Writing Help

Writing books in another language

Some people just like it hard, and not in a sexual sense. For example, some people decide that, even though they don’t live anywhere near an English country, writing may just be more fun in a language they didn’t get taught by their parents. That ‘fun and games’ must surely mean sitting at home with a web dictionary and a grammar book propping up their elbows as they fight their way through a first draft, as if that wasn’t hard enough on its own. Well, some people are simply nuts, and I’m one of them.

Talking about how English is not my first language always comes with a queasy feeling in the stomach. I’m not a boasting person at heart, which might be my upbringing talking, but how do you tell another person that, yes, you’re writing in a language you learned in school but, no, that’s not something to get all wide-eyed about?

Why on earth use another language?

For me, writing in English was a no-brainer even before I really, truly thought about what it would mean. After all, I simply love the language, especially when it comes to my favorite genre, Romance. German in writing is epic, long-winded, big-worded and monumental, with sprawling passages and nested sentences inside of even more nested sentences, unending word combinations and oh so many double entendres. I’m looking at you, Donaudampfschiffkapitänskajütentür!

German is perfect for Sword and Sorcery, Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Thrillers, and the likes. It’s got oomph and weight and strangles even the most badass antagonists into submission. But when it comes to Romance, things just get a little iffy. Romance needs short and crunchy sentences, active voice and action, and my personal impression always was that German just couldn’t provide that. Of course, you could go with shorter sentences, throw in a few more full stops, break up the nested sentences infestation, and use shorter, simpler words, but- for me- there’s a downside; what was once an eloquent master piece, now reads like the scribbles of an educationally challenged teenager with a serious case of ADHD. A little like this. If you get my. Meaning.

I’m not saying that anyone but me feels like this towards German, but I do. How we apply our first language is closely intertwined with cultural and traditional values, meaning that how we talk and what we say in our first language is influenced by where we come from and how that society acts. This means that I would phrase the same meaning differently if I were to say it in German, or if I said it in English. Something that would come over as piping hot in English, could be nothing more than a vaguely well-tempered musing in German. Not because German isn’t capable of dirty talk, but because I have societally implanted hangups about using bad words in German. However, none of those hangups apply when I switch to English. Fun, right?
That additional layer of how we use language to transport meaning motivated me to throw off my “Ja mein Herr”-shackles and try my luck with English. And once you go bilingual, you never look back.

Here are other reasons to write in English

Of course, there are more reasons than “ooooh, English, so sexy!” for choosing it as a language for your novel. For example, English novels have a huge- HUGE!- client base, consisting of all the major English speaking countries and additionally everyone who ever took a liking to the language. Most bilinguals know English and something else, it’s taught at most schools, and it’s the international business language, which opens you up to major publishers, newspapers and businesses you wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

And just to put the cherry on the cake, even amidst authors, the English community is far more advanced, self-sufficient, helpful, friendly and open to fellow authors. I think it’s because of the sheer number of authors using English for their novels, but there’s a chance that the English-speaking folk simply come from a more open and liberal culture.

Helpful Tips and Tricks I learned

If you are thinking about writing in a second language as opposed to your native one, I congratulate you! I never regretted my decision and I’m still going strong. You can do it too!

Here are a few things I learned and still find helpful for my writing:

Read a lot of books in the language you want to write in. Be it English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, German (dear god don’t do that), or any other language, do remember that it has a different sentence structure, grammar and wording than your own. Learn how to do ‘Active Reading’ and focus on getting the little quirks of your target language just right. Apply them in training paragraphs, write down phrases you liked most or didn’t know yet, but make sure that you’re reading works by an actual native speaker and not translated stories!

Bookmark grammar tools and quick/easy to use dictionaries. For English, I use the LEO dictionary (HIGHLY recommended, supports a multitude of languages) and the Thesaurus website to find handy synonyms and antonyms. You’ll need them a lot at first, but you will get faster and more proficient over time. In the beginning, I had to look up every other word, but after a while I got fluent enough that I could simply jump over words I couldn’t translate yet by writing them down in German and translating them after I finished my writing session. Now I only have to look up the most harrowing vocabs, probably as often as any other author on a given day.
I would also recommend you find a self-editing tool in your target language and exploit it to the point of getting sick of writing; I found nothing to be as effective as a good ProWritingAid or AutoCrit session when it comes to sentence structures and pacing.

Look for writing guides and author help blogs in your target language. Don’t waste your time reading up on author help in your own language, it won’t help you in the long run. Yes, it’s easier to understand, but you won’t learn the lingo that way. Without knowing what to search for when you’ve advanced past a certain point in your writing, you’ll get stuck and will have to read up all over again. Don’t waste your time, especially when having already decided to spend most of your free time immersed in another language. You’ll see it every day, each time you sit down to write, so start reading it now. You need to become an expert on writing in your target language, not in your own!

Join an author community (in your target language). This is self-explanatory, but I still wanted to mention it. Facebook is a little like cilantro: you either love it or hate it, but its group feature is still unbeaten. I’ve found groups like “Indie Author Support” or the German “Das Autoren-Hilfeforum” to be incredibly helpful for all questions big or small, up to the point where I’m not sure if I’d have ever published anything, had I not joined and learned from them. Try to meet native speakers for your target language, read up on their issues and most common questions, and find your own support network for all things author-y. They will help you and you will need that help, so don’t be shy!

Now that I’ve reached the end of my post, I realize that there’s probably a lot more I could say. Books could be (and probably have been) written about this topic, but this is the gist of it: Don’t be afraid to take the leap. You can do it. Yes, it takes a lot more work, but that work will pay off- especially when you’ve reached a certain amount of fame and decide to translate your book into your own language. Ha! Another merit, right there!




(Featured Image by Daniel Go (Flickr.com)License Information)

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