Saturday, October 25, 2014

The ten most valuable writing tips I’ve received... by Dylan Hearn

Reblogged from Dylan Hearn

image source:
The internet is full of advice on how to write and it can be confusing and contradictory at times, especially when you are starting out. This isn’t because people like to give false advice but because each writer – and their writing process – is different. However, out of all the good advice I’ve received, these are the ones that have worked best for me. I hope by sharing them they will be of some help to you too.

1. Allow yourself to write poorly

Some days I find writing easy, some days it’s as if the language centre of my brain has decided to go on vacation, leaving my fingers to fend for themselves. However, even if I’m having one of the latter days I still write. It may be painful at the times, even more horrific when I read it back, but at least I have something on the page to work with when it comes to the all important edit.

2. Write your first draft in haste, edit at leisure

When I start a project my energy levels and enthusiasm are at their highest. I look to harness that spirit and blitz my story down as fast as possible without stopping to self-edit. This is important because it’s often not until you have the full story down that you realise what the story is really about. When it comes to the edit, I always take as much time and care as is needed to produce the best version of my story I can, to tease out the story’s themes and cut back on those bits that get in the way.

3. Write every day

When I write every day, my writing becomes ever easier. If I take regular breaks, or just write when the feeling takes me, I end up using valuable writing time just getting back into the swing of things. This is one lesson that continues to surprise me whenever I take a prolonged break from my writing.

4. Write the book you would like to read

I like books that make you think. I like books where you have to work out what is happening as you read. I like books that explore ideas but not at the detriment to the story. This is why I wrote Second Chance in the way I did. My book shelves are full of speculative fiction, thrillers and a number of horror titles. This doesn’t mean I dislike non-fiction, historical fiction or many other types of books, but it was clear where my interest lay and which direction my writing should take. While I have nothing against romance novels, I wouldn’t attempt to try and write one because I don’t have either the background, skill or knowledge to do the genre justice.

5. Read while writing – but a different tense buggers you up

We are often told to read a lot to fuel our craft, but many writers refuse to read other author’s work while writing something of their own. I don’t understand this. If you can watch more than one TV series at a time without getting confused, you can read while writing. There have been so many occasions where reading another’s novel has prompted new ideas on how to approach my writing. I’m not talking about plagiarising plot points or prose, but learning how to improve dialogue or restructuring a particularly troublesome middle third. My only caveat would be to only read works that are in the same tense as yours. Reading a book in present tense when yours is in past tense can cause some serious issues come edit time.

6. You cannot see your own mistakes

I suffer from self-typo blindness (this should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog). It’s a common affliction amongst writers. While I can spot errors in other people’s text from 100 paces, when I read my own text my eyes skip over the most blatant error as if it wasn’t there. When publishing your book (or preparing your manuscript for submission), use others to help you track these errors down. Start with beta readers to find the big errors (plot holes, character issues), then if you can afford it, use professional editing to correct any typos. But don’t stop once your book is published. Second Chance has had two major revisions, once just after launch and another more recently. Both times I thought my work was error free, both times the kindness of others informed me otherwise.

7. Never turn your back on constructive criticism

One of the most difficult parts of the writing process for me was sharing what I had written with my beta readers for the first time. It was also the most rewarding. That isn’t to say they praised it unconditionally. Quite the contrary, but the did so from the perspective of trying to improve what I had written. This criticism was difficult to take, at least at first, but because I trusted them and knew they had my best interests at heart, I reeled in my ego, listened to what they had to say, then improved my novel.

8. Some people will hate your book but it’s not personal

Not everybody will love your book. Not everybody you like will love your book. One of my good friends, on reading my book, said “sorry, it’s just not my kind of thing.” And that’s fine. We’re still friends. I don’t think any worse of them than before (especially as they paid good money for my book), because it’s not personal, it’s just individual taste. Lots of people love Moby Dick but it leaves me cold. I thoroughly enjoyed the Great Gatsby but when checking the reviews saw that hundreds of people hated it with a passion. That doesn’t make me right and them wrong (or vice-versa). However, if you ever to receive a 1-star review, I suggest you read this great post by Heather Hill to cheer you up.

9. Writers support writers

One of the greatest parts about writing is how supportive the writing community is. If you become active on any form of social media and let people know you write, other writers will seek you out and offer support. Lots of them. In my case it started with blog and has continued on Twitter. Next time you’re having a bad writing day or a moment of self-doubt, tweet about it followed by the hashtag #amwriting and you will find out what I mean. I am continually amazed and humbled by the support and advice I have and continue to receive from other writers. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

10. It’s all about the story

This is the biggest one of all. I’ve seen this piece of advice in so many forms, whether it is “don’t get in the way of the story” or “kill your darlings”. The main point is that whatever choice you make about your work, the question you should ask is: what’s best for the story? It’s not about what’s best for you – what shows off your writing skills or command of the english language the best – nor is it about what area of the backstory or world you have designed you are most interested in. As writers, we work best when we reign our egos in and realise it is all about the story.

So what is the best piece of advice you’ve received. Have I missed anything off the list? I’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sum up of my reading-break so far...

I know I have stretched my ten-lines-promise just a tiny bit the past few weeks.
So here's something for you to relax ;)
Just recapitalizing my reading experience
after two trilogies of translated novels.
Gathering strength for the third...
Prayers welcome. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Novel translations ... wrap up!

After all the tooth grinding and pacing lets hand over to a translator and get some firsthand insights:

"I believe that serious professional translators, often in private, think of themselves—forgive me, I mean ourselves—as writers,  no matter what else may cross our minds when we ponder the work we do, and I also believe we are correct to do so. Is this sheer presumption, a heady kind of immodesty on our part? What exactly do we literary translators do to justify the notion that the term “writer” actually applies to us? Aren’t we simply the humble, anonymous handmaids-and-men of literature, the grateful, ever-obsequious servants of the publishing industry? In the most resounding yet decorous terms I can muster, the answer is no, for the most fundamental description of what translators do is that we write—or perhaps rewrite—in language B a work of literature originally composed in language A, hoping that readers of the second language—I mean, of course, readers of the translation—will perceive the text, emotionally and artistically, in a manner that parallels and corresponds to the esthetic experience of its first readers. This is the translator’s grand ambition. Good translations approach that purpose. Bad translations never leave the starting line.
As a first step toward accomplishing so exemplary an end, translators need to develop a keen sense of style in both languages, honing and expanding our critical awareness of the emotional impact of words, the social aura that surrounds them, the setting and mood that informs them, the atmosphere they create. We struggle to sharpen and elaborate our perception of the connotations and implications behind basic denotative meaning in a process not dissimilar to the efforts writers  make to increase their familiarity with and competence in a given literary idiom."

"The undeniable reality is that the work becomes the translator’s (while simultaneously and mysteriously somehow remaining the work of the original author) as we transmute it into a second language. Perhaps transmute is the wrong verb; what we do is not an act of magic, like altering base metals into precious ones, but the result of a series of creative decisions and imaginative acts of criticism. In the process of translating, we endeavor  to hear the first version of the work as profoundly and completely as possible, struggling to discover the linguistic charge, the structural rhythms, the subtle implications, the complexities of meaning and suggestion in vocabulary and phrasing, and the ambient, cultural inferences and conclusions these tonalities allow us to extrapolate. This is a kind of reading as deep as any encounter with a literary text can be."

Read more:

Whatever you do in the future - don't sell me a cat when the original book barks. 
Or I shall haunt you, translator! Beware of the bilingual reader...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bad translations didn't stop at Verne either...

After this experience it seems to me that a book translated from one language to another is not the same book. I think there's a lot more to books than just plot and a translation may greatly alter the feel of some books. And in some instances they get messed up so much that the author's reputation was dealt some indelible bruises as well as in the following case:

"So how is Verne considered to be a writer of books suitable only for children in the US and on a par with Dickens and Tolstoy everywhere else in the world?It's largely the fault of the rotten-ass translations he got, which were filled with scientific mistakes and changes and omissions which conflicted with the political and religious views of Victorian England. For instance, the original translator of 20,000 Leagues deleted more than 20% of the book, largely because he was a conservative British Protestant and Verne was a liberal French Catholic. This is in addition to literally hundreds of translation errors (Verne's "Badlands of Nebraska" becoming the "disagreeable territory of Nebraska") and egregious mistakes in science (the translator provides a careful explanation of how the Nautilus floats because iron is lighter than water). All of these mistakes and errors were attributed to Verne, and because so much of the social and political content of his books was lopped out, they seemed like nothing more than trivial adventure stories to English-speaking readers." Ron Miller

But there are really good translations too I'm sure. No wonder translations are protected by copyright - they are creative works on their own. (Be it bad or good.) Translating works is an art unto itself. But it appears to be also an undeniable truth that once a certain genre becomes successful, quality control may be less important than getting derivative works out there. As for myself - I believe I stick with the originals. Or at least not switch between two. I can't bear the hard facts of novel translations - and going through the pain did not bring me a baby step closer to deciding in which language to continue writing myself. I already have nightmares about what either translation would sound like...""

Just for fun: Bad title translations

Friday, October 10, 2014

So shall we pass judgement my liege on this novel's torturer?

"Bad translations can ruin a book. It's a sad fact of life. As someone who has dealt with translations myself, I know how hard it must be to do a book justice - managing to maintain both tone and style, while making sure the writing fits the new language and its many nuances. Translating is tough stuff, but it still stings a little when a good book is poorly translated, and suffers at the hands of its new audience as a result."

So what got me aggravated with this series? 

"It's true that no translation will perfectly capture the original and some are downright travesties, but you got to play with the hand you're dealt. If a poor translation inspires you to learn the original language, that certainly doesn't hurt you any, but it is a shame if a low-quality translation turns away those who would otherwise enjoy a given work. So it goes."

I mean it MAY not even be low quality. I by no means want to insult this particular translator. He is obviously a fan of German Medieval - or whatever he thinks it is - language and he goes through quite some pains reproducing it in the books at hand. It makes at times a very awkward and difficult read, adding elements which aren't in the originals - no wonder some German readers call the works a pain in the ... to read, wordy and tedious. But this is by no means true in the English version - quite contrary it's a fluent read and there is no artificial archaic language dragged in by head and shoulders! Easy going, sometimes bantering dialogues turn into stilted prose that makes you want to puke and I am sure the characters are more than slightly embarrassed by what they have to let loose suddenly. Besides, the added elements get kind of weird and at times hysterically humorous where no humor is intended by the author.

Let me give you some examples.

No I haven't grown up at court but by now I am convinced that a lot of the occupants have been rather slow witted. There can't be another reason for using all this baby-language I have last heard in nursery school. Or why does a pony - of which the German translation is quite simple Pony as well - become a horsey?! A daughter is not translated as such but becomes a girly, a boy becomes in German the baby-form of little boy. There are endless accounts of that and in all honesty I got and get quite p...ed after a while. Maybe he - the translator - just had kids or Grandkids during this job?! Guess that's why all characters refer to chits all of a sudden. The German Court language obviously also made it necessary to add to the original: so does a very down to earth, matter of fact exchange between the teenaged king and his same age cousin of "watch it!" "Don't worry!" become something like "Beware of your actions, prince!" and the cousin now answers "So do not worry my king!". I bet they both turned first green and than collapsed bursting with laughter. In German of course.
With all this elaborate phrasing one wonders how at the same time unbelievable mistakes as the following can occur: the medieval toilet - garderobe - is basically not translated, here he simple used another word for the German word of the same spelling, thus another character does not puke down the toilet but throws up in a cabinet. Poor guy. And it wasn't even in his quarters but those of his king.
Lucky he wasn't hanged, drawn and quartered. The translator would have been.

Let me tell you - it's definitely not a fluid read for me either. Alas not because I simply don't get IN the story as most readers in German forums complain, hindered by the flourish language, but because every other sentence makes me pause and think back on the original. By now I even have it next to me to flip through to the same place and confirm that the author did originally indeed not mean what I just read. 

Sometimes I really want to get on my mountain horsey and flee this foreign historical site of anguish.

Oh, there was hope in the beginning. I prayed that after the first trilogy the translator would have tasted enough medieval blood that he decided to write himself and never return to his former domain.
He appears to have a lifelong contract to this author's novels.
And so the pain continues.
Alas I'm afraid after that I will never be able to write anything in German again.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Novel translations...

So here I am - the bilingual writer who messes up by mixing essentials of both languages. The frustration there threw me into a fit of reading - not procrastination! Little did I knew this would actually increase my anxiety. Now true, usually readers read in one language and stick with it thus never encountering the difference - or problem - a translation of a novel might present. And even though I tend to read in English as my mind works in that language - and yes I dream in it as well - I am perfectly able to read same books in German as well. My current frustration also means that I'm hovering in a state of trying to come to a decision wether to re-write current novel in German or continue in English. To do so I figured if I read my favorite series in both languages thinking whichever result I'd end up with reading could only improve my own writing in whichever language.
Little did I realize I would end up ripping my hair out: I saw some butchery that I could not believe...
WTF have you done to my favorite story?!
Translators should be the mimics of the book world; they must pass for someone else. Just as editors strive for invisibility, translators should be inaudible. 
“If I have a voice of my own, it absolutely must not appear,” says Sheila Fischman, the US' most celebrated translator. Polinquin, another, echoed this: “Translating is like writing but with someone else’s hand.” Fischman also maintains it’s “essential” that her own voice does not infiltrate the text. 
I couldn't agree more!
 But the subject of authorial voice appears to be up for debate. 
Poliquin opinion on that: “I don’t mind if my own voice is there.”
Well I certainly do!
I do as a bilingual reader and I would most certainly as a writer!!
I would very much mind if my story becomes a different one, wouldn't you?
Sure, most writers will never know. Foreign rights are sold and that means more readers and more business. Surely a great thing to achieve no doubt about that and rarely does a writer know all or any of the languages her or his work is translated into and will check if it turned out like something that still resembles the original. I'd bet some would be in for a big surprise.
Alas in the case I have at hand the surprise came in figures and responses in specific forums.
To me as having read through both works (no I confess I haven't finished the German series yet - it's an extremely painful process I tell you), I could give some answers on why German sales lack behind and why German readers haven't much nice to say about it.
It's lucky the author doesn't speak German.
And rather concentrates on writing new books - in English. Thank God.
(to be continued)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reading continues... with problems.

Remember the reading break I took 
to bring distance between my writing-problem and my mind?
And the 14+ books in a series that were involved?
Well I finished those in their original English,
and since my problem continued I decided 
to follow up with the German translations.
Bad idea. 
REALLY bad idea.
You shall hear more of that during the next couple of days.
Let's just say that much:
I wish I wouldn't know German.
Or worse: if I wouldn't have grown up with English 
that series would have NEVER made it into my list.
Only over my dead body.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Writer's twilight

Well, I never had that many retweets on twitter before ...
so I guess it was spot on with that one! ;)
Had to share it with the rest of the crazy ones!

 I am sure writers sparkle in sunlight too -
because they are so rarely seen outside
and the world just rejoices when it spots one HA.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Writing problems...

This bilingual writer is still trying to determine
in which language to do the re-writing...
Oh - and I have decided to remove 3 Billion
wrong commas and replace them with subordinators.
And I now know what fanboys are.
Just thought I tell you.
let's see who has the same writing problems...
Sorry, need to dive back into cyberspace!