Biographer Robert Caro’s books are marathon-long, though very much worth the time it takes to read them. His laceration of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker,” is almost 1300 pages. In a wonderful interview published in The New York Review of Books, Caro notes:
The finished version I gave to my editor […] was about 1,050,000 words. That was a polished finished version, not a draft. The book you read is roughly 700,000 words […] the maximum that [my publisher] Knopf’s production people felt they could get into a trade book.
At the time, I asked, “Can’t we do it in two volumes?” Bob Gottlieb [my editor] answered, “I might get people interested in Robert Moses once. I could never get them interested in him twice.”
The amount of research – reporting, reading, interviewing, digging, and corroborating – that goes into Caro’s books is gargantuan. I literally cannot imagine how a person can get such work all done with such intelligence. Surely, then, he must *write* with unbelievable speed. No.
My first three or four drafts are handwritten on legal pads. For later drafts, I use a typewriter. I write by hand to slow myself down.
I’m a very fast writer, but I want to write slowly.
When I was a student at Princeton. I took a creative writing course with the literary critic R.P. Blackmur. Every two weeks, I’d give him a short story I’d produced usually at the last minute. At the end of the semester, he said some complimentary words about my writing, and then added, “Mr. Caro, one thing is going to keep you from achieving what you want—you think with your fingers.”