Myth: “Speechwriting is a dark and mysterious art, known only to a handful of monks who live in a subterranean lair deep under an extinct volcano. There, they gather under each blood moon to add a single new member to their number, and — in exchange for her or his soul — they divulge the terrible and heart-curdling secrets of their craft.”
No. The basics are actually pretty straightforward. Tell a great story, write conversationally, know where you want to take your audience, and keep them in mind with every word: that’s the heart of it.
Myth: “One must, when speechwriting, strive for the grandest of tones, the most artful of phrases, and those unique and magniloquent expressions that might, should Fortune and the chroniclers of history find concurrence, attain immortality.”
Dude, chill. Sure, you elevate the tone of a speech on some occasions, like a formal ceremony. But you’re trying to connect with an audience in the authentic voice of your speaker. And unless your speaker is a 17th-century polemicist, that usually means an unpretentious, unaffected voice.
Myth: “A speechwriter has to capture the exact voice of the speaker.”
It’s great when a writer can do that, no question about it. But if you just write conversationally — keep your sentences on the short side, vary the structure, use contractions and colloquialisms and throw in a little parallel structure — the vast majority of speakers will feel at home with what you’ve written.
Myth: “Speechwriters are puppeteers who tell clients what to say.”
Oh, god, I wish. Er, rather, no, that’s not the case at all. A good speechwriter helps you find the best way to tell your story and deliver your message. But it’s your message, and your story — even if it takes a little digging on the speechwriter’s part to bring it to the surface.
Myth: “It’s just like The West Wing, isn’t i—”
It’s NOTHING like the goddamn West Wing.
Myth: “I bet you wish you’d written for Obama.”
By all accounts, writing in the White House is a gruelling, exhausting ordeal that chews people up and spits them out, stripped of their idealism and aged a decade for every year they spent in there.
Myth: “Oh. So you don’t wish you’d written for Obama.”
Don’t be silly. Of course I do.