Presidential Memoirs Don’t Always Take This Long to Write


Obama also seems to have eschewed tactics embraced by other presidents who also wrote their own books. He has admitted to struggling to keep a consistent diary while in the White House, a useful aid for past presidential memoirists. Jimmy Carter drew heavily on his diaries to write “Keeping Faith,” which came out a brisk 21 months after he left office.

“His discipline allowed him to write it quickly,” said Alter, the author of a new biography of Carter. “Diaries help you speed the completion of your memoirs, and what slows them down is writing them yourself.”

Clinton took a different tack, hiring a former foreign policy speechwriter, the historian Ted Widmer, to interview him at length about his early life. Widmer then had the interviews transcribed and sent to Clinton, where they became grist as the former president wrote.

“It’s hard to look at a blank piece of paper and wonder what to say, especially if you’re a former president trying to write for millions of readers,” said Widmer, a professor at the Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. “He understood intuitively that talking was a great way to begin.”

Other presidents, such as Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, were able to publish their books faster with the help of aides and ghostwriters. Obama’s publisher, Crown, said aides assisted him with research, but he wrote the memoir himself.

Reagan’s “An American Life,” which appeared less than two years after he left office, was largely ghostwritten; Reagan had little zeal for the project. “He used to jokingly refer to it as the monkey on his back,” said Mark Weinberg, a former aide. “He didn’t want it to dominate his post-presidency life.”

Richard Nixon came the closest to surpassing Obama’s timeline, though for different reasons. Holed up in his San Clemente, Calif., property with the handful of aides who helped draft his 1978 memoir, “RN,” Nixon had to contend with litigation stemming from the Watergate scandal.



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