I’ve been working on a little experiment for the past few months, one I started on February the 24th—I circled the date on my calendar.
In this blog, most of my articles are in English, although English isn’t my native language. I’m French, but as long as I can remember I always wrote in both French and English. I wrote short stories, little poems, half-finished scripts and pieces of dialogue, until I started writing full but small projects in English, mostly when I was living in England. I write in English because I like hearing it, using it and thinking in it.
I like it so much that I decided to challenge myself and translate my book into English.
And this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in terms of writing. Firstly, because I wanted to avoid creating a weird translation. Secondly, because of all the things I (re)discovered along the way.
I rediscovered my language and doubted it. Writing in English has made me question a lot of the things I wrote in French. So, I’m (re)learning to tighten my writing, to explain things in a more understandable way, to play with the order of paragraphs. To avoid repetition.
I rediscovered first times and hard times. I love writing action scenes. I love playing around with places and characters moving in these places. While writing in English, I remembered how hard it is to actually write action scenes, how things need to flow and feel natural and not like a trick of motions hard to decipher or picture.
I rediscovered a language I thought I knew to the point of fluency. I realized that there’re so many things I don’t know about the subtleties of English. The little, easy things first. The diffences between this and that, these and those, between in to and into, the use of to+verb and verb+ing, breath or breathe, amongst and among, of American-English and British-English… and the list goes on. Then, the difficult things. The lack of vocabulary, the use of synonyms and words regarding the context, the choice of and juggling between tenses (I’m talking about you past perfect!), the consistency (am I writing for an American or a British audience?) and the try-not-to-make-the-sentences-sound-awkward for a native speaker.
I rediscovered to appreciate the privileges my language offers. I live in a country where I could and can learn new languages, where I have access to ressources, and where I speak a language so close to English I could lose myself in translation and find my way back. I was born in a country that gives me the opportunity to travel in a foreign country to learn more about a language I love.
Working on and off on the translation, I finished the first draft more than two weeks ago. So, it took me about two months to translate around 450 pages. It’s a project I started in 2010 and I still can’t believe I’ve decided to take on this challenge. It’s the first full novel—and such a long project—I finish in English. I tried and tried and tried again in the past with no real success. Writing in another language is a very scary, very intimidating process.
Now, I’m re-reading the manuscript, fixing the misspellings, hunting for grammar and language mistakes, trying to make it more mine with « my style ». I feel like the second draft is going to be a colossal piece of work. And let’s hope it isn’t going to play havoc with my writing by the end of the experiment. For now, the journey is a blast. A challenging and fresh way to tackle and see my work. A blast.
Next steps. Finish the corrections. Create a readable manuscript. Find (a) beta reader(s)—native speakers for the win!