What Goes Into Writing a Book?

On the 29th of May 2011, C-Span featured an interview with David McCullough.  One of the questions that particularly sparked my thinking was:  “What goes into writing a book?”  McCullough has written 8 books, and all of them are still available–check Amazon.com or your favorite bookseller for copies.

My personal favorites are his detailed and through study of  The Great Bridge (Brooklyn Bridge).   1776 a critical examination of a single, striking year in American History.  And his masterpiece biography of  Truman for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1993.   These books adorn my own shelves and give me a historical sense of well-being.

I listened intently to his answer and took notes:

This is David McCullough’s formula for research to write a book–

Read.  And re-read.

Search.  And re-search.

Draft and ask questions of librarians, of archivists, of sources.  And listen to the answers.  Draft new questions based on the first answers.

Careful and thorough study of the setting in which the story takes place–seeing and feeling and walking and smelling the “where.”  Getting closer to the time and place.  “If the man walked along the river to his work, I walked along the river, morning and night too,” McCullough said.

How is it done:  “How did he do his work?  What materials did he use?  Who did he consult with?  Did he make his own designs?” How do things happen?  Experiencing the past, to whatever degree it is possible to experience the past.

Getting closer to the people:  Who are they?  Where do they come from?  How do they relate to each other and the world which they inhabit?

The most essential element, and perhaps the glue that holds everything together, is the thinking.  Every writer must spend time thinking–that is what brings greatness to a work.  The amount of thinking the writer engages with his evidence and his experience.

And the works McCullough creates, he types himself, on a manual typewriter–an old Royal.  This essential tool is part of his creative process.  It keeps up with his thoughts and fingers.  And his recognition and book awards, as well as the reception by his readers stand testament that his process works.  For him.  And for us.

Creative minds and hearts are like that.  The environment in which the work is created is, often, as much a part of the process as the research which underlies it.   Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com

PS  And I spent Memorial Day at the cemetery with a family organization dedicating a new tombstone.  To their Pioneer Ancestor who was heading to Zion to fulfill her dream of a new life and died along the Nebraska trail.  She lies buried alone there “near a lone pine tree.”  The day became beautiful as the sun penetrated the clouds and the rain finally stopped for a pace.  Hope your Memorial Day was memorable too.



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