The Obama memoir: Why did it taken him so long to write it?

From a New York Times story by Ian Prasad Philbrick headlined “Yes, the Obama Memoir Took a While to Write”:

The wait is over for the first volume of Barack Obama’s presidential memoirs, “A Promised Land,” which came out on Tuesday.

But as a slew of articles calling the book’s arrival “long-awaited” and “highly anticipated” suggest, it was a considerable wait. Obama took three years and 10 months to publish — longer than any other American president in the last century. . . .

What accounts for Obama’s comparatively slow pace? A look at how he crafted his memoir, and how past presidents approached theirs, suggests some answers.

First, Obama’s book is long. While he “initially planned to write a 500-page memoir and be done in a year,” The Times’s Jennifer Szalai explained in a review, the book ended up stretching nearly 800 pages and taking more than three times longer to complete. And that’s just volume one. . . .

Even so, other presidents have published similarly lengthy memoirs in less time. Bill Clinton’s “My Life” appeared less than three and a half years after he left the White House and weighed in at around 1,000 pages. Harry Truman published the first installment of his two-volume memoirs a full year faster than Obama published his.

Obama’s meticulous approach — and insistence on writing the book himself — offers a second clue. “Obama is a genuine literary stylist,” said Jonathan Alter, the author of two books about the 44th president. “And anybody who has ever tried to be one knows that it can be like squeezing blood from a stone.”

In an Atlantic interview, Obama confessed to laboring for hours over single paragraphs. “As I understand it, he writes in a very classic way,” said Peter Osnos, who in 1995 published “Dreams From My Father,” Obama’s first memoir. . . .“He sits down with a pen and a pad.”

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”. . . .

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