Is it Charles McGrath, who wrote “Robert Caro’s Big Dig,” (New York Times Magazine, 12 April 2012):
It’s not writing that takes Caro so long but, rather, rewriting. In college he was such a quick and facile writer, and so speedy a typist, that one of his teachers, the critic R. P. Blackmur, once told him that he would never achieve anything until he learned to “stop thinking with his fingers,” and Caro actually tries to slow himself down these days. He doesn’t start typing—on an old Smith Corona Electra 210, not a computer—until he has finished four or five handwritten drafts. And then he rewrites the typescript. When I visited him one day in early December, he was correcting the page proofs of “The Passage of Power” the way Proust used to correct proofs: scratching out, writing in between the lines, pasting in additional sheets of inserts.
… or is it Chris Jones, who wrote “The Big Book,” (Esquire, May 2012):
Before he writes, however, he sits at his desk, and he looks out his window at the glass building across the street, and he thinks about what each of his books is to become. In those quiet moments, he remembers the words of one of his professors from when Caro was a young man at Princeton, studying literature. The professor was the critic and poet R. P. Blackmur, and Caro, who always wrote his assignments in a hurry, under the pressure of deadline, and who usually received good grades for his rushed work, thought he had fooled him. Blackmur was not fooled: “You’re not going to achieve what you want to achieve, Mr. Caro, unless you stop thinking with your fingers,” the poet said. So Caro knits together his fingers until he knows what his book is about.[…] This is the difference between writing and Writing, or between writing to be understood and writing to show off that you can Write.
Hilariously, it’s Jones’ feature, not McGrath’s — McGrath’s is more satisfying, less writerly, and a profile of Caro rather than a nostalgia, indulgent profile of things around Caro — that has this passage:
When he edits Caro, they sit side by side at a conference table and go through the pile in front of them, page by tattered page, Gottlieb attacking anything that reads too much like writing, too much like nostalgia or indulgence.