I recently tried writing stories in Dutch. Since Dutch is my “mother tongue”, I presumed I wouldn’t have to translate from English. But right away, I discovered that that’s not how it works.
I came across several problems when trying to write fiction in Dutch. The most pressing issue is that my writing skills in English far outweigh my writing skills in Dutch. Part of this has to do with English being my first written language. Also, my reading has resulted in a broader active lexicon. I’m therefore much more familiar with different registers and styles in English.
I believe the level of my skills is also connected with having written fiction in English for two years, while only just beginning to write fiction in Dutch (despite writing non-fiction in Dutch for years).
Trying to be good
A quote by Ira Glass, host and producer of Chicago Public Radio’s “This American Life”, comes to mind:
“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this stage; they quit.”
When writing in English I’ve accepted this “gap”. I’ve gone through the stage of extreme disappointment at how much better I want my writing to be than what it is. I’ve moved on and (most of the time) have stopped cringing at what I’ve written. It helps when I see myself improve with every story I write and to notice the gap shrinking.
I naively thought my acquired skills in English would transfer to my Dutch writing. But, if anything, the “gap” between my writing and good writing is even bigger in Dutch than it was when I began writing fiction in English.
I noticed I began to think in English when working on a Dutch story, because it was the best way I could portray the story I saw playing in my mind. But then I was creating an English story that then needed translating, which would also not be a well-written story. To narrow the gap and create Dutch stories that are good, I need to learn to think in Dutch when writing. I considered quitting writing fiction in Dutch, but took comfort in Ira Glass’s quote.
I accept that at the moment my writing doesn’t have this special thing I want it to have. But only practice, lots and lots of practice, will get my work to be as good as my ambition.