Tim O'Brien
Novelist
02:04

Washing Off the Stink of Pomposity

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Writing never gets easier, but there are certain mistakes writers can learn to avoid.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an American novelist. His books include the National Book Award-winning "Going After Cacciato" (1978), as well as his debut novel, "If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home" (1973); his most recent novel, "July, July" (2002); and the Pulitzer Prize finalist "The Things They Carried" (1990), a combination novel/short story collection/memoir based on his experiences in the Vietnam War. A special twentieth anniversary edition of "The Things They Carried" was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2010.
Transcript

Question: What is your working method like?

Tim O’Brien: I write every day.  I get up around 5:00 or so and get two little kids off to school, and then I go to work around 9:00 and work until 4:00 or so.  And then do it pretty much every da

Question: What is your working method like?

Tim O’Brien: I write every day.  I get up around 5:00 or so and get two little kids off to school, and then I go to work around 9:00 and work until 4:00 or so.  And then do it pretty much every day.

Question: Does the work ever get any easier?

Tim O’Brien: Oh, I wish.  No it doesn’t get any easier.  It gets harder, in fact, because you can’t write the same book, and that’s always tempting.  The making of sentences is hard work.  You can’t copy your own sentences and you can’t copy those of others, and so you’re searching for a certain grace and a certain rhythm and melody that’s underneath the prose that carries the story.

Question: What mistakes do you try to avoid in writing?

Tim O’Brien: Great question.  The first answer that pops to my head is absolutism, certainty.  I am certain about very little in this world and I distrust those who are.  If I feel the stink and the smell of blinders and of pomposity and pretentiousness that for me accompanies certainty—a little bit of hypocrisy also weaves its way through absolutism.  And there’s so much of it around, it’s on television, every talk show seems to have it.  And in the real world, I’m always encountering people who declare things about the world I live in with a certainty that I just don’t see around me.  And in my writing, that shows.  That’s why the issue of truth appears so much throughout all of my books, that I’m skeptical of what’s declared to be true.

Recorded March 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


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