Paint the pictures of green meadows on summer days
When dewdrops cascade across the land
Paint a picture of far away places and things unseen
When you can’t have them close at hand
Paint the pictures of everything you hold so dear
When all you feel inside are empty memories
Paint a picture of all you ever loved and learned
When colors blend together in perfect artistry
I wrote that verse about three years ago. It belongs with a complete song entitled Paint A Picture, but I felt it could stand alone from its whole text. You might have thought it flows very well, or you actually painted a picture in your mind, or else, you thought I was experiencing a momentary lapse of reason behind the lectern. The song actually talks about not giving up on your dreams and striving until the end, but felt that that small portion would help me to open your minds to the things I am about to tell you. Come with me, now, on my journey through my writing process.
Whether I am writing a new lyric, or even a speech, I like to think about it for a small amount of time, whether it is an hour, or a few days, before writing my first words. There has to be a natural progression, like a musician searching for the right notes and chords, I first must find a beginning, middle and end – sometimes I must find a bridge to fuse many thoughts together to appear as one. Sometimes a chorus will come before a verse, or visa versa.
One of the first things I do before I write down my first words is shut off my stereo or TV. I don’t like to hear words in the background because it’s very distracting. All I need is a lawsuit against me for plagiarizing someone else’s work. If I choose not to sit in total silence, I like to listen to any one of many instrumental works from the artist, Mike Oldfield – so I know there won’t be any words to bother me in the background.
Once all distractions are gone, I like to sit down in front of my computer and think how I should open my song or speech. There has to be something there to catch the listener’s ear, and if there isn’t, I’ve completely lost my audience.
As a writer and speaker, I tend to get hindered by the use of too many common words. So, I make use of the many tools available to me.
One of the tools I use, almost daily, is my dictionary. If I’m not sure of the correct meaning of a word, I look it up. I want to be sure it fits in with the body of what I’m using the word for. A good word can make a good speech.
If I’m dissatisfied, unhappy, unfulfilled, or disappointed with the words I am using, I frequently use a thesaurus. It will not only give me a better edge in the writing process, but also expand my mind to new words that mean the same as the one I want to change. Challenging myself to learn new words helps expand my vocabulary, which in turn helps me in my writing.
One last tool I use is my Random House Guide to Grammar, Usage, And Punctuation. When going through it, I thought I had gone back to high school English. It helps me with problems as when to use such words as affect (A–F–F–E–C–T) and effect (E–F–F–E–C–T), or correct sentence structure, breakdown of proper comma usage, and how to use correct sentence ending such as periods, exclamation points, etc.
I feel if I’m using interesting words, my listeners are going to remember them, and hopefully use them. By expanding my own mind, I, in turn, give my listeners an opportunity to learn along with me.
When I’m finished with the writing process, and I’ve edited and rehearsed it and feel it flows in the direction I want it to head, I’m ready for the performance of my life. Now, this is where I make my point – everything I’ve thought – everything I’ve written – and everything I’ve rehearsed – has to be strong and vivid.
Be it my IceBreaker, or my Be In Earnest, or Vocal Variety, Tall Tale, etc. – my goal is to not only give the speech with feeling, but give it with sincerity. I don’t want to just recite for another’s enjoyment; I want to rehearse for a role of a lifetime. I want to give my speech in a way where my audience members are experience what I’m talking about, not just hear it.
In other words – I’m showing you what I’m talking about – not telling you what I’m talking about. I give vivid descriptions and articulate my speech – letting the audience experience what I’m talking about. It’s my job to paint the picture for the audience – if I don’t – they may not understand what my speech – I don’t want to lose them – I want to capture them and their imaginations.
Lyricist, Neil Peart writes a good example I can use, from the song "Losing It". Instead of him saying a writer has writer’s block in his old age, he puts pictures in your mind by saying:
The writer stare with glassy eyes —
Defies the empty page,
His beard is white, his face is lined
And streaked with tears of rage
Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision,
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision
And he stares out the kitchen door
Where the sun will rise no more…
I give my lyrics and speeches lives of their own. I write with conviction. Using metaphors to get my point across if I have to. The more of me that I put into it, the more I’ll appreciate it, and the more my audience will appreciate it. Also, by giving it a life of its own, it has to be able to stand alone on paper. Before I read it to my mentor, I find a non-Toastmaster or good friend to read my speech for input on the writing. If he or she likes it, my mentor will like it when I read it to her for the first time.
Just remember fellow Toastmasters – think about what you want to write about. Choose your words carefully. Fine-tune it to work out all of the bugs. Make it flow with conviction and pride. Rehearse. And most of all – make sure it’s written in a way that your audience is transported into your speech and not just floating on the surface. You want them to feel everything you’ve said. If they feel it, they’ll remember it. So remember – you’re not behind the lectern giving a speech – you’re behind the lectern making memories.