Creative writing: 7 reasons why translators should do it

It is the month of July which means that Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is upon us. Camp NaNoWriMo unites writers across the globe as they try to hit their personal word count goals. Participating in this creative endeavour are two of our in-house translators who are busy devising intriguing plot twists and working hard to bring their characters to life. Here at AJT, we value creativity and schedule a Creative Hour for our team every week. Recently, we got together and composed short stories under time pressure. We strongly believe that writing creatively helps our translation craft. Learn why by reading on!

1) Practise writing for a purpose

To translate is to… write. So naturally it seems like a good idea to practise writing. Simple as it sounds, however, it is not at all easy. Fear of the blank page is common for many newbie writers and even more so for translators. While translators are good at interpreting meaning and transposing existing concepts, creating new content is a completely different animal. Translators are used to having a blueprint, some source material to refer to. To get over that initial barrier and to jog the brain, we often try our hand at writing prompts here at AJT. They are not only a great exercise in imagination, but also force the participant to write for a particular purpose, in the same way translation does.

 “Creative writing is not only an exercise in imagination, it is also a discipline in writing for a particular purpose, as is translation.” – Margaret Rogers

2) Hone your personal translation style

During our creative sessions, one writing exercise will generate many different stories. In fact, in the end we have as many unique stories as there are writers. Everyone interprets the prompt in their own personal way. The same can be said for translation. Every translator brings something personal to the target text. Creative writing exercises are a useful tool to develop and hone that style. But translators beware! Too much creativity and we risk losing the original intent of the text, too little and we produce bland run-of-the-mill texts.

3) Write what you want (not what they tell you to write)

In translation, as in any other job, we are confronted with some projects that are harder than others. Maybe the text type is very normative, maybe we must use the passive voice against our better judgement. Whatever requirement it may be, when we are dictated to by the wants and whims of others for prolonged periods of time, we can lose our creative edge. A creative writing project is the perfect remedy. It offers a personal space to fully explore your linguistic artistry, an opportunity to fill the creative well.

4) Diversify your portfolio

At the TAUS (Translation Automation User Society) Industry Summit of 2017, it became clear that the language industry landscape will look drastically different in just a few years. Automation will accelerate in the future and pose opportunities and threats for the language industry. In this fast-changing environment, translators will most likely be required to diversify their services. Luckily, there are plenty of avenues translators can explore to monetise their writing skills. We have already discussed copywriting as a natural evolution for translators in a previous blog article. Learning to create your own narrative ideas in your native language is crucial for copywriting. We suggest translators write often and use their translation expertise to produce outstanding copy, and who knows… maybe even novels.

5) Raise the calibre of your native language writing

Writers often get given the advice to read often and widely. Reading is also hugely beneficial for you as a translator. The more you read, the more you learn. But it is advisable to select your reading material carefully because mediocre writing could steal its way into your active language repertoire. You want to avoid copying clunky phrases or even introducing grammar mistakes into your translations. Reading traditionally published novels ensures a certain level of quality. Carefully written articles and stories will increase your vocabulary, make you more surefooted with your grammar and give you plenty of inspiration. It is not just reading that can help improve the calibre of your writing, putting words on the page does so too. The time you spend mulling words over in your mind, writing them down, looking them up in a dictionary, is time spent improving your spelling and grammar without even noticing it.

6) Train to read between the lines

Nowadays, translators have many tools at their disposal. Glossaries provide definitions, translation memories give entire phrases and the internet is a trove ready to spill its treasure – one only has to ask. Despite all this, sometimes the word that would hit the nail on the head eludes us. Why is that? The answer is intertextuality. Words don’t live in a vacuum; they are surrounded by context. The source text writer infused the text with hidden meaning and references in order to add layers of depth to the text. These highly contextualised nuances are usually at the heart of the problem and no term base or glossary will provide the translation that fits that particular context. Reading creative works exposes translators to many different forms of intertextuality. A great way to develop an eye for hidden meanings.

7) Explore specific topics in depth

Smartphone lingo, AI tech babble, medical speech about colonoscopies and instructions on how to assemble military grade pipes – a normal day in the life of a translator. How can you possibly know about all these things? The answer is simple: research! Research is a translator’s secret weapon. Why not research a niche topic that you’re passionate about? Writing your own story and researching concepts for it is a great way to learn more about the world. It makes translating a variety of topics all the easier. Also, by increasing your knowledge about a specific subject, you are less likely to introduce factual mistakes into your translations.

If the one thing you take away from this blog article is that creative writing is beneficial for translators, it has achieved its purpose. Maybe you even feel inspired to try out a writing prompt. Whether you try writing for 10 minutes or write 50k words in 30 days, like some of the participants in NaNoWriMo, it will definitely have a positive carryover to your translations.

Team AJT during creative writing exercise
Nadine, Alicia and Ariane are getting creative during NaNoWriMo