Why is writing important to you and why do you think it's an important medium for the world?
Thanks to an encouraging teacher, I wrote my first play and poems in the fourth grade and have been writing in one form or another ever since. The written word reveals us to others and the act of writing reveals others to us. Aside from touch it's probably our most intimate form of communication.
What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer's block?
An old reporter once told me his trick was to simply put a piece of paper in the typewriter and start writing. Anything. After a few paragraphs of what was sometimes pure whimsy, he could concentrate on what he needed to write under deadline pressure. Some advice I read was "seat of the pants to the seat of the chair" and "don't get it right, get it written." I've found a combination of all three work for me.
What is your favorite time to write?
Mid-afternoon until early evening. I used to be one of those all-night writers, starting at eight or nine and going until three or four in the morning. But now my desk looks out at Pikes Peak so I take advantage of the daylight hours.
What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received and would like to impart to other writers?
My late agent, Mike Hamilburg, once told me that writing is re-writing. I was complaining about changes an editor wanted and he reminded me gently that it's a profession where you need to hear what others think about your work, whether they're the people in your writers' group or a workshop, or trusted friends, or agents and editors looking at your manuscript. Mike taught me to absorb a critique, take in the meaning of critical comments, and be grateful for pointers that made my writing better. It's not always easy advice to follow and I still bristle at having to cut lines and pages I think are great, but Mike's advice has made my work better.
What excites you most about being a writer in today's age?
Being a writer today is both exciting and challenging. There have never been more avenues open for writers to be published and to get their stories told. For a non-fiction writer like me, it's never been so easy to do research as it is now. I used to have to order rare, out-of-print books, travel to search through archives, and wait weeks for material to arrive in the mail. Now I can accomplish much of my research without leaving my office. Not everything is available online, and sometimes the feel and smell of a musty document does more to conjure a person or era than a digital scan could ever convey. I still travel to the places I write about no matter how much video or other information is on the Internet, and I prefer the inside of art museums over virtual tours. But it's exciting to have so much at our fingertips, constantly feeding our imaginations, and to have our own work available to people who we might never have reached without today's technologies. When I search my titles on the Internet, I get a real sense of satisfaction when something I wrote decades ago shows up as a footnote in a doctoral thesis or is cited in a new book. In the past only acclaimed writers knew their work had impact. Now all of us can find out if our work is making a difference, even with books that have a small audience. And that's fun!
John B. Roberts II's Reagan's Cowboys: Inside the 1984 Reelection Campaign's Secret Operation Against Geraldine Ferraro is out now with McFarland.