This morning I finished a draft of Chapter 4 in a chapter-book biography of a fellow I’ll call Smith. It’s been slow going, and not just because I’m a poky writer. I’ve got a knack for stringing quotes together, but Smith — as fascinating a character as he was — never said much. He was taciturnity personified. I don’t know that he ever wrote a letter. He was in the public eye from his early 20s until his mid-80s and didn’t even give a published interview until he was in his 50s. After that, what he did have to say was not terribly introspective, and fairly inarticulate.
Contrast that with another biography subject I’ve been working on. We’ll call this other guy James. James wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Also in the public eye from his early 20s to his mid-80s, James came in writing and kept it up until nearly the end — books, magazine articles, radio shows, documentaries, and massive amounts of letters. Lately I’ve been reading letters he wrote as a teenager — the actual letters, not reproductions — and feeling infinitely more like a historian than I ever did while pursuing my B.A. in history at the University of Texas.
What’s most interesting to me is how spending a lunch hour researching James seems to fuel me up for writing about Smith the next morning. I just wonder how, once I finish writing about Smith, I’ll ever manage to organize all the material I’ve been able to gather for the next draft of my manuscript on James.