On the tradecraft of political speechwriting: not as glamorous as you might think? Forget the cufflinks and fountain pen. Lower expectations. Keep it simple.
When I write speeches, I’m influenced by novels. I use story to move listeners. I also plant something in the opening and bring it back at the end, the way Anton Chekhov advised (“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall…”), and I search for illuminating details, as Joseph Conrad urged (“My task is to make you hear, to make you feel, and, above all, to make you see”). But this hectic, collaborative life is nothing like the novelist’s, especially when it comes to the nerve-jangling pressure to meet impossible deadlines.
Once, back in the ’90s, when I wrote for Representative David E. Bonior of Michigan, the Democratic House majority whip, he said he wanted to do a one-minute speech. Something about the economy, he said. It was 11:50. “When do you speak?” I asked. “12:02.”
I wrote a 150-word speech, called my mother to tell her if she turned on C-Span she’d see me on the House floor, ran up three flights and handed it to Mr. Bonior just as he was walking to the well.