Books·Writing Tip

Have you lost your way in your writing? Only write what's necessary

The 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize is now open. To inspire and support you along the way, CBC Books is publishing a writing tip each week.
It's easy to get lost in your writing if you forget why you started. (Aaron Burden, Unsplash)

The 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize is open for submissions! You can submit your original, unpublished writing up to 2,000 words for a chance to win $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and have your work published on CBC Books. The deadline to enter is Feb. 28, 2019.

To inspire and support you along the way, we are publishing a writing tip each week on CBC Books. You can also subscribe to our writing tips newsletter for even more tips.

This week's tip is from Omar El Akkad.

"Last year, I decided to measure the pieces on the criteria of necessity. With every story, I asked myself: 'How necessary does this feel?' It wasn't so much that I was looking for stories about big important topics, it was more that I wanted to feel as though the writer absolutely needed to say what was in the piece. The stories that I felt most connected to had that element of personal necessity — a sense that the writer absolutely had to tell this story. I urge all writers to ask themselves the same question about their entries: 'Is this necessary for me to say? And if so, why?' The pieces that leave no doubt as to the answers to those questions tend to resonate with readers much more so than pieces that are simply well-written or clever or timely."

Omar El Akkad is an Egyptian-Canadian author and journalist based in Portland, Ore. In 2018 he was a reader for the CBC Nonfiction Prize. His debut novel, American War, was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, listed as a notable book of the year by the New York Times and has been translated into a dozen languages. It was defended onCanada Reads2018 by Tahmoh Penikett.


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