I invited a friend over to my newsletter, and he asked me this: “What are your expectations?”
I replied something vague, like “... I expect to finish my novel, i want to build a solid platform, and in the long term, I'm going to build a career out of writing…” I might as well have declared, while twirling my mustache: “Why, my friend, I expect to take over the world, of course!” (But I don't have a mustache.)
Awe-inspiring expectations. While they might be true, later on I realized I’d taken the question from the wrong end of the telescope. How self-centered of me.
What my friend really meant was: What do you expect from me?
I expect two things.
A- First, enjoy reading my work.
But take your time. No stress. Reading is something we do at our own pace, in our own time. Myself, I buy a lot of books and, oftentimes, I read them only years later. So I don’t expect your feedback anytime soon, although I’ll celebrate any that comes my way. Please, never feel bad for not having read my stuff yet.
B- Second, if it turns out that my writing just isn’t your thing... I understand. No sweat: open any of my emails and, at the bottom, follow the "unsubscribe" link. Don’t feel bad about it. Actually, you're doing me a favor.
Because it's better to write for a smaller group of passionate people rather than a larger group of less interested people. Besides, nothing is ever really free. Even MailerLite, as affordable as it is, will start charging me soon as the list grows beyond one thousand subscribers.
And if you ever miss me, or want to know what is going on with me and all my project, you may subscribe again at anytime through my website.
My Writing Language—and Why?
I guess by now you might have guessed it: I write in English, even though my mother tongue is French, not English. Then most times, I translate to French.
But why? Why do I write in English? Is it for marketing purposes?
I see a few things I'd like to unpack here.
When I tried my hand at writing in English, I discovered it allowed me to think in a different way, and it was very compelling. Fast forward one decade, one thing leading to another, I’ve now been working with my favourite developmental editor for almost three years.
Less Short Version
Disclaimer: The following subject matter might not be appropriate for all audiences. Some may find it a bit heavy on the stomach. But I promise, I will make it as palatable as I can, as tasty as possible. Feel free to read twice.
What we Perceive as The Market
The English language comes with a larger market. Okay... Maybe. While it might be true, it’s also irrelevant.
Because it changes nothing. When you start out, nobody knows you, and this is it. In reality, what you have to strive for when you start out as a writer, is to find your minimum viable audience. It’s the minimum number of people wanting to read what you write, that will be enough to allow you to sustain your efforts. Enough, here, is a personal concept.
(By the way, no publisher is going to change that for you. To them, either you sell, and it makes them happy, or you don’t, and they get rid of you. I may be oversimplifying here, but I believe the idea is basically correct.)
Language has nothing to do with it either, and the size of what we picture as the market, neither. Besides, French too is an international language, spread over hundreds of countries. More than enough to sustain any new writer willing to do the hard work needed, both to become great at their craft, and to raise their hand and reach out in order to make themselves known in the long run. The fractional number of readers needed to achieve an MVA is negligible in comparison to how many people use a language or not within the whole solar system.
Plus, there is a cool thing we call translation, which renders the topic moot. Dang, I should’ve lead with that.
This isn’t even a Choice
My current novel project is just this: one project. There will be others. I have a ton of story ideas waiting in line, and not necessarily all of them in English. Some I see myself writing in French. My point being, nothing is set in stone. I’m not exclusive, neither on genre nor language. These things remain open for the future. Some of my stories could even take place right here and nowadays. (As I write this, I’m in Montreal, and it's February 2021.)
Why English then?
I spent a decade trying to start a novel project in French, with various degrees of determination, grit and resilience. Maybe I didn’t have enough time, energy, life experience, know-how, availability… but I'll never know, and it doesn't matter much.
One day, something happened.
In fact, taking into account that my first love was science fiction, and although I do still read, enjoy and admire many authors who write in the language of René Barjavel, Stefan Wul, Élisabeth Vonarburg and Esther Rochon (yes, that was French!)... I also ended up doing a lot of reading in the tongue of, in no particular order, Asimov, Dick, Benford, Zelazny, Le Guin, Heinlein, Farmer, Van Vogt, Reynolds, Niven, Robinson, Bova, Scott Card, Anthony, Martin, Stephenson, Neuvel, Bradbury... The list goes on, and this quick sample here, from the top of my head today, is in no way exhaustive nor in order of preference.
And now that I think of it, I’ve been reading English books since my early twenties. I’ll turn fifty something this year. That’s thirty five years of enjoyable, bimodal reading. If only because of this, the fact that I feel like writing in both languages shouldn't come as a big surprise.
So… what happened?
Bear in mind also: I’ve always loved languages. I find them fascinating and I like the challenge they pose. There was a time, about twenty years ago, when my German was better than my English, and when my Italian was good enough that once, I was called a liar in Italy when I said I came from Canada. I did study Spanish too, but only just enough to start confusing it with Italian...
But languages need practice. I suspect that bits of my German, Italian and Spanish must still be lurking somewhere underneath my direct awareness, but they will certainly call for some major refreshing whenever I need to use them again.
Enough bragging. What happened?
One day, I tried my hand at writing in English. Just to see. It’s that simple.
Suddenly, something was different.
Because I wasn't raised in English. Because I didn't go to school in English. Because I didn't grow up in awe of the writing gods of English literature.
Because all of a sudden, I was no longer trying to measure up, even unconsciously, to the French luminaries I grew up revering. Victor Hugo. Henri Troyat. Jules Verne. Jean Giono. Michel Tournier. Again, the list goes on, crushing me under a twenty-six point five gigaton polar ice cap of hopeless inadequacy.
As I tried my hand with English, just to see… the unbearable weight started to lift off my shoulders. Just enough to make a difference.
Interesting. I felt like no one was watching me anymore, judging. Like I was able to think differently. My mind was lighter, more playful, freer. In any case, it was easier to focus on what I really wanted to say, on the stories I really wanted to tell.
Had I been raised in English, I’m pretty sure I could have experienced the same as I tried my writing hand in French.
Having fun yet? Hungry... for more reading? Me, I'm ravenous.
I’ve been on the lookout for any writing resource out there, in both languages. As I soon discovered, resources in English seem to be more plentiful and easier to find—BTW, feel free to prove me wrong on this. I’ll enjoy any other resource you throw my way.
What followed is complex and interesting, enough to fuel more blog posts: I looked from one writing website to another, from one book on writing, from one writing coach to the next…
So much so, that three years ago, I met the editor and writing coach with whom I’ve been working ever since. Courtney Harrell is a Story Grid Certified Developmental Editor. I'll tell you more about what this means later, but for now, let's just say we have compatible story brains. Working with Courtney has been a major highlight of the last three years.
And of course, Courtney Harrell is a writer, first and foremost.
What about you?
Have you ever tried your hand at writing in a language different than your own? How was the experience? Tell me in the comments section below.
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