David Maraniss’s Daily Writing Plan

People who accomplish great things, and how they do it.
Jan. 23 2013 12:47 PM

How I Finished Barack Obama’s Biography

David Maraniss on the final 40-day push to meet a deadline.

David Maraniss's Barack Obama: The Story.
David Maraniss's Barack Obama: The Story.

Simon and Shuster Paperbacks/Amazon.com

 After two and a half years of research and a year of writing, I could at last see how I might make it to the end of the manuscript that would become Barack Obama: The Story. On the morning of Sept. 14, 2011—a few days after arranging a final interview with President Obama at the White House—I turned to the hard-paper artist’s pad that I always keep next to me on my desk as I’m writing and scratched out a day-by-day plan for the final 40 days to meet my deadline.* I never miss deadlines.

Even then, as the book neared its end, I was getting new information. I never stop reporting until the book is going to print. So in this sprint to the end I was adding things here and there to Chapter 9, reshaping Chapters 16 and 17 to accommodate new information, and finishing the second half of the 21,000-word Chapter 18, before spending another week at the end in a last round of fact-checking and polishing.  Forty days virtually nonstop, from 6 a.m.  to 10 p.m. many days, with one day off to play golf and watch football, and two days away to give speeches in Fond du Lac and Milwaukee, Wisc.  In those 40 days, I finished two chapters and polished the rest. I wrote the final paragraph on Oct. 23, a Sunday. I have written 10 books, and the feelings at the end are the same every time: exhaustion, relief, joy, and somehow surprise—not emptiness but shock that the work is over.

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Courtesy David Maraniss.

Correction, Jan. 23, 2013: This article originally misstated the timing of Maraniss' final interview with Barack Obama. (Return.)

David Maraniss is the author of critically acclaimed bestselling books on Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi, Vietnam and the ’60s, Roberto Clemente, and the 1960 Rome Olympics. He won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Clinton, was part of a Washington Post team that won the 2007 Pulitzer for coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy, and has been a Pulitzer finalist three other times.

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