Writing

Writing in Another Language

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I have always mentioned the fact that I am not a native English speaker in my blog, but I have never actually posted about writing in English. Well, writing in English is hard. When I describe my writing process, I always say that I grasp, I hold to any word that can come to my mind and express what I mean. So I struggle, I drag myself until the end of the page, when I can finally say, done. I have written what I wanted. Now I need to start again.

It is like limping instead of walking. But it is fine, because it is a good exercise. Author Jhumpa Lahiri, who last year wrote her first book in English, said that a writer that writes in another language should try to abandon those forms that they already know and try to know other ones, either by writing or by reading. In In Other Words, she mentions having a notebook where she writes down all the new words that she wants to learn and then use in her own writing. I have been studying English since I was in elementary school, and writing in this language is still very hard, so I can’t imagine being like Lahiri. She started learning Italian when she was 25. I mean, that must be very difficult.

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But she made it. She is an incredible Italian writer, and her vocabulary is immensely rich, especially for a non-native. Of course, she is not the only one who undertook this challenge. There is a long tradition of writers that decided to write in a second language, and among the most famous there are of course Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov. In spite of being foreign, their books are considered classics of literature in English. It would be interesting to wonder why exactly this happened, why a writer should start writing in another language. As Jhumpa says, why should I leave my “authority”, my ability of writing in my own language and venture in another, completely different path? The answers could be many. For example, some writers just want to write in English because their messages can arrive to a wide audience. Maybe it is because of the publishing industry, which may be in difficulty in some countries while in the US or in UK there may be more possibilities. Or it is just because of a genuine passion for English. I would say that, for me, all these three are important.

In the poetry classes, we talked about writing with obstructions. This means to challenge ourselves and to try to deal with limits, rules, guidelines. Not obstacles, but ways of writing by having to follow certain paths that may lead you to unexpected shores. Well, writing in English is the greatest obstruction I’ve come to deal with. This does not necessarily mean that is a bad thing. It is a bad thing when it comes to see your own piece marked by an editor or a teacher. All those red marks because of my shitty grammar. It’s fine. I will get better. The right attitude towards obstructions is to like the challenge and to see mistakes as opportunities to learn. This is the most important part of writing in another language: being humble. And of course, strong and passionate enough to go on.

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