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The Writing Act:
Polishing Your Brilliance

(aka The Last Step in the Writing Process)

You've gone through the entire writing process - now what?

You've brainstormed, you've outlined, you've planned, you've prepared – now all that's left is the writing act, actually writing the speech. You've laid the groundwork, set the foundation in the writing process. Here's our tips for the last step of that process, the Writing Act in One Month, One Week, or One Hour.

Note #1: This article could also be called 'Editing: Polishing Your Brilliance.'

Note #2: For the physical aspects of speech writing, see Word Processing and Presentation Composing for Speech Writers.


One Month

Materials Needed
- Brain
- Pen and Paper
- Computer

You have lots of time to make this speech the best it can be. Here's how.

1. Study Cicero (Wikipedia is a great place to start). Yes, he was an Ancient Roman. Yes, he was a philosopher. Yes, he spoke Latin.

And he is one of the greatest orators to ever walk the earth.

  • “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”
  • “Let arms yield to the toga, let the [victor’s] laurel yield to the [orator’s] tongue.”
  • “The administration of government, like a guardianship, ought to be directed to the good of those who confer, not of those who receive the trust.”
  • “There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it.”
  • “It might be pardonable to refuse to defend some men, but to defend them negligently is nothing short of criminal.”
Recognize them?

2. Spin. Go outside, spin around until you can't stand, then go type and see what comes out. It'll be completely unique, entirely you. If that doesn't sound appealing, then sit down with pen and paper and spin every concept in your speech. You've already done this in the initial writing process, but you want to do it again, with everything. Figure out a way to make it original, unique, and you. Give it appeal. Make it memorable. Polish the brilliance. Make it shine.

3. Write it out – by hand. How do you take a bad speech and make it good? How do you take a great speech and make it spectacular? You write it out by hand. Not at first, that's too slow. But once you have the original manuscript, sit down and rewrite it – by hand. As you painstakingly work through every word you intend to say and every idea you intend to communicate, you will not only come to understand your topic but the ideas themselves. You'll rewrite, restructure, rebuild, and emerge with a work of art.

Once you type it again, that is :-).


One Week

Materials Needed
- Red Pen
- Mother

Yep, just like the high school English teacher you get to take out a red pen and mark up the paper – but hopefully there won't be a big F on top when you're done. The orders of business, then, are...

1. 80/20 It. It's a basic principle of nearly everything: 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. This idea (aka the Pareto Principle) applies to your speech, too. Go through and find the most important words, sentences, or paragraphs in your speech. Limit yourself to 20%. Then cut. Carve. Cull. Get rid of everything you possibly can. You don't have a lifetime to give your speech, you only have [insert alloted time here]. Don't forget, though, basic principles of speaking. Humor matters. Appeal matters. Emotions matter. Find what's truly important. Only deliver the best, the 20% that matters. You'll make it real, you'll make it true, you'll make it good.

2. Grammar.“I speak good pretty.” That's the bright orange phrase on the blue back of a t-shirt I saw at a speech competition. Unfortunately, if you're like me you'll find some similar errors in anything you write. So, with one week left, remember the grammar. Give your manuscript to your mom (or anyone who's willing to correct your language). Don't worry too much about split infinitives (unless you're to speak in front of professors), but watch out for verb agreement and other gaffes that could cost you credibility.

3. Be Active (Not Passive). Your speech was pared, your grammar was fixed, and now it needs to be given a touch up. Actually, you pared your speech, your mom fixed your grammar, and now you need to touch it up. Watch out for passive voice (when the object of action is the subject of the sentence, like in 'your grammer was fixed'). It makes you sound weak, indirect, and under-informed. The chicken crossed the road; the road wasn't crossed by the chicken ( as paraphrased from UNC-Chapel Hill ).

Note: Sometimes passive voice is ok. For example, when you want to focus on the object, as in “The President was killed”; or when the actor isn't known, as in “The jewels were stolen.”


One Hour

If you've already covered the rest of the writing process but only have one hour to write your speech, the situation changes. ( If you haven't covered the writing process, see The Writing Process in One Hour .) The principles under One Month and One Week are important, but if you don't know them already, it's too late.

But that doesn't mean you can't give a good speech!

Materials Needed
- Brain
- Pen and Pencil
- Efficiency!

The introduction and conclusion are the hardest parts of a speech. So take 15-20 minutes and write them out.

Then practice! Practice the intro, the conclusion, the highs, the lows, and the humor. Find the parts you're least confident about and practice those. Make it efficient!

When writing and practicing under time pressure, only write and practice the parts that need it the most.

A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. Focus on the weakest links, and turn the whole speech into a strong chain.

Happy speaking!


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