Where I Am In Awe of Bill Clinton’s Editing Skills

6 Sep

As a former editor, and still somewhat of a grammar Nazi, I find that I am in complete awe of the work Bill Clinton did to the first draft of his speech last night.  You can read it here and do so with a great attention to detail if you’re a writer/editor.

That he improved his first speech is not a great miracle, because given enough time any editor worth his pay can create something wonderful out of a solid foundation, but that he did this ON THE FLY before addressing millions of people is something that makes me sympathize with Salieri in the video up there.

Editing and writing are grinds, but we’re all familiar with the rules well enough that we could write a Lincoln-like speech like the first draft of Clinton’s speech, but I think Clinton goes one degree above the rules of writing and understands the rules of people, their need to belong to a group (changing “America should–” to “we ought to re-elect President Obama”).  Under Clinton’s skill “I understand the challenge we face” turns to “Here’s the challenge he faces and the challenge all of you who support him face. I get it. I know it. I’ve been there.

That he did this–again–on the fly, must mean this business of writing and speechifying is just instinct for the man.  The changes to his speech must be the grinds for Bill Clinton who is operating on a level that–I think–most of us can’t fathom. There are sentences in that speech that he gutted but then imbued with life and meaning, and I suspect he does this callously, following a formula that only he is privy too.

I’m also very envious because I think I recognize myself in the first draft of that speech.

Update Sep 7 2012: Gawker has compared Bill Clinton’s editing of his speech to Amadeus in this article. Specifically the scene I linked to. You’re welcome Gawker!


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