It's three in the morning. Your office's tiny little recycling bin is full of Coke and Red Bull cans, styrofoam coffee cups, and that bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper forced on you by the wonky drink machine on the third floor. You're pretty sure the landlord shuts the building's HVAC off at 7pm - you can still smell that Dr. Pepper burp - and the flourescent lighting seems to be on some sort of irrational timer only reset by a switch forty yards away.
There are papers strewn about your office. Policy papers, spines snapped open, piled beside the HP printer. Multi-page memos folded and unfolded, underlined and highlighted, ripped at the staple thrown across the desk. Very important post-it notes with very important words piled up by the phone.
You're working on a speech on short deadline, and past drafts are spilling out of the printer. A pile of annotated pages cover the floor around the recycling bin. Every executive, assistant, advisor and smart intern has chipped in with their comments and favourite phraseology - and they went home about seven hours ago.
Still, you're in the zone. You've got some strong themes. You've got your speaker's trust. You're not tired. The ideas are popping, the words are flowing. Fatigue is only a flicker in your eyes, not a haze enveloping your thoughts.
Because you know what can happen at that point in the night: the trapeze act. Jumping from thought to thought, searching your brain for the easy transition. The speech becomes less of a work of art, and more of a compilation or synthesis.
Matthew Scully, a former Bush speechwriter, knows this is where speech writers can veer off the road:
"Another great challenge in State of the Union speeches comes around Page 10, when the entire thing can easily turn into a tedious grab bag of policy proposals. This is averted by skillful transitions. It was a point of pride that rarely have Bush speeches fallen back on artless devices like: "As we meet dangers abroad, so our work at home continues."(NYT)
Another revealing commentary comes from Bush I's chief speechwriter:
"State of the Union addresses often amount to not one but two speeches: the speech the president got stuck with, which sounds like a hodgepodge, and, somewhere inside it, the speech the president wanted to deliver, which sounds unified, authentic and complete."