A recent tribute to David McCullough in “The New York Times,” he revealed some of the techniques he used to create his intensely alive and readable books. People around d the world loved them and turned them into bestsellers. McCullough also won two Pulitzer for his biographies “Truman” and “John Adams. All this wonderful writing took time: His Adams book was seven years in the making and “Truman” took him a decade to complete. A few highlights of his writing approach:
“I think of writing history as an art form,” Mr. McCullough said in “Painting With Words,” a 2008 HBO documentary. “And I’m striving to write a book that might — might — qualify as literature. I don’t want it just to be readable. I don’t want it just to be interesting. I want it to be something that moves the reader. Moves me.”
He totally immersed himself in his writing, inhabiting his characters the way an actor does in preparing for a big role. For “The Great Bridge,” he grew a beard, like the engineer Washington Roebling. When he was writing “Truman,” he began taking brisk early morning walks.
“People often ask me if I’m working on a book,” he observed in a
1992 “The New York Times” interview. “That’s not how I feel. I feel like I work in a book. It’s like putting myself under a spell. And this spell, if you will, is so real to me that if I have to leave my work for a few days, I have to work myself back into the spell when I come back. It’s almost like hypnosis.”
“The reward of the work has always been the work itself, and more so the longer I’ve been at it. The days are never long enough, and I’ve kept the most interesting company imaginable with people long gone.”
I love the idea of “working in a book,”not on a book, don’t you? It captures that feeling of being totally entranced and engaged by your subject. And how wonderful to find such satisfaction in your work that the work itself rewards you! Wonderful insights to ponder and apply as we all write on!
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