You’re a prolific novelist as well as a prolific painter—what is your creative process like?
Prayer and self-discipline are the foundation of everything I do. Most often, the origins of a novel or a painting will appear during prayer, sometimes while I’m praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I ponder it in the heart, listening interiorly, thinking about it too. Then if there is a strong peace and an inner sense of “rightness”, I begin giving a form to the essential “word” or logos that came with the light or grace. One can call it inspiration or the muses. But it is, I believe, the phenomenon of co-creation, grace and nature working together to bring into the world something that hasn’t been seen before. God-willing, it will be a work of truth and beauty. Thus the need to be constantly praying and at the same time working hard to develop the skills of writing and painting—all within the understanding that it is a vocation, a gift, not my personal possession. In terms of the process itself, for me a novel or a painting usually just pours out onto page or canvas as the first stage. Then comes the long painstaking work of editing, revising, pruning, listening carefully to feedback from discerning readers of my manuscript, and always self-honesty. It may take me a year to write a first draft of a novel, followed by years of editing. In some of my books, it has taken two or three years. With The Father’s Tale, for example, I began writing it in 1998, and was still refining it ten years later. With Voyage to Alpha Centauri, the process has taken three or four years.
We have some aspiring writers reading this blog. If you had one piece of advice for them, what would that be?
O’Brien: Pray every day to the Holy Spirit, asking for the grace of docility to His inspirations. And continue to pray as you work, pray for the good of the art you are creating and its fruitfulness in the lives of others. Work hard, with self-discipline, to perfect your talent. And avoid any ambition or impulse to manipulate your own “success” in the world—it is absolute poison. Let grace work with your nature, and trust in this. Above all, trust!
I just received Michael O’Brien’s Voyage to Alpha Centauri and look forward to reading it. In an interview related to the book, O’Brien repeats advice that he has given before to authors and artists: