The Four Stages of Authorship

By Michael Putzel


Michael Putzel in the AP’s Saigon bureau in 1970.

Writing a book is not like journalism. For one thing, it takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer.

In a four-decade career in news, I wrote on tight deadlines and with no excuses for a story that didn’t get done on time. Then I decided to write a book, a work of nonfiction that involved reporting techniques I had practiced for years. It turned out to be a complex process that required a number of course changes along the way. I discovered there are several stages of authorship.

1. The first is, “Oh, he’s writing a book.” Cheerful and full of expectation.

2. Then, after a while, it becomes, “He’s working on a book.”

3. When people stop asking how the book’s going, you’ve moved into, “He says he’s working on a book.”

4. And at some point you realize that even among your best friends the book has become a euphemism for a project you once said you wanted to do but never got around to finishing.

Fair enough for a book that I thought would take two years and actually took more like six. For those who long ago quit bugging me about it, The Price They Paid: Enduring Wounds of War has been published.

And as of July 2015, I am not writing, working on, or even thinking about another book. Yet.
Michael Putzel covered the Vietnam War, Watergate, the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, and the fall of communism from Moscow during his career with the Associated Press and Boston Globe.

Several years after he left daily journalism, he attended the funeral of an air cavalry troop commander he had flown with 38 years earlier in Vietnam. At the funeral, he learned that the commander, a legend because he would never leave anyone behind, came home from the war, walked out on his wife, left his two teenage sons behind, and never spoke to the boys again.

Putzel set out to try to understand what had changed the remarkable leader he had known in combat. He found that it wasn’t just the commander; the men who flew with him all had problems after the war, some due to physical wounds, others who crashed emotionally. The resulting book, The Price They Paid, Enduring Wounds of War, was published in April.



  1. Excellent blog you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find
    high quality writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate people like you!
    Take care!!

Speak Your Mind