Robert Caro on Writing: “Thought Takes Time. Truth Takes Time.”

From a review, by Harold Evans, in the 4/21/19 New York Times Book Review of Robert Caro’s book, Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing:

At Princeton the acerbic literary critic R. P. Blackmur precisely identified a course correction for his undergraduate short-story aspirant: “You’re never going to achieve what you want to, Mr. Caro, if you don’t stop thinking with your fingers.” What Blackmur meant was that Mr. Caro couldn’t just type “The young congressman Lyndon Johnson’s rural electrification program was a boon” and leave it at that. He had to work out how Johnson got it done and won the adulation of more than 200,000  Texas Hill Country people — what their lives had been like working “dark to dark” before “the lights” arrived at their isolated homes, with maybe 30 miles of dirt road to the next place.

Caro is steeped in humility. He took Blackmur’s advice. He slowed down. Thought takes time. Truth takes time. When the research had filled in the blanks, he compiled first drafts in longhand, second and third and fourth drafts, too, and on a Smith-Corona Electra 210, writing 1,000 words a day. Philip Larkin observed that “someone will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious.” This is what Caro responded to. One sometimes feels he might have followed a religious career, but the origin of his empathy is more prosaic. He discovered within himself a redemptive hunger that still perplexes him even after decades of literary and popular triumph. He can’t stop asking questions. He suspects that behind every answer there is another question. Most good reporters I know have a full quiver of “whys?” but Caro is insatiable. He is incapable of dispensing bromides.

From the story, “A Hunter Snares His Esteemed Quarry at Last,” by John Koblin, in the 4/21/19 New  York Times Sunday Styles section about Conan O’Brien interviewing Robert Caro:

The conversation tilted toward President Trump.

“You don’t know if this is an aberration or not, if Trump is something outside, and he’s going to lose, and we’ll forget,” Mr. Caro said. “Or is he the first of the mad Roman emperors.”. . .

The host then asked Mr. Caro if he agreed with Ernest Hemingway’s comment that a writer should not “exhaust the fuel tank in one writing session,” so that it’s easier to start again the next day.

“Yes, and you’re the first person that ever mentioned that,” Mr. Caro said, before noting that he had written his thesis at Princeton on Hemingway.

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