Omar El Akkad's best writing advice? Do nothing
Omar El Akkad's debut novel American War takes place in a country devastated by environmental disasters and civil unrest and examines the risks people take to protect their family. It's one of five books in contention on Canada Reads 2018, where it will be defended by actor Tahmoh Penikett.
"Make friends with silence. I think people feel like they're obligated to be doing tangible work, but most of my writing involves no writing. It involves taking really long showers or taking a drive out to the coast and then turning around and driving right back or just laying in bed. By the time I sit at the computer and write, I have a very good idea of what I want to make out of the world in my head because I thought about it and inhabited that world.
"American War was written this way — I would stand in the shower and just think. The things I would come up with range from individual sentences that I thought were really good to major narrative forks in the road. All of that stuff came to me when I was just a little bit preoccupied with doing nothing. So that, to me, is a really important part of it."
The Canada Reads 2018 contenders:
- Mozhdah Jamalzadah, defending The Boat People by Sharon Bala
- Tahmoh Penikett, defending American War by Omar El Akkad
- Greg Johnson, defending Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson
- Jeanne Beker, defending Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto
- Jully Black, defending The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Omar El Akkad's comments have been edited and condensed.