How I Finished Barack Obama’s Biography

David Maraniss on the final 40-day push to meet a deadline.

David Maraniss's Barack Obama: The Story.
David Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story.

Simon and Shuster Paperbacks/

 After two and a half years of research and a year of writing, I could at last see how I might make it to the end of the manuscript that would become Barack Obama: The Story. On the morning of Sept. 14, 2011—a few days after arranging a final interview with President Obama at the White House—I turned to the hard-paper artist’s pad that I always keep next to me on my desk as I’m writing and scratched out a day-by-day plan for the final 40 days to meet my deadline.* I never miss deadlines.

Even then, as the book neared its end, I was getting new information. I never stop reporting until the book is going to print. So in this sprint to the end I was adding things here and there to Chapter 9, reshaping Chapters 16 and 17 to accommodate new information, and finishing the second half of the 21,000-word Chapter 18, before spending another week at the end in a last round of fact-checking and polishing.  Forty days virtually nonstop, from 6 a.m.  to 10 p.m. many days, with one day off to play golf and watch football, and two days away to give speeches in Fond du Lac and Milwaukee, Wisc.  In those 40 days, I finished two chapters and polished the rest. I wrote the final paragraph on Oct. 23, a Sunday. I have written 10 books, and the feelings at the end are the same every time: exhaustion, relief, joy, and somehow surprise—not emptiness but shock that the work is over.

Courtesy David Maraniss.

Correction, Jan. 23, 2013: This article originally misstated the timing of Maraniss’ final interview with Barack Obama. (Return.)