Obama also seems to have avoided tactics from other presidents who also wrote their own books. He admitted struggling in the White House to keep a consistent journal, a useful aid to former President’s memoir writers. Jimmy Carter relied heavily on his diaries to write “Keeping Faith,” which came out of office quickly 21 months after he left office.
“His discipline allowed him to write it quickly,” said Alter, the author of a new biography of Carter. “Diaries help you finish your memoirs faster, and what slows them down is writing them yourself.”
Clinton took a different route, hiring a former foreign policy speechwriter, historian Ted Widmer, to interview him in depth about his early life. Widmer then had the interviews transcribed and sent to Clinton, where, as the former president wrote, they became the core.
“It’s hard to look at a blank piece of paper and wonder what to say, especially when you’re a past president trying to write for millions of readers,” said Widmer, professor at Macaulay Honors College City University of New York. “He understood intuitively that speaking was a good start.”
Other presidents like Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan have been able to get their books published faster with the help of aides and ghostwriters. Obama’s publisher Crown said aides helped him research, but he wrote the memoir himself.
Reagan’s “An American Life,” which appeared less than two years after leaving office, was largely ghostly written. Reagan had little zeal for the project. “He jokingly referred to it as the monkey on his back,” said Mark Weinberg, a former adjutant. “He didn’t want it to dominate his life after the presidency.”
Richard Nixon came closest to exceeding Obama’s schedule for a variety of reasons. Nixon was on his San Clemente, California estate with a handful of aides who helped draft his memoir, “RN,” in 1978, and was grappling with legal disputes arising from the Watergate scandal.