Did you catch President Obama’s final State of the Union address?

I did not.

I played hooky to chat with the commander in chief of the Post family…my mom – whose encouraging words helped me resolve a conflict in my head…peacefully.

Am I excused?

Regardless, I grabbed the Cliff Notes the next day from the TODAY show and remembered…

I caught a segment on SOTU morning that calmed the crazy lady in my head, known as my writer’s mind. Magic!

How so?

Because like many writers, I spend waayyy too much time in my own head. Luckily, catching a glimpse into another writer’s world helps calm my crazy AND enjoy my own writing journey.

If this helps you too, join me for a sneak peek into the world of Cody Keenan, President Obama’s chief speechwriter, as he shares his SOTU journey. Along the way, you’ll also catch glimpses of my writing world. You’ve been warned ;-)

The beginning – facing the blank page

What does Keenan do when he first faces the blank page?

Turns cartwheels and cheers, “Holy Cow! I get to write the State of the Union address. This. Is. Awesome!”

Fast forward an hour…Total panic! Lapping up spilled Malbec and tears from the keyboard while uttering things like, “I can’t do it. The poor idiot who tapped me for this is soooo fired, too!”


That’s how my overactive imagination paints me facing this assignment. Luckily, this isn’t Keenan’s first SOTU. It’s his fourth. So….

What does Keenan feel as he faces the blank page?

“An equal mix of hope and fear. Fear in that you won’t know what to say. Hope in that you can make it into something nice.” ~Cody Keenan, Chief Speechwriter for President Barack Obama

Sound like your experience?

Before I face the blank page, I’m excited. I scribble tons of notes in a drawing pad or on scratch paper, but…

As I create a new text doc, a light clicks on cueing my ideas to make like roaches and scatter. I cling to my notes, hoping I can create something helpful. Makes me wonder…

How do Keenan’s and your words first hit the page? Fluidly with some structure? Or as a mix of half thoughts, fragments and gazillion-word sentences? (Also known as my first draft.)

The middle – running across the Sahara ____ times

How long do you think it takes Keenan to craft the 6,000 word address?

Hint: Longer than it takes elite runners to run across the Sahara desert in the Marathon des Sables. Got a guess?

2 months. That breaks down to about 750 words a week. A runner would have to repeat the Sahara’s 6-day race more times than the mathematician in my head can calculate.

Ha! Take that 10-Tunner! He’s my inner-critic who loves to tell me I’m too slow to be a real writer. Yet, I manage to log at least 1,000 words per week for Write 50.

I know. I know. I pen blog posts, not presidential speeches. But the perfectionist in my head won’t let me unleash any content on you until it’s polished to the point she can see her reflection in it. Anyway. Back to Keenan…

Do you think he recovers from marathon writing sessions and meetings with President Obama by binge watching Veep or House of Cards?

Maybe he decompresses at a DC area rock climbing gym. Makes sense. For me climbing fixes anything Netflix can’t.

Or perhaps he opts for your go-to decompression method.

The end – tweaking ’til deadline

Check this out…

Several little birds told me some bloggers pen 5 posts in a day – building an arsenal of polished content that’s ready to be sent online in a moments notice. I can’t imagine doing this without help from Cinderella’s fairy godmother and talking mice.

What’s in my arsenal? A note in the Stickies app on my mac. It’s full of seed ideas that are ready to be called on for a week-long bootcamp. That means I’m tweaking ’til the nano-second before I hit publish.

If this sounds like you, we’re not alone…

During his TODAY show interview, Keenan revealed that he’d be tweaking the President’s address until midafternoon on State of the Union Tuesday. That’s on the heels of a 48-hour binge-writing session.

Guess where this session took place?

If you guessed the West Wing…nope. Keenan pens the address in his windowless office located in the basement of the White House.

Comparatively, I’m spoiled. I get to write from the couch-side “office” in my naturally lit apartment.

How about you? Where do you polish your prose?

Bonus – The scariest part

While fact-checking this post, I read a tie-in article in which Keenan reveals what scares him during the SOTU journey…

“The scariest part is clicking send, you know, when I send it to him.” ~Cody Keenan

That would terrify me. I close my eyes and hold my breath as I send a freshly-hatched post or game into the online world. Puts things into perspective. Yet makes me wonder…

Which would Keenan find scarier, submitting SOTU to President Obama or peeps on social media?

Based on the unfiltered, sometimes hateful comments I’ve seen online, I’d guess he’d prefer to send it to Obama.

How about you? What’s the scariest part of your writing journey?

With that, we’ve reached the end of our sneak peek into Cody Keenan’s SOTU world. I hope this helped you embrace your writing journey. Or at least smile at the challenge.

Wanna help fellow Write 50 crew members embrace theirs? I double-dog dare you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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