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NaNoWriMo – Making Your Way Through the Muddy Middle

Week two is all about grappling with the muddy middle. You have writer’s block, you are losing enthusiasm, and you are contemplating drastic literary actions like assassinating your cast of main characters and replacing them with nearsighted dinosaurs that work in a cabaret club. You are not alone! All writers grapple with the same challenges we amateurs face in the short month of November every day in their writing.

We reached out to Alain Farah, Montreal-based author and academic whose forthcoming novel Ravenscrag will be released in January 2015, for some much needed advice on how to keep inspired and motivated when your WIP (work in progress) becomes a temperamental little beastie:


1. What do you do when you have writers block or are grappling with a difficult portion of your book.

From the very beginning, when faced with the anxiety of writers block, my reflex has always been to actively read other people’s books. In analyzing the work of others, I try to figure out how writers I admire manage to face and meet challenges themselves.

2. Do you have any tricks for getting the creative process flowing again?

Marguerite Duras has this formula: Et lire c’était écrire. Reading is writing. When I am stopped by an obstacle, I do not keep working on the problem. I put it aside and return to books by authors with whom I can relate.

3. How do you find inspiration?

In bliss, in misery. And often in a mix of those two states, which are closer to each other than one generally thinks. If I am very happy or profoundly sad, ideas in my head are crystal clear. For example, I am quite anxious about the moment when my daughter will lose her first tooth. Losing your first tooth, is there anything sappier than that? Yet, I know that I will write a short story about it when it happens because writing fiction helps me deal with reality.

4. How do you decide if you need to drastically change an element in your writing if it just isn’t working?

It comes down to instinct. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. As long as you kill your darlings, I think you are safe. I fear the day when I might become reluctant to throw out pages, or not have the strength to toss aside fruit of labour, under a cowardly pretext.

Alain Farah was born in Montreal in 1979 to Egyptian-Lebanese parents. In 2004, he published a book of poems, Quelque chose se détache du port, which shortlised for the Prix Émile-Nelligan. In 2005, he set up temporary residence in France to pursue his PhD studies at the École Normale Supérieure. After returning to Quebec in 2008, he published his first novel, Matamore no 29. He is assistant professor at McGill University, where he teaches contemporary French literature.

His forthcoming novel Ravenscrag (Pourquoi Bologne – a Governor General’s Literary Award Finalist for French Fiction) is an intriguing and truly original blend of retro science fiction and autobiography. It’s about resilience, literature as remedy, and ultimately, it’s a novel about survival through storytelling. Look for it in January 2015.

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