“How do I get a job as a speechwriter?” ask students in Robert Lehrman’s classes at American University, according to a review of Lehrman’s newish book, The Political Speechwriter’s Companion.
I wouldn’t believe it either, if I hadn’t run across similarly unglued undergrads at other schools where I’ve lectured.
There’s no bullshitter like a young bullshitter, and surely some of these kids are just brown-nosing the rhetoric prof when they say they want to grow up to be speechwriters.
But others actually follow their so-called passion into political and then corporate speechwriting. I won’t name names (to protect the insane) but I have seen it happen.
And I still don’t believe it.
Here’s the formula I can’t solve: You’re young, full of piss and vinegar, and you have enough writing skills to think you can competently write for powerful people. Money is not your object, or you wouldn’t be in the writing game at all.
Why on earth would you not want to see if you can make it as a writer in your own right?
The only answer I can give is that you have a failure of imagination. The TV show “West Wing” was a formative experience, and you never read Shakespeare, Austen, Twain, Mencken, Hemingway or Ivins. (In which case you’re condemned to be a crap speechwriter anyway.)
Look: Nobody likes speechwriters more than I like speechwriters. Nobody sees more clearly than I, the usefulness of the profession. But the best speechwriters are made when good writers confront their own limitations.
In short, if you’re going to be worth a damn as a writer, it should take you awhile to realize that you are no Kurt Vonnegut, and that you can better use your talent by magnifying the power of your still-persuasive words by streaming them through the mouths of people who are influential.
A guy like Bob Lehrman, for instance, who is author of four novels that you’ve never heard of, and who actually studied under Vonnegut at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Do you think he asked old Kurt for advice on how to become a speechwriter?
Maybe I’m missing something. Readers, introduce me to this mysterious creature:
The serious young writer, who wants to start out as a speechwriter.