On political speechwriting with Robert Lehrman

Word count: 285 words

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today I discuss an article by political speechwriter Robert Lehrman.

I’ve written lots of speeches in my life, but none for politicians. Thank goodness! Although the political process intrigues me, it doesn’t intrigue me enough. Still, I enjoyed reading Robert Lehrman’s account of speechwriting in a recent New York Times. The chief speechwriter for vice-president Al Gore, Lehrman now  teaches speechwriting at American University.

His article offers plenty of substance. I liked hearing the amusing back story of how Lehrman studied writing with Kurt Vonnegut at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. (“Get someone in trouble. Get them out!” was Vonnegut’s advice to writers.)  I appreciated his link to a US government abstract suggesting that anyone writing for the general public should set their readability goal at grade 7. (Save that link! You may need it some day.) And I enjoyed the chance to relive history by getting to hear speeches by George H.W. Bush, Edward Kennedy and Sarah Palin.

Lehrman left me gobsmacked with his estimate: “As a speechwriter in the House, Senate and White House, I wrote about 25,000 words a month — as much as three books each year.” But it fits with what friends who’ve worked with political speechwriters have told me. Political speechwriters are fast.

I enjoyed the article so much, I’m going to seek out one of Lehrman’s book, The Political Speechwriter’s Companion. Will let you know what I think once I’ve read it.

Meanwhile, I urge you to read his New York Times piece.