I have a dream

(advice for writers from the speech)

Today is the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s speech “I have a dream” which he gave at the Lincoln Memorial, 1963.

This was not actually the first time King had presented these ideas. Like many writers, MLK had gone through several drafts. He’d had conversations to spark ideas. He’d listened to others at protests and studied the words of those who had spoken on similar ideas. He gathered these together and voiced some as thoughts from his church pulpit. Each was a little piece, a singular idea expressed and explored, the words revised and the message rhetorically refined.

When he was called upon to give voice to the list of frustrations and dreams of the people all at once: standing at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he raised his voice and all the small thoughts came together in one powerful, rousing message:

There are several points that make this speech so successful as a piece of writing:

  1. Personalized: I have a dream – not just for you, but for myself, for all of us, for his daughters and sons, and everyone’s grandchildren.
  2. Vivid imagery: “Bank of justice” “promissory note” “insufficient funds” “a bad check.”
  3. Aware of its time and place: Four score… (standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, invoking Lincoln’s most famous speech)
  4. Hearkening back: “When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note” — “that all men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
  5. unflinching with truth: “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”
  6. and creating a “call to action”: “Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy” “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands” “Now is the time to make justice a reality”

Each of these are important tools for every writer. Even writing fiction, choosing the best details gives your fictional setting history, time and gravitas that will vividly engage the reader’s imagination. Build and define characters with conviction and the determination to carry through struggle to achieve “universally” personal dreams of love, acceptance, self-definition, or success.

However, the last and best piece of advice for writers is the one many forget but that I first mentioned: the speech given on April 28, 1963 was not King’s first draft.

To truly become the best writer you can be: talk to other writers, read other writers, and also just sit and listen to people giving voice to their thoughts. Doing all of these things will immeasurably enrich your writing. You will increase your ability to clearly express your own thoughts and connect to readers.

~ Lara

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