What a Speechwriter Does in a Workday

Welcome to The Work Day, a series that chronicles a single day in the professional lives of diverse women – from gallerists to stay-at-home parents to CEOs. In this episode, we hear from Krithika Varagur, a speechwriter who logged a day job in February.

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Job title: Senior Speechwriter at Fenway Strategies

Previous jobs: Workplace Columnist at the Wall Street Journal (2020-2021); author of “The Call: Inside the Global Saudi Religious Project” (2018-2020); freelance journalist and foreign correspondent (2016-2020)

Which led me to my current position: Ben Krauss, who runs Fenway, contacted me last year via email. Until then, I had worked mainly as a journalist and foreign correspondent – but, given the influence of the figure of President Obama when I came of age, I was certainly familiar with this company, which was founded by his former presidential speechwriters.

Although I had dabbled in speech writing and communications, I didn’t think it was in the cards for me to do it full time, but Ben said he thought my journalism background was an asset. for his business work, and that my other writing skills were transferable, and he was right. As part of my interview process, which included two writing tests, I met virtually everyone at the company, which now has around 15 people, all entirely remotely. I knew I wanted to work with them right away. I joined the team last October and it has been a huge privilege to work here ever since.

How I spend most of my working day: Fenway has been remote since the beginning, long before the pandemic, so they have operations down to a science. We’re a small start-up, so everything is organized with dedicated software: Monday.com to track homework, Slack for most communications, Google Docs to edit all our speeches. Most people are online from around 9am to 5:30pm, but some people may stay online a few hours earlier or later when we are working on specific assignments. (And my colleagues are in at least three different time zones every day.)

When given a project, I usually start with a call or video chat with our client, then discuss it with a colleague, write it up, and finally share it with the whole team. Anywhere from another person to the entire company will help edit text for both form and content – something we often call “Fenway magic”. It’s amazing how these tracked changes add up, as they invariably leave the text in a better place than it started.

Speech writing is certainly not a lonely endeavor. I always feel lucky that so many smart people have their eyes on every document we send out – especially because I’m the least experienced speechwriter, yet. We may have more emails and calls for other rounds of edits, so lather/rinse/repeat until it’s “shipped”.

8:30 a.m.: I stumble out of bed and immediately pull two shots of espresso from my Nespresso machine. Really not a morning person. I open Slack and email; nothing yet. I click German flashcards on this app called Anki – I just started learning – until the caffeine hits my bloodstream.

9:30 a.m.: My boyfriend wakes up and goes back to Manhattan. He never sets off an alarm because he doesn’t have a 9 to 5 job, which I think is one of the last real luxuries.

10:15 a.m.: My colleague Kat shares a draft of an editorial on Slack that she needs to send back to our client by the end of the day. We have a dedicated channel for each customer. I do a light edit pass using track changes.

11 a.m.: I have a quest bar. I don’t really cook. Some have called my eating habits at work despicable, and I wouldn’t argue with that; I would just add that they have fueled me for seven years of working remotely, in a few different countries. I wander into the kitchen every hour or two to grab something, which today also includes a buttered English muffin, two boiled eggs with chili oil, an arugula salad, an apple and a Coke Light.

12 p.m.: My colleague Sammy has shared a draft speech plan with us, and I leave some suggestions for comment. I have to admit, it took me a few weeks to feel confident enough to suggest edits to someone else, but I slowly got the hang of it by watching how my colleagues edited my own work.

12:30 p.m.: time for our weekly general check-in meeting on Google Meet, where we go over the assignments everyone is working on and ask about everyone’s lives. Several of my colleagues have written books in recent years, for example, which I think reflects our generous work culture.

1 p.m.: I’m sending a direct message to my co-worker Adam about the timeline for a draft we owe to a client; he says it’s been pushed back to next week. I keep tabs on anything assigned to me on Monday.com as it can pile up, especially during busy times like debut season.

2 p.m.: I worked with another colleague, Kyle, to draft some supply chain talking points for one of our other clients. He made the last round of edits, so I clean up the document and then share it with Kat, who is the most experienced of us working with this client. We definitely need his eyes on this before sending him back to them, which I will do tomorrow.

3 p.m.: Because many of my friends are still working from home now, we’re trying to take advantage of co-working opportunities before anyone gets called back to the office. (That person won’t be me, because Fenway has never had an office.) I take the subway to the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, home of the Newswomen’s Club of New York, where I meet up with my friends Laura and Sophie. , respectively editor-in-chief of a newspaper and a magazine.

3:30 p.m.: I’m doing an editing pass on an op-ed for a nonprofit leader that my colleague Patricia has been working on for some time. We also engage in light speculation about Wordle’s future following its recent acquisition by The New York Times.

5:45 p.m.: I submit today’s recording as a bulleted list on Slack, where we are prompted to recap our day at 5:29 p.m. It’s a way to stay accountable in a relatively cold, decentralized workplace – and to let people know if you’re having a light week and are free to help edit more parts or take on new assignments. Miraculously, none of my friends have work spilling over into the evening, which is our cue to order a glass of wine. We also get deviled eggs, the exact kind of pass menu item that I can’t resist. There’s a great Negroni under pressure here, but none of us are up to the challenge on this particular weekday.

6 p.m.: I just had a brainwave about a track we were hoping to assign to The Drift magazine, a literary magazine that I help edit (as part of an all-volunteer team). I remember an exciting writer we zoomed with last fall might be suitable for an article we wanted to assign to pandemic-era fiction, so I write a short email offering him that, which I share with our founding editors, Rebecca and Kiara. They make some adjustments and send it.

6:30 p.m.: Sophie and I realized we were heading to the same book party tonight, so we walk down together to the loft in Soho where it’s being held. We make a dent in the hors d’oeuvres table before the room fills up, but the main event is yet to come. The book is about public monuments and the author (art crime professor Erin Thompson) had a cake made in the shape of an old Confederate monument – which she then smashes with a small mallet!

9 p.m.: Still, hours of small bites have taken their toll, and I’m consumed with thoughts of pizza. I head to Upside Pizza in a runaway state and get a plain Sicilian slice and a slice of pepperoni. They feed me for the short walk to my boyfriend’s house in the East Village. He has to take a call in another time zone before bedtime, so (after scrolling my phone for a while) I launch into “In a budding grove“, the second volume “In Search of Lost Time”, which a few friends and I are trying to read in full this year. It’s been great so far!

About Cody E. Vaughn

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