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Saturday, May 31, 2014

When odd becomes ordinary

Truman Capote could write only in bed.

Agatha Christie liked to write in the tub while nibbling apples.

Jack Kerouac typed his novels on a continuous roll of paper.

They were novelists. But if you write speeches for CEOs of blue chip corporations, as I do, you don’t get to indulge your idiosyncrasies. You have to write anywhere and at any hour of the day or night. To keep your job, you learn to do it, and do it well.

Executives give many of their speeches at recognition events for top employees, or gatherings of important customers, or conferences with influential analysts. These meetings are usually held in appealing locations.

So I’ve written corporate speeches and shows in places that most would consider paradise spots: Bali, Maui, Buenos Aires, Honolulu, Orlando, Acapulco, Puerto Rico, Rio, Vegas, Cabo, to name some.

And I’ve done it on planes, trains and cruise ships … poolside and on the beach … hotel rooms and hotel balconies … on the floor … at the dining room table … in bed … at the kitchen counter … on the backyard deck. Even in my office.

I’ve never written in the bathroom, but I have used its mirror to watch myself recite the speech that I’ve drafted to see if the words slide out of the mouth easily.

I once flew coast-to-coast coach while the CEO – up in first class -- sent glass after glass of Chardonnay back to energize me as I drafted the speech he would give the next day to mark the opening of a new company facility.

I often flew in the corporate jet to work on speeches for a board chairman. We sat across from each other at a small table, with me facing the rear of the plane. I was Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire -- backward and close enough to knock knees.

But the absolute worst place to write is in the second row of a corporate meeting. You are sitting right behind your executive client, who is waiting his turn to give his speech. The speaker onstage tells a joke, and your client half-turns to you and whispers, “Give me a line.” 

In seconds, you must come up with a jokey riposte that your client can deliver when he goes to the lectern – to demonstrate what a quick and clever wit he is.

All these odd places to practice my craft become an ordinary day’s occupation for the kind of writer I am.

The truth is, however, I had originally titled this blog posting “Funny Places I’ve Written.” But when I sat to write it, I was reminded that there's nothing at all funny about writing. 

In fact, the act of writing can be likened to what Ludwig Wittgenstein said about the human condition: "I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not to enjoy ourselves."

In my next blog, ”Stars”


  1. A point that I found to be true when I wrote copy for a radio show for an NPR affliate, was that the spoken word is very different than if you are writing a piece that is to be read a novel or short story. I love the quote by Herr Wittendstein!

  2. Hello. Just read your "lady in the dunes" post from last year. If you haven't heard, a body was found at the Sandwich Boardwalk last night and your post, especially the part about the woman dug up from the Sandwich beach, scared me to be honest. I was thinking that this was a fictional happening, as I live in Sandwich and would have known, but the event you described in your novel was strikingly similar to the murder of last night.