Simone Heller

astray in worlds and words.

Thou shalt have no other stories …

After another few months spent in translator-bot mode, producing daily word-counts I can only dream of as a writer, I have some thoughts about writing and having a day job as a freelancer in the publishing industry at the same time. It seems like a dream situation – to gain a foothold, to learn the business … and when I started this line of work over 10 years ago, it was a dream job. Second best thing to publishing my own stuff. A chance to work with words, with languages and their intricacies, in the genres and with the authors I loved. Translating has always been very close to my heart – it’s a special kind of approach to a text and can be extremely rewarding (for everyone involved, yay!).

Some aspects didn’t turn out quite the way I had hoped for, but that’s a different story. A job closely connected to writing is, in some ways, a major boost for writing. I learned a great deal about language and how to construct stories while translating superb novels, and then some more by editing not-so-superb-yet novels. The moment you have to propose a solution when something isn’t good enough, a vague feeling of “I don’t like it” just doesn’t do. You have to get to the root of the problem, and that makes you see what will work and what won’t.

So I doubt I’d be able to write the way I do without my job, without being surrounded by professional words and stories daily.

But.

My own words inevitably dry up when I am deep in the translating game. I’m surrounded by another person’s story and strive to get into its style, mood, tone. If I try to start writing then, I might end up emulating the thing I’m working on at the moment.

Mostly I don’t even try: I simply can’t bring myself to hack out another word on my keyboard after I already spent 6 hours straight doing just that. Braindead. Daily amount of words used up. Instinct for stories vaporized.

I’m aware that the majority of writers out there are writing in their free time, and surely there’s no shortage of jobs eating your brain. I’m in awe of everyone who sits down to tell their story anyway.

I seem to be at a point where my day job isn’t producing synergies for writing anymore, or even just some (mildly lucrative) background noise; it has turned counterproductive. I guess that’s mostly because I’m working and writing in exactly the same genres. It’s just so close to my own words, and if I want to do it justice, I have to live the to-be-translated text in the same way I have to live my own stories. So my own writing is always relegated to the backburner.

Add in the precarious nature of freelancing, which makes you inclined to always take on another rush job, another project, because there’s no way to know whether and when the next thing might come up. And soon there is no room left for your own stories to unfold. I can relate to every writer who just wants an unobtrusive, not-too-demanding job.

What I do now, accompanied by a lot of anxiety, is decline some jobs. And try to shift a certain portion to other modes and genres, mostly non-fiction, to create synergies again. (But who am I kidding here – offer me a cool science fiction or fantasy project, and I’ll bite).

So, fair warning: having a second dream job apart from writing might not be the best strategy for producing a lot of words, especially if said dream job is, well, also writing, just for other people in another language.

Do what you love and you'll work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally

This has been all over the place recently … I simply had to add it. (from adamjk’s Instagram )

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4 Comments

  1. What an interesting (and, in a way, very sad) perspective! As you can imagine, I found this especially moving to read as a fellow freelancer and writer, even though my own experience has been slightly different (my words do not tend to dry up – although a lack of time is definitely a problem more often than I should like -, but working with published texts tends to make me hyperaware of what is currently popular content-wise, which is usually very far from the kind of tale I want to tell, and therefore quite disheartening).

  2. Elric

    I’m impressed! Very, very impressed!
    This is something I didn’t expect. I always thought that writing your own stuff and translating something else should lead to more output, as you are in some kind of “flow” that drives you further in your own stories…
    Being honest I have to say, that I can’t write! I don’t even have the ability to tell someone directly why I like a special book but can’t come up with kind words for another work piece. I’m not good with words.
    What is somehow sad in your text: I’d love to read from your very own feather, though I do very much appreciate your excellent translation work! I do wish for you to find the thin line between both your dreams (and I also wish the same for me – to keep me fed with good stories from you! :D)

  3. Miss Navigator

    Thank you for your kind words!
    I’ll surely try to keep up both as best I can (I’m not going to bail out of one or another dream job here; though both is not entirely in my hands, either). I think it’s just important for me to acknowledge that it won’t work with the kind of workload I had, and that I need to adjust a few things. Otherwise my own stories won’t happen, because unlike my translations, they don’t come with deadlines …

  4. Miss Navigator

    No threading here, so it’s a little bit messy:
    @Maike: Ah, yes, the disillusionment that comes with unfiltered knowledge about market preferences is also a thing, in one way or the other. It hurts to see good stories tank, and it … makes you think very hard to see the same stories fly again and again.

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