A Q&A with Tim O’Brien

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This episode of Time with a Creative Mind features novelist Tim O’Brien in a Question and Answer session with academics, fans, and student writers. During this session, which was moderated by Sarah Heller, Mr. O’Brien spoke openly about creativity, his own roots as a writer, and how he goes about composing his novels.

Tim O’Brien is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels. He was awarded the 1979 National Book Award for Going After Cacciato, the 1995 James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction for In the Lake of the Woods, and in August of 2012 he received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award.

Here’s a taste of the kind advice Mr. O’Brien in this podcast:

“You have to have talent, I guess, but whatever that is I have no idea…it has something to do with reading a lot, with hearing the music of how novels are written, how poems are written…

But that’s not sufficient. You have to take whatever music you hear and story you have to tell then you have to sit down at seven in the morning and stay sat down until seven at night or however long it takes to do something worth doing. Then you gotta do it the next day and the next day, and you gotta do it on your birthday, on Halloween, on Christmas, on New Years, you don’t stop…

Novels are like dreaming, and if you wake up from a dream and go to the refrigerator and get a glass of orange juice and go back to bed, you can’t rejoin the dream. You’ve awakened. Maybe now and then, maybe once a lifetime you might re-enter a dream, maybe even a couple of times, but by and large you can’t. And it’s the same with writing a novel; you leave it for a week, or, even for me, a couple of days, you remember the characters and you remember the story, the plot, but you can’t remember the passion that brought you to do it all.”


Selected Publications

  • If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, Delacorte Press, 1973
  • Northern Lights, Delacorte Press, 1975
  • The Nuclear Age, Knopf, 1985
  • The Things They Carried, Houghton Mifflin, 1990
  • In the Lake of the Woods, Penguin Books, 1995
  • Tomcat in Love, Broadway Books, 1998
  • July, July, Houghton Mifflin, 2002