I am a writer.
Sometimes, the words flow like water from a fountain. Sometimes, they falter, like ink from a failing ballpoint pen. Always, they require an edit, though these vary in intensity and duration. I’m not writing for college admission anymore, so I’m at liberty to practice as I please.
I am also a speaker.
Speeches are different. A speech, with care, can be theater. Like a piece of theater, a good speech is not written, it is wrought. The distinction is significant.
To write is to put pen to paper, or fingers fingers to keys, with some degree of effort, and record. Typically, I can let an idea foment in my head for a few days, then sit down and write it out. I’ll give it a quick read for clarity once I’m done; a blog so executed typically takes me about two hours. This is writing. It’s almost formulaic.
‘Wrought’ derives not from ‘write,’ but from ‘work.’ A good speech is not written, it is wrought, and it takes enormous time. It is envisioned, drafted, written, reviewed, reduced, focused, honed: every word matters, as does its placement. The arrangement of words within a sentence, or sentences within a paragraph, or even paragraphs with in a larger body, can confuse or clarify. My goal is clarity, which is relatable, engaging. Thinking a story into being is not a linear process, so emotion and ideas tend to surface before structure is built. Emotion is murky. Ideas are slippery. A good speech must be wrought.
I have been working on one speech for six weeks. I’ve been thinking about it for eight. I look at it every day, morning, noon, and night. I speak the words, considering their rhythm, their tone, their effect – and if I don’t like it, I change it. I’ve changed this speech over and over and over again. I’ve sent it to writers for edits. I’ve considered their edits individually and deliberately. I’m laying body language against individual sentences. A work of this caliber is demanding. There is no quickness about it. It sets itself a part in presentation. I will deliver my speech next week. My parents will be in the crowd.
There is a corollary benefit to the writer. A speech is an opportunity to tell a story. In Toastmasters, a speech is an opportunity to tell a story in 5-7 minutes. That’s not a lot of time to fill, so one must learn to tighten the material to just one subject. As one advances, layers are crafted within the speech, and these create depth and meaning, increasing opportunities for the listener to connect with what you’re saying – that is the game we’re playing, is it not?
In Toastmasters, you get immediate feedback, both written and spoken. You have a dedicated team of functionaries tasked to watch your language, your mannerisms, your body language – they focus on meeting your needs, as you state them. When writing, you’re lucky if people respond to your solicitations for feedback. Practicing oratory helps a writer hone his storytelling, which amplifies his potential as a writer. We are all storytellers competing for attention. It’s the good storytellers that get heard. Good storytellers practice.
I believe that the same degree of effort must go into anything that one wishes to do well. With effort and direction, humans can learn most any skill. We’re an amazingly adaptable species. Three years ago, I knew how to make a loaf of quick bread. Now, I know how to make diverse loaves that I would proudly sell – and I do, at work. In the interval, I experimented, documented, practiced, failed, and practiced some more. And I read. I have a dozen books on the art and science of bread. Among the things I love about humanity is our inclination to share our knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps I’ll blog about the ease of the no-knead loaf. I’m going to teach my family how to do it next week, live and in person. I’m excited.
Long ago, I decided that I was not content to be a mere consumer in our consumer-driven society – that’s one of the reasons I learned how to bake great bread. I think it’s important to stake a claim in the world and apply persistent effort towards justly taking it. The world is much more interesting when people pursue what interests them, get good at it, and then share it – it takes discipline, effort.
We ought to all seek to be more than what we are. By steady degree, we can achieve greatness. To do so is to honor the immense potential that resides within each of us. Call it forth – what will you bring the greater conversation?