Saturday, September 1, 2012

Diary of an ESL author

Not really a diary, but I'd like to share my views on how it really is to write in English if it's not your mother tongue. When I started out with writing three and a half years ago, I was advised to better write in German and have it translated to English. Something I didn't want to do as I saw it as being ridiculous. My English wasn't that bad back then, but I knew I needed some serious help and improvement. I'm by no means someone who's kidding herself.
Now, after lots of practice, my English is very good, but I still need help as you can see in the example below. It's one of the short stories I consider to put in the collection, and my lovely friend Tom was kind enough to go through it for me and correct my word choices. This is still a struggle. Even though English has become my first language, I'm no native and it shows.

Click on image to enlarge.

I keep being annoyed with myself as I often know how it's done correctly, but in the flow of writing, do it wrongly, and once it's there, I often don't see the error. Only when I get corrections back, I'll slap my forehead (very hard), because I can't believe I've done it. The story above is a 'light' example, you should see some of the other writing I've got back. That'll make you dizzy. The problem is that it's more work for me than it is for a native. I need someone to help me with the English (copy-editing), and then at least two proof-readers, as there are always errors sneaking in while correcting the copy.
Interestingly, I get very few comments on plot, always have, but the sheer amount of copy-editing that needs doing is really time consuming, and I can't help but think that it would all be a much quicker process if it weren't for that. One reason why I think native self-published authors should be able to produce much better books.
Apart from that I'm a major control freak, if I could I would do the whole thing myself, including the covers, but I can't. Yet. I've started (see last post). It's a major issue for me to give my work into the hands of someone else. I trust those I'm working with, even though I ask tons of questions as to why a sentence was corrected that way, or I see that the correction is not what I wanted to say. It's not simply a bit of grammar (tense or missing article), it's far more than that. A copy-editor working with a non-native has to be able to hear the author's voice, know about writing in general to avoid making suggestions that don't fit the style, and be more patient in general. Particularly if the editor doesn't know German. It's a relationship based 100% on trust; if the author's not as good in English as I am, a strong voice could be silenced.
Back to the people who advised me to write in German and have it translated: I've heard many people complain about the voice getting lost in translations, and that's exactly why I insisted on writing in English, and work on it until it's (almost) perfect. That and my wanting to improve my English. It certainly has done the job for me, but I'm not there yet. I will, however, translate my own books to German. Let's see how that goes.

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