What a speechwriter does in a workday

Job title: Senior speechwriter at Fenway Strategies

What led me to my current role: Ben Krauss, who runs Fenway, reached out to me last year via email. Until then, I had worked primarily as a journalist and foreign correspondent — but, given how influential the figure of President Obama was during my coming of age, I certainly knew about this firm, which was founded by his former presidential speechwriters.

Although I had dabbled in speechwriting and communications, I didn’t think it was in the cards for me to do it full time, but Ben said he thought my background in journalism was an asset for the work his firm did, and that my other writing skills were transferrable, and he was right. As part of my interview process, which included two writing tests, I virtually met everyone else at the company, which is now about 15 people, all fully remote. I knew I wanted to work with them right away. I joined last October, and it’s been a huge privilege to work here ever since.

How I spend the majority of my workday: Fenway has been remote since the start, long before the pandemic, so they have operations down to a science. We are a small start-up, so everything is organized with dedicated software: Monday.com to keep track of assignments, Slack for most communications, Google Docs for editing all our speeches. Most people are online from roughly 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but various people may stay online a few hours earlier or later when we’re working on specific assignments. (And my colleagues are in at least three different time zones on any given day.)

When I’m assigned a given project, I usually start with a call or video chat with our client, then talk through it with a colleague, draft it, and then finally share it with the whole team. Anywhere from one other person to the entire company will help edit the text for both form and content — something we often refer to as “Fenway magic.” It’s amazing seeing those tracked changes pile up, because they invariably leave the text in a better place than it started.

Speechwriting is definitely not a solitary endeavor. I always feel lucky that so many smart people have their eyes on every document we send out — especially because I’m the least experienced speechwriter there, for now. We may have further emails and calls for further rounds of edits, so lather/rinse/repeat until it’s “shipped.”

8:30 a.m.: I stumble out of bed and immediately draw two shots of espresso from my Nespresso machine. Truly not a morning person. I open Slack and email; nothing yet. I click through German flashcards on this app called Anki — I’ve just started learning — until the caffeine hits my bloodstream.

9:30 a.m.: My boyfriend wakes up and goes back to Manhattan. He never sets an alarm, because he doesn’t have a 9-to-5 job, which I think is one of the last true luxuries.

10:15 a.m.: My colleague Kat shares a draft of an op-ed on Slack that she needs to send back to our client by the end of today. We have a dedicated channel for each client. I do a light editing pass using track changes.

11 a.m.: I have a Quest bar. I don’t really cook. Some have called my workday eating habits abject, and I wouldn’t contest that; I would merely add that they have fueled me through seven years of remote work, in a few different countries. I wander into the kitchen every hour or two to scavenge for something, which today also includes a buttered English muffin, two soft-boiled eggs with chili oil, an arugula salad, an apple and a Diet Coke.

12 p.m.: My colleague Sammy has shared a draft of a speech outline with us, and I leave some suggestions as comments. I must admit it took me a few weeks to feel confident enough to suggest edits to anyone else, but I slowly got the hang of it by observing how my colleagues edited my own work.

12:30 p.m.: Time for our weekly all-hands check-in meeting on Google Meet, where we run through what assignments everyone is working on and touch base about each other’s lives. Several of my colleagues have written books in recent years, for instance, which I think reflects on our generous work culture.

1 p.m.: I send a direct message to my colleague Adam about the timeline on a draft we owe a client; he says it’s been pushed to next week. I keep tabs on everything assigned to me on Monday.com, because it can pile up, especially around busy periods like commencement season.

2 p.m.: I’ve been working with another colleague, Kyle, to write up some talking points about the supply chain for one of our other clients. He’s done the most recent round of edits, so I clean up the document and then share it with Kat, who’s the most experienced among us in working with this client. We definitely need her eyes on this before we send it back to them, which I’ll do tomorrow.

3 p.m.: Because many of my friends still work from home now, we try to take advantage of co-working opportunities before someone is summoned back to the office. (That person won’t be me, as Fenway has never had an office.) I take the subway to the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, headquarters of the Newswomen’s Club of New York, where I’m meeting my friends Laura and Sophie, a newspaper and magazine editor, respectively.

3:30 p.m.: I do an editing pass on an op-ed for a nonprofit leader that my colleague Patricia has been working on for a while. We also engage in some light speculation about the future of Wordle after its recent New York Times acquisition.

5:45 p.m.: I submit today’s check-in as a bullet-point list on Slack, where we’re prompted to recap our day at 5:29 p.m. It’s one way to stay accountable in a relatively chill and decentralized workplace — and for letting people know if you have a light week and are free to help edit more pieces, or take on new assignments. Miraculously, neither one of my friends has work spilling over into the evening, which is our cue to order a glass of wine. We also get some deviled eggs, the exact kind of passe menu item I can’t resist. There is a great Negroni on tap here, but none of us is up to that challenge on this particular weekday.

6 p.m.: I’ve just had a brain wave about a piece we’ve been hoping to assign at The Drift magazine, a literary magazine that I help edit (as part of an all-volunteer staff). I remember that an exciting writer we Zoomed with last fall could be a good fit for a piece we’ve been wanting to assign on pandemic-era fiction, so I draft a short email proposing that to her, which I share with our founding editors, Rebecca and Kiara. They make some tweaks and send it her way.

6:30 p.m.: Sophie and I have realized we are heading to the same book party this evening, so we walk down together to the Soho loft where it’s being held. We make a dent in the hors d’oeuvres table before the room fills up, but the main event is still to come. The book is about public monuments and the author (art crime professor Erin Thompson) has had a cake made in the shape of a bygone Confederate monument — which she proceeds to smash with a small mallet!

9 p.m.: Still, hours of small bites have taken a toll, and I am consumed by thoughts of pizza. I head to Upside Pizza in a fugue state and get one plain and one pepperoni Sicilian slice. They fuel me for the short walk to my boyfriend’s house in the East Village. He has to take a call in another time zone before bedtime, so (after scrolling my phone for a while) I crack into “Within a Budding Grove,” the second volume “In Search of Lost Time,” which some friends and I are trying to read in full this year. It’s great so far!

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