review publications: both as a contributor and as an editor. The precision of academic and legal writing demanded what I call “obsessive-compulsive self-editing.” Gradually, my writing has evolved into an apparently endless cycle of writing and rewriting, rooted in a near-paralyzing perfectionism. 

But hang on. Doesn’t “obsessive-compulsive self-editing” contradict the spirit of the passionate, free-flowing prose associated with creative writing? While insatiable perfectionism can inspire introspection and progress, it is essentially a kind of insecurity that defined me as a young creative writer. And if the biggest hurdle for my younger self was a mix of immaturity and self-censorship, what is my excuse now, as a (hopefully mature) law student, for working on my novel at a very slow pace? My burning question is this: how can I reconcile my free-flowing, passionate prose with the painstakingly precise legal writing that I have also grown to embrace?

As a member of the Student Advisory Board at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, I am beginning to see that I don’t necessarily have to choose. At Radcliffe, I have gotten to know a group of fantastic students from across the Harvard schools. The spirit of interdisciplinary learning and collaboration is very inspiring, and I always enjoy hearing about my peers’ projects, which motivate me to pursue a well-rounded intellectual life at Harvard and beyond. The Institute bridges the different Harvard schools and encourages collaboration across disciplines. It has shown me that this type of cross-fertilization can exist within one’s own work, even between fields that seem as far apart as law and fiction.

For now, I do try to work on my twin dreams of becoming a lawyer and a writer and let them positively reinforce each other instead of furthering the vicious cycle of a perfectionist complex. The intensely logical, rational side of my legal brain helps with plotting and scheming in my novel-writing endeavors, while my fiercely imaginative side motivates me to think outside the box in my legal adventures.

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