How to Become a Speechwriter

Speechwriter Jobs and Salaries

Politicians need people with language skills to help them craft their message. A political speech is not a standalone thing, it depends on other speeches made by the same person, an entire campaign of action and words to back up the message being delivered. If a political speech was just a shot in the dark formed out of pretty words, any fool could string a few thousand words together and call it a speech.

People drawn to the political speech writing arena are those who are obsessed both with words and politics. Good political speechwriters cherish their privacy, otherwise their political side may encourage them to make their own run for office.

Like many jobs, there’s just no clear “career path” for people who aspire to write political speeches. There’s no “speech writing school” or national exam you can take to prove your abilities with words or your passion for making a difference politically. Naturally, there are some career paths that speechwriters tend to have followed in the past.

What Careers Are Good Training for Speech Writing?

How to Become a Speechwriter

Many political speechwriters come out of journalism school, or a career with a newspaper. The ability to condense information into a form that’s fit for newspaper printing is a skill you”ll use time and again as a speechwriter, and proving your abilities as a writer or editor for a few years at a major paper is as easy as a reference from an old boss. There’s a great old quote by an anonymous political speechwriter that sums this up — “Instead of reporting what others are doing, [as a speechwriter] I write for people who are doing things.”

Another field that will come in handy when writing political speeches — public relations. Untold numbers of people working in the West Wing have come out of giant corporate PR offices, or as freelance employees of various PR entities. Knowing how to communicate with the press and the general public is the domain of the speechwriter.

What Else Can I Do to Prepare Myself for a Career as a Speechwriter?

It would only make sense for you to study the careers of famous speechwriters from the past. Look up names like Ted Sorensen, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peggy Noonan, and even more modern names like Chris Matthews or Jon Favreau (not the actor, but Obama’s speechwriter) in order to learn from their successes and failures. Every one of those names followed a different career path to make it as political speechwriters, and all have had noteworthy careers preparing statements and creating policy for big name politicians.

It wouldn’t hurt to get a degree in political science from as fancy a school as you can swing. You don’t need an Ivy League education, but I’m not saying it won’t help your chances at landing a speech writing job. Many people advising others in how to go for a career in politics suggest that a poli sci degree isn’t enough, but the truth is that you don’t need to double major. People who suggest that political science majors study Psychology in order to “learn about people” don’t realize the passion level of most people interested in speech writing. Surely, you’ll come to an understanding of psychology all on your own.

You need to be a voracious reader to make it as a speechwriter. Read poetry, novels, history, current events, anything you can get your hands on. A broad education is vital to your success as a speechwriter — be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Read an encyclopedia series from beginning to end. Be the know it all. The best speechwriters in history were basically generalists, people who knew a little about a lot, and could appreciate the historic context of politics.

You need to begin volunteering for political campaigns as soon as you can walk — a future as a speechwriter depends on making a name for yourself in the political community, and that doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t matter if you work on a local campaign, a state run for Senate, or even national campaigns — experience is experience. To put a new twist on an old political saying, “Volunteer early and volunteer often.”

Building your reputation as a reliable volunteer will have you moving up the ranks from answering phones, to go-fering, through several more unglamorous and boring chores until one day you’re asked to hold a job with some real responsibility. learn a political campaign inside and out, from handing out flyers to getting elbows deep in fundraising. The more valuable you are to a campaign, the more likely the top brass is to remember your name.

Speechwriter Salaries – How Much Money Do Speechwriters Make?

The top end of a speech writer’s average salary is basically unlimited. President Obama’s head speechwriter cleared nearly $200,000 last year. There are also plenty of speechwriters working freelance, scraping the bottom of the barrel and barely getting by. Your salary is completely dependent upon your experience and the success of the candidate you write for.

If you want to get into political speech writing for the money, remember this old adage. The best way to make a small fortune in politics is to start with a large fortune.

What Do Speechwriters Do?

It is as difficult to pin down the exact duties of a speechwriter as it is to come up with an average salary. A speechwriter is a learner, a political junkie, and a crucial part of the decision process on policy matters. A speechwriter divides their time during the day between catching up on the news, reading everything that comes across their desk (and much more besides), meeting with a candidate and various election committees, communicating with the media in some cases, and (oh yeah) writing up a storm.

In short, a speech writer’s job is only a success if the original objective of the speaker — that message he wanted to deliver — comes across clearly and makes an impact on the audience. A good speech is hard to define but easy to recognize — the flow of words in a political speech is as important as the words themselves. Getting an education in political science is just the first step. Absorbing a lifetime of knowledge and compartmentalizing it in speeches will pretty much take care of the rest.