Our collective imagination is not very kind toward people who are passionate about writing. Largely, we imagine writers out on a ledge somewhere, spewing melancholy all over the place, in the form of sappy rhyme.
We often place them in a sort of Bohemian nightmare, in humid, squalid apartments, bent over a typewriter, with messy hair, smoking cigarettes to stave off hunger.
As a literature major and a professional linguist, I would like to tell the world that some of us writers are actually nice people, with common sense, good work ethic, and a good sense of personal hygiene. And although we may not be writing the next Songs of Innocence or the next Midsummer Night’s Dream, we do produce a satisfyingly large volume of text every day.
The translation industry may not be as glamorous as a stint in public radio or a major newspaper, but it is an excellent place for any aspiring writer to perfect his writing skills. The pressure of deadlines, the challenges, such as translating humor and cultural references, the hours of sustained tireless writing, teach us much more than Saussure and Aristotle ever could. They teach us perseverance, resolve and common sense: all features of a mature and seasoned writer.
Furthermore, anyone with a knack for conveying meaning through words should be able to do so in a wide variety of contexts. Translators may be writing legal texts one day , marketing material the next, literary content another day, and so on. You can think of them as The Beatles in Hamburg, playing 8 hour sets of anything from torch songs, to music hall, to R&B. Versatility and a vast general culture are priceless commodities for writers.
Writing, ideally, should be well-documented and efficient. It should flow freely and effortlessly from the writer’s fingers. But without experience, without a solid training, such as the translation industry provides, it may well miss the mark.
And what translation contributes to great writing doesn’t end here. There is much to discover in the works of great writers who were also great translators. J. L. Borges, Ezra Pound, Charles Beaudelaire, to name a few, can teach us the importance of art and creativity in translation.
To be continued…