I was sitting and staring at a blank piece of paper for some time. Around 5 weeks, to be precise. It’s not that I didn’t know what to write, I just had to translate. But believe me, even though I am just a translator, I have just experienced the longest and most terrifying writer’s block I ever had. And it’s time to admit that translators do get their blocks as well.
Wikipedia says that a writer’s block is a “condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. It can manifest as the affected writer viewing their work as inferior or unsuitable”. I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t apply to translators. A translator’s block definitely applies to me.
It all started with my Christmas holidays, the rush and hassle around it, and the fact that it was the longest time off I ever took in my life. After a week without translating I started thinking: “What if I forget how to do it?”, what if I lose my skill? I came back from holidays and I had to catch up with all too many things, with deadlines, illnesses, and personal dilemmas. I tried to forget about my superstitious (or insane) thinking, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that something was wrong with my inner translator. As a responsible and caring manager, I started investigating what can cause the translator’s block. Here are my notes:
Causes of translator’s block:
– Lack of inspiration Whatever they say, translation IS a creative activity, and you need at least a bit of motivation or flow to make it tick. I didn’t have my inspiration, and I knew I was totally flat and boring in my translations. And it was the first time in my life I wished I didn’t have to translate. Oh, just to be a lawyer or an accountant (even in January), or just lock myself up in a cosy chalet with no internet at all…
– Not enough experience or skill. I still do get it sometimes, despite a few years of experience. I receive a new project, open it… and I simply don’t know how to do it. It usually goes away, like stage fright. But what if it doesn’t? What if you keep thinking that you’re not good enough, that this text is too difficult? What if you start thinking like that about every second text you get? I don’t translate texts I can’t translate. At least that keeps translator’s block in a healthy distance.
– Personal problems. Stress, illness, finances. Perhaps that has no influence on solicitors or accountants (I doubt it), but translators suffer a lot. And it’s all connected. If you’re sick, you can’t work. You can’t work, you don’t earn. You don’t earn, you’re stressed. You’re stressed, so your immune system can’t cope.
– Time. It doesn’t work with me, but I know a few people who get their blocks with short deadlines.
What about possible results?
Low quality is one of them. And it’s not so much about proofreading, or mistranslations, but about boring and mediocre texts. And it drives me crazy that I can’t do better than that!
Stress. During this dreadful period I wanted to die at least once a week. And I couldn’t work too much either, as I was sure that my translations are too poor.
Thinking of changing careers.
Neglecting your blog.
How did I deal with that?
Well, I started with planning some nice and creative things to do that had nothing in common with translation. And I worked on changing my website. And I talked to people, a lot. And I decided to apply for my MA (keep fingers crossed – it’s conference interpreting!). And I asked my colleague for an honest peer review (as you could guess, my texts were not flat or boring, they were perfectly fine). I’m getting better now.
Thank you for sticking with me during this long period of silence. I’ve planned a bunch of interesting things for 2012, so stay tuned in!
Have you ever experienced a translator’s block? How did you deal with it? And how are you doing in 2012? Is it as prosperous as they’re saying?
PS I do apologise for a weird e-mail that you got some time ago (‘Hello world!’). Let’s just pretend it never happened 🙂