Truth is, when it comes to books—and certainly when it comes to biography—pure writing ability ranks about fourth on the importance list.
No. 1, without any question: Research skills.
In the course of completing Sweetness, I probably spent two years just digging and digging and digging into Walter Payton’s life—and six months writing. This isn’t just a matter of traveling to Mississippi and Chicago and talking to people. It’s the grind behind the grind: Standing alongside a copy machine for five … six … seven … eight days. Thumbing through yellowed, mildewed archives in the basement of some nowhere library in some nowhere town. Tracking down phone numbers that haven’t been called for years; researching people who, post-sports, vanished into the abyss. It’s a grind. An absolute grind.
And yet, it’s what I love most about writing books. When I was a young punk, coming up at The Tennessean, I knew nothing of reporting. I was sloppy and arrogant, and thought smooth sentences were enough. Well, they’re not.
I’ve been working on my new project for about two months—and I have yet to conduct an interview. It’s been all clip digging, day after day after day. Come midnight, I’m exhausted, and my hands are coated in newsprint.
I love it.