How Does a Political Reporter Write a Memoir? First, Read Books. A Lot of Books.

Feb 16, 2018 · 39 comments
Yaj (NYC)
Well, having read Ms Chozick's book--"Chasing Hillary", it's pretty clear that Ms Chozick didn't bother to read the most famous book on the 2016 Hillary campaign: "Shattered". As for visiting a foreign land, that I believe Ms Chozick did, one where Westchester County New York is either west of the Hudson River, or the sun rises in the west. It's a sort of fanciful description of a Westchester that does not exist on any map that Ms Chozick puts on page 9. This same strange land has lead coming from the Flint Michigan river and contaminating Flint's drinking water. This later in the book more serious error suggests that Ms Chozick really wasn't paying much attention to Hillary Clinton or Flint Michigan. Not the only metal mistake Chozick makes, she seems think a rental car (hers for the week) was made out of aluminum. Very few cars are made of aluminum, perhaps the Acura NSX. The Ford F150 is. Now, I do think that Ms Chozick has driven a car in New Hampshire, since yes the state has many traffic circles--a fact she remarks upon. I'd like Ms Chozick to have explained what she planned to tell her son (and any other future children) regards her part in working to elect Donald Trump. I hope for her sake, that Ms Chozick can tell her child she was in the right place and did the right thing on Feb. 15th 2003. It was a Sunday, such activity would help balance the horror that she helped to inflict upon the USA.
Richie (Los Angeles)
Thank you, Amy, for writing about reading and writing, sharing your story of growing up and working as a reporter, and the daily commitment and effort serious writing requires. I do wonder about how many books will be left unread when I am called to leave this Earth. Seems like time slips away and there are many more books to read, more words to write. Each day a new day, though, for both.
Beth Kephart (Philadelphia)
A beautiful list. In the final pages of Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, a memoir guide, I write about some 80 additional memoirs, true memoirs as opposed to autobiography, that might also inspire you. In my (free) monthly memoir newsletter, Juncture Notes, I interview the best working memoirists of our time who speak with great depth about how these books get made. Just in case you are looking for more to read.
Marcia (Texas)
Amy, your wit is biting, your intellect immense ... and you're from San Antonio. Wish you the best!
Michael Judge (Washington DC)
You have nailed it. When I wrote my book ("The Dance of Time: a History of the Calendar"), I was working full time at the Capitol and fretted that I would never be able to do it in the evenings. But I remembered the priceless advice of the great Gene Wolfe, who claimed that writing while otherwise employed would be a relief from actual labor. He was correct, but I soon learned that writing is indeed a very fraught and lonely country; and your essay was so true, so terrific, so funny, so grand! Thanks pal!
Montesin (Boston)
I have written and published the best biography I could find: my own. To convince me of the ethical and non-narcissistic component of the task I followed this definition: "Autobiographies are personal descriptions of the most significant events in one’s history. They aren’t, although can be, a selfish leap concluding and announcing that we’re special or better than the rest of the world. But in reality, they are no more than chronicles of a simple surprise: realizing one day that we’ve arrived at a point in life different from what we anticipated even if we had dreamed of it. It may be the heroic acts of a coward or the spineless behavior of the brave. Based on that definition, my story certainly qualified. So far I have not found any arguments.
Reuben Ryder (New York)
With everything written, why aren't we smarter as a country, as a people, as a society? Hmmm! Perhaps, each generation has to learn for itself in order to achieve emotiona maturity, and this is the part that has dropped out of the equation, at least, in this country. What a sad state of affairs, in more way than ones, twos and threees.
Paul La Rosa (Brooklyn)
David Carr was right. You need to get out of the daily reporter’s mindset to write a book. And btw, you should read my memoir, ‘leaving story avenue; my journey from the projects to the front page.’ Been there, done that! :)
Michael Ebner (Lake Forest, IL)
Amy Chozick is spot on. Authors, in the process of writing their books, need to read other books for inspiration and consolation. Some 50+ years ago, as a graduate student in American history, I attended a panel discussion organized by one of my professors. What remains foremost in my mind was his advice that "writing" and "reading" go hand-in-hand. Over a lifetime of writing and teaching American history, I have remained steadfast to the foregoing advice. I read not only constantly but also broadly, mixing fiction, non-fiction, and biographies. Five books that have inspired me are . . . #1: Ian Baruma, "There Promised Land: My Grandparents in Live and War" #2: Hasia R. Diner, "Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World" #3: Jules Tygiel, "Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy" #4: Henry Roth, "Call in Sleep" #5: Daniel Walker Howe, "What Hath God Wrought?"
heyomania (doylestown, pa)
Why bother. The Hill was a horrible candidate who barely beat Bernie and lost to a cartoon. End of story.
Richard Martin (Sharon, MA)
I think you've missed the writer's point entirely.
Martin Daly (San Diego, California)
The best way for a political reporter to write a memoir is to have the incentive that it will be published and reviewed widely. In turn, the best way to do that is to be a reporter for the New York Times.
jamespep (Washington)
What ! No Samuel Pepys ! Even the “Shorter Pepys” version of his diary takes you through his 10-year odyssey as he gradually wakes up to his Policy is formulated, how insiders competed to hold the attention of the leader, and how the leader played their ambition off each other, the recognition of having drastically underestimated someone who’s world of experience is entirely unknown to you (William Penn’s father), and the cost of supporting a mentor and advocate when that mentor makes a terrible mistake and the cost of supporting the new mentor when that mentor is punished for being right. Most of all the gap between thinking you know what path and purpose you are on and then what is really going on. This is a political book from the staffer’s perspective, the staffer who starts out with a whim and a lark and unexpected luck, and ends with the staffer a supremely accomplished #1 administrator of Britain’s #1 economic and political asset, the Royal Navy.
Jeff Keehr (Nashville)
Dr. Johnson said that a writer had to turn over half a library to write a book. He forgot to mention interviews.
AM (Denton, TX)
Did I understand correctly -- the author went on leave last February, with 100,000 words expected by fall? With so much reading, too? It still sounds like the caffeinated journalist's life, to me.
Richard Martin (Sharon, MA)
Maybe, but it's not That the time is spent, it's How the time is spent.
Chris (Albuquerque)
Best of luck with the book. And thanks for the great reading list. I, too, love books.
Hisannah (SeaPlane Cove)
Yes, the reading list! Made to feel inadequate once again! Cliff notes for me. Too many... Great essay, thanks a lot.
MattNg (NY, NY)
This is great advice, not matter the ultimate goal: "Read Books. A Lot of Books". Though I keep thinking of my third grade teacher who asked me what is the "lot" of the "a lot" I had written in a homework ("Is it a parking lot? What kind of 'lot' is it?"), this is great advice no matter your ultimate goal.
Tommy Weir (Ireland)
Thank you. Bookmarking this. David Carr, maestro.
DIdi Hoffman (GA)
For the last five years I was wrapped in the isolated cocoon of writing a book (which will finally launch in several weeks) A biography, My process was just like yours. I wrote from 7am -1ish. I did my research and edits the rest of the day. My best discoveries came at 4am after hours of goggling information on my iPhone in bed when I should have been sleeping . (I did have to work other jobs too and also survived a two year battle with cancer in the middle). My friends enjoyed reading the latest best- sellers but I felt guilty for reading anything unless related to my subject. I also lost many friends who no longer wanted to hear about my research! My daily goal was 1000 words and I wrote so many drafts I lost count. My muse was relentless in pushing and kicking me to keep writing and get her story right. 70,000 words later came my final page and the moment brought me to tears. I do miss the constant pressure and especially my muse’s presence. It was no small thing to write a book, and to anyone who has gone through the process of self inflicted isolation, determination and obsessive thinking, I say bravo!!
Dot (New York)
Good luck with the book! When you next feel a sense of "self-inflicted isolation" during a project, we are always here for you.
Chuck Reece (Clarkston, Georgia)
Aw, my lord. This is beautiful. Bless you for writing this.
Eileen (Long Island.)
Nice.
brupic (nara/greensville)
i wonder if carr meant americans are too provincial and needed to broaden their horizons so they didn't believe the usa=the planet. the 'only in america' mantra isn't true in so many ways that carr wanted americans to realize that reality.
Cythera Oarin (California)
I would surmise he was speaking of a literary ‘country of the mind.’
Marilyn Sue Michel (Los Angeles, CA)
I read about 60 memoirs while writing my own story. There are a lot of memoirs out there. Best to put some parameters on what you read, or you will never finish. It's so much easier to read someone else's book than to write your own
Robert Bott (Calgary)
One more for the reading list would be Larry McMurtry's little volume about story telling--Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond (1999).
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
The classic American political novel is "All the King's Men".
Bob (ny)
A great article. And no better helpmate, it seems, than David Carr. If it was a memoir you wanted, you could have read Night of the Gun. Maybe that would have answered your query.
Ed (Old Field, NY)
Maybe you became Hillary Clinton’s Nathan of Gaza, so to speak. That is a danger for the journalist or biographer.
gary daily (Terre Haute, IN)
How many "creative non-fiction" courses are being taught in colleges across the nation today? Let's just say not enough Starbucks exist to keep the interns fueled. But the real fuel is reading. Writers should read and read widely. If they did, we wouldn't get so much of this first sentence, first page, write what you know, copy coming out in blizzards of sameness.
Dave Thomas (Montana)
I love stories where people describe their love of books and the books they’ve read. Many commentators said the same thing of about a recent The Times interview with Philip Roth, where Roth told us of his current reading. So Amy Chozick, from one voracious reader to another, thank you.
Bing Ding Ow (27514)
Amy, the 2016 election was so disjointed -- both major political parties hating on Mr. Comey, the Supreme One -- I watched "The Three Stooges" episodes as a reality check. Something to consider ..
Ethel (NYC)
Covering Hillary Clinton's quest for the coronation for an entire decade must have been absolutely enervating, It's no wonder the author found writing her memoir to be so difficult. Searching for inspiration in literary fiction and nonfiction to make up for the utter lack of inspiration displayed in both Hillary's campaigns was probably the only way for Amy Chozick to come up with the requisite 100,000 words. And to have to give up caffeine shots in the process? Must have been a hell on earth. But congratz on the new baby! And good luck with curling up with a lot more good books for the next 18 years - unless reading "Good Night Moon" aloud 1,000 times sounds like a mind-blower you can believe in. One quibble with this Insiderish piece: to compare the self-serving boilerplate "memoirs" of politicians unfavorably with Obama's "Dreams From My Father" is kind of unfair, like comparing apples with oranges. His own boilerplate political manifesto came later in the much less-compelling "Audacity of Hope." I look forward to reading Amy Chozick's book. I trust that it won't be as much of a joyless slog to read as it apparently was for her to write.
cloudette (Los Angeles)
"quest for coronation." you need to examine your unconscious bias.
jamespep (Washington)
How tacky, and oblivious.
Third.coast (Earth)
[[cloudette Los Angeles "quest for coronation." you need to examine your unconscious bias.]] Clinton was lazy and entitled. It's why she lost.
Mondo Wav (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)
Looking forward to your book! Definitely feel you on the difficulty of striking a balance between pumping out actual work and drawing in sweet, sweet inspiration!
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