Lesson 13: Becoming a creative translator

Lesson 13: Becoming a creative translator

Translators very often suffer from creativity deficiency, tired by thousands of thousands words that need their logical abilities, but not necessarily these of imagination. After some time, we all end up (temporarily or for good) too fed up with our profession and desperate to go out there and paint a chapel, or write a 3-volume novel. In fact, translators usually suppress their creativity to “translate faithfully and accurately”, becoming more and more deprived of the ability to think outside the box. This limiting of creativity leads to deteriorating of quality of work. Why? Because creativity is much more than painting Picassos or composing Mozarts. Creativity is about coming up with ideas to solve problems. And translation is all about problems, isn’t it?
Grab these useful tips on letting your creativity free step by step every day.

1. Allow yourself to be a creative translator

As paradoxical as it sounds, set some time aside to use it for you creative endeavours. Sundays work well with me, as I’m usually not able to do any serious work then. Or half an hour every morning, before you sit down to work? Dedicate regular amount of time to be creative, tell yourself you are going to be creative and do whatever your right hemisphere tells you to.

2. Give your mind something fresh every day

We are all locked in our offices for most of the time. Regardless of their Feng Shui and cleanliness, we are all tired of them from time to time. It is essential to get something new: go for a walk, read an article on new areas, go to a gallery, and so on.

3. Watch others

Well, you can treat other translators as competitors, but you may well simply use them to generate your creative ideas. Get inspired by them, learn from them, enjoy their articles and blogs, talk to them on Twitter, list down things you like about their education and website.

4. Record your thoughts and ideas

Do know this feeling when you’re doing research for one of your translations, something inspires you and you feel the urge to pursue it, but you scold yourself and go back to work? All these promises to follow up are in vain, as you simply forget what the whole thing was about. Always, always have a piece of paper at hand to note down these flashes of ideas.

5. Keep a toy in your office

Or something that reminds you of your childhood, the most creative period in your life. If it’s a toy and you can play with it, that’s even better. Talking to a child also works.

6. Take time off

It is essential to have time off when you don’t really use your brain (learning French or going through articles on translation doesn’t count!). It is somewhat ironical that brain works best when we don’t think, but when our thoughts wander in different directions. Our brains need this time to subconsciously deal with problems and generate ideas. Having regular breaks is as important for translators as having regular working hours.

How do you boost your creativity? What do you do to be more creative?


  1. Paul Muse , on Mar 14, 2012 at 19:27 Reply

    The soundest advice often sounds like something you’ve been telling yourself for years without really believing it to be true. Thank you, Marta. And keep up the good – creative – work !

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 10, 2012 at 18:33 Reply

      Dear Paul, sometimes we need to hear something from someone else to believe it may be true. That’s why we need peers 🙂

  2. Josée M. , on Mar 27, 2012 at 20:30 Reply

    Hello Marta,

    I also believe creativity is central to the work of translators.

    Even though we often have to follow strict lexical guidelines, I believe we should try to make the most of the lexical resources of our target languages. Since we produce such a high volume of words in this language, we contribute to some extend to maintain its richness and liveliness.

    Your tips are terrific and really – creative! Thank you, I love your writing.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 27, 2012 at 20:32 Reply

      Thank you, Josée! Do you have any tricks to keep your creativity levels up?

  3. Josée M. , on Apr 3, 2012 at 16:33 Reply

    Hello again Marta,

    Well, as we all know, it’s always useful to take breaks and do something manual (gardening, dancing, whatever), so that we come back to work with a fresh outlook. Besides, exposing ourselves to a variety of places and people (whether by travelling abroad or exploring another neighborhood) can help us think in other ways. I also find it beneficial to keep a writing activity on the side, where I can push the boundaries a little more and train the creativity muscle.

    Thanks – looking forward to your next “lesson”!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 9, 2012 at 09:06 Reply

      Hi again, Josée! Glad to see you here again!

      Manual things help. When I know I have a lot of thinking to do, I always leave a pile of dishes to wash. Hardly romantic (at least not as romantic as gardening), but it works.

      New places don’t work well for me. I’m always getting too many new ideas and my mind implodes. But people, I find them inspiring.

      Writing activity is a spot-on! I write whatever, and hardly ever save it. It’s just to let the steam off.

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