Rituals and routines: tips for language translators

Posted on Thu, May 23, 2013 @ 08:05 AM

language translatorWe wish creativity and motivation were formulaic, but every writer—or in our case, language translator—has to find his or her own way of tapping into them. We’ve always been fascinated by the creative rituals of others, so we thought we’d share a few of our own. While we can’t guarantee that these will work for you, we hope that you’ll at least find them interesting.

Dress the part
A colleague of ours—and a fellow translator who used to work a nine-to-five—recently told us an amusing story. Before she exited the corporate world and went freelance, she was expected to show up every morning in a two-piece business suit. And each morning as she slipped into it, she resented it. The first thing she did after going freelance was wad up her power suits, throw them in a black trash bag and drop them off at the local Salvation Army.

Here’s the funny thing: Working from home in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt was liberating, but she believed that—in some strange, psychological way—the new wardrobe impacted her output and quality of work. Although you won’t find her in a business suit, the wardrobe that replaced it isn’t a far cry from the one hanging on the racks in the Salvation Army. Her conclusion: “Dressing up” is a necessary ritual and when she doesn’t do it, her work suffers.

Warm up and stretch your mental muscles
You’ll never go to a professional sporting event and find an empty field. Hours before the action begins, the athletes can be found running, taping their wrists, stretching, strategizing, throwing, etc. Language translators are linguistic athletes and as with physical activity, we’ve found that warming up and stretching is a necessary part of our routine.  

Before we dive into the rigors of our daily work, we log into our Penzu account, an online journal platform that actually looks like a real journal. We may only write 100 words, but we never scrutinize it, never revise and never care how it sounds. We simply write enough to stretch our mind and ease into the day’s work.

Find an accountability partner
Our friends, spouses and partners may sympathize with the stress that comes with being a language translator, but they’ll never fully understand it. We’ve found it necessary to have an accountability partner—that is, a fellow language translator we “check in” with at least once a day. Our partner is someone we call or email in the morning and let them know what we’re going to be working on for the next four or five hours. Around lunchtime, we speak over the phone and give a brief “account” of what we’ve accomplished.

It may sound like a strange practice, but we’ve found it works wonders for our productivity and mental health.

You have a bedtime routine. Why don’t you have a translating routine?
We recently read a biography on novelist Stephen King. Amongst other things, we learned a bit about his philosophy on creative routines. For him, creative routines are no “different than a bedtime routine.” Here’s a quote from the book:

“Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”

Put together a morning ritual and follow it the same way every day. Like pulling back the covers on your bed before getting into it, the final step of your creative routine may make beginning your translation work a painless, almost reflexive final step.


Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

Topics: writing strategies, writing skills, Modern Language Translation, Translation and interpretation studies, time management tips for translators, Translation Classes Online, language translators, writing rituals, creative rituals

Wrestling the muse: 5 creative rituals for the freelance translator

Posted on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 @ 09:01 AM

freelance translator writing ritualsDespite popular opinion, translation has much more to do with creative decisions and imaginative acts than it does swapping out Word X in one language with Word Y in another language. Creative “wordsmithing”—as opposed to mechanical word exchanging—means that you have to find a way to set your creativity in motion.  Doesn’t it?

We once read an interview with Ernest Hemingway where he was asked about mnemonic devices, ritualistic acts that set him on the creative path. Hemingway may have been at the Ambos Mundos in Havana or the Finca in San Francisco de Paula. Regardless of where he was, he would begin the creative act with the same ritual:  He’d take out seven No. 2 pencils and sharpen all of them. Only then would he write.

One of our colleagues, an agnostic without a religious bone in her body, ritualistically lights five candles every morning before she practices her forty-five minute yoga routine. When a candle burns down after several weeks, a new one replaces it. Every day she repeats the act. For her, the candle has absolutely no connection to spirituality or the yoga routine. It’s simply a habit, a ritual that sets the day and the creative act in motion.  

Regardless of what your ritual is, it should be habitual and practiced unswervingly. If you’re looking for some ideas, here are 5 suggestions to get you started.

Wrestling the muse: 5 creative rituals for the freelance translator

Write in Bed
According to Monica Ali, author of Untold Story, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and Marcel Proust all wrote in bed. Writing, or in your case, translating, is serious business; it’s “stuff” of the mind, so writing from bed might seem a bit irreverent. But if it works, why not?

Provoke Tiny Moments of Awareness
While we were browsing the shelves in Barnes and Noble, we came across a book by Roger-Pol Droit called Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life. It’s a playful book, but we’ve found that some of the exercises do in fact help us discover the ways in which small, ritualistic acts can become the starting point for a sort of “astonishment” that can take you out of the moment and inspire creativity. Here’s one such example, an exercise called “Empty a Word of Its Meaning”:

Make sure that you are in a place where no one can hear you. Take an ordinary object—in the past, we’ve picked up the very object that is intimidating us or hindering creativity. Now take the object in your hands and say its name. Repeat its name over and over again as you look at it. Keep going until the familiar word detaches itself and starts to become a series of strange sounds, meaningless noises that mean nothing, indicate nothing and take little form. Once this happens, you’ll notice that the object, too, has become much less startling, more crude and present. Did you notice the exact moment when the meaning dissolved, when the object became no longer something to intimidate, but a simple thing? Now go about your business creatively!

Learn to see the blank computer screen as a beautiful, clean canvas
What’s so bad about a new beginning? “Starting off with a clean slate” is one of the most frequently uttered colloquialisms around. Why not apply it to your work? Remember, the words you put on it don’t need to be perfect—especially since it’s a digital canvas that can be written on, deleted, copied, pasted, printed  and saved for later.

Go to your creative space
You may be familiar with Maya Angelou, author of I Know How the Caged Bird Sings? Here is how she describes her writing ritual:

I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don’t allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday. About once a month, the management slips a note under my door and they ask, ‘Please, Dr. Angelou, may we change the sheets? We know they must be moldy.’ But I’ve never slept there. I just go in and sit down and work.

Stop trying to be a genius and write only for X amount of time every single day
In a letter to Cecil Dawkins, author Flannery O’Connor said,

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.” 

These creative rituals may not be every freelance translator's cup of tea. Just remember, it doesn’t matter what the ritual is as long as it’s something that works for you and becomes a habitual part of the translation process itself.

Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

Topics: writing strategies, Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, freelance translation, Translation Agencies, writing rituals

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