Last weekend was a blur of quad espressos, 18-hour work sessions, little sleep and headphones jammed so deep in my ears for so long I'm surprised I got them out again. Why? Responding to my editor's comments and changes to the manuscript for my forthcoming book, Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance.
20,000 words, one reformatted chapter and two completely overhauled chapters later, and the book is in production. To quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "And there was much rejoicing."
So I could concentrate, I split my time between a local Starbucks - where I shamelessly hogged the only big table, spreading out pages in a random order that MIT mathematicians would struggle to interpret - and Mabee Library at my alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene University. Late Sunday night, it struck me that there was something circular about finishing this process at the latter venue. In the second half of 2009, I spent many evenings hidden away in a corner of this library, poring over interlibrary loan books as I researched the background to Churchill's speech, his life in 1945 and 1946 and the people influenced by his unlikely appearance in Fulton, Missouri. Now, in September 2012, here I was again, this time trying to get past my ego and make the cuts needed to wrap up the project (more on this in the next blog post).
This got me thinking: how does location affect research and writing?
For certain texts, such as Thoreau's Walden, a certain location is essential, and could not have been any different. But what about President Obama's inauguration address, written in a Washington Starbucks by then 27-year-old Jon Favreau (not to be confused with the Iron Man director, this Favreau is one month younger than me and is the Director of Speechwriting in the White House - unbelievable!)? Did the partially overheard conversations, whir of grinding beans and whoosh of the steam wands affect the content or tone of this speech? Is David McCullough's narrative voice so consistent because he writes each book in seclusion in a modified shed, as did children's author and onetime propaganda agent Roald Dahl?
I welcome your insights and opinions, dear readers!
Postscript: I realized, after re-reading the piece on Favreau in The Guardian (linked to above) that James Fallows of The Atlantic was the same age as Favreau when appointed head speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. Fascinating.
Citations: Source for Mabee Library picture: MidAmerica Nazarene University
Source for David McCullough image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
These two entities hold the copyright to the images.