The first thing to do, after deciding to write a novel in English, is replace everything you can – read or heard – in your daily routine with the equivalent in English.
This blog, for example, is written in English because of that. It takes me a lot of time to post and especially to edit what I wrote but as well as enabling my blog to be accessible for anyone that reads English, from any Country, it’s also a way for you and me both to exercise our English. And I’m conscious that I may have spelling and grammar errors on my posts but to stop posting wouldn’t do me any good.
So, if you didn’t do it yet, why not start your own blog in English?
Believe me when I say that my first attempts in doing so where very poor. I would just write a couple of lines at the beginning and I was already reading books in English and living in Ireland for more than a year when I tried to write complete texts in English.
Many of my first attempts got deleted because I was infuriated with how little I knew about written English. Even understanding almost every lyric of my favorite songs; even being able to make a nice conversation with my irish and english colleagues at work; even having already overcome the headaches that reading books in English used to give me back home; my real knowledge was shown to me when I tried to convey my posts in english.
I could even write good work-related emails when needed because I was at ease with all the terminology of my job and the words needed for that were heard around the office on a daily basis. Nevertheless, it was a completely different challenge to write about feelings, dreams and daily routines in a casual manner on my blog. By the way, it helps to read blogs in English as well. Not just mine – the native english ones…
At the beginning I tied in each word and whenever the right words came to me, I would struggle for the correct time verb or order of sentence – I still do. That doesn’t stop me.
The thing is, writing is completely different from talking. When you talk, maybe you don’t even know how to spell something or you can say something that you’ve heard before and therefore think you know the meaning.
And probably you do know it. So you pronounce it a little off, but people understand and you think you’re fine. (Many times they don’t, but say they do because, like you, they also think they got the meaning of what you just said – see the problem?).
When you have to write what you’ve just said, things get wiry. You find yourself being able to write individual sentences without being able to connect them in a relaxed and understandable paragraph.
Don’t be scared.
Don’t be put off by that. The only bad thing that could come from it, is you’ll have no readers for your blog until you get the hang of it. Or maybe you’ll never have readers in your blog at all – that shouldn’t be your main focus now. I only have one or two readers, they don’t leave comments so I may not have readers at all – and big posts like this one only get read by crazy people with nothing better to do :)
My point is I don’t have a degree in English and I’m writing a novel in English. So it’s one of two things: whether I’m crazy or I’m really getting somewhere, right? I guess we’ll only know by the time I get published ;)
Try to understand why you can’t write a good and relaxed text in English and probably you’ll reach the same conclusion as I did: we talk and think differently, from one language to another. The same way we have different habits from one Country to the other.
We all use voice and words to talk. But the way we choose to say something in our home-town will probably sound weird if we say it across the other end of the Country, and even more out-of-place across the border, with a direct and exact word-to-word translation to another language.
Some words I use in my Country of origin don’t even exist in English. The words I use when talking to my mother-in-law would surely seem very cold and strict if I used them to talk with an irish colleague. Similarly, the way I talk with a stranger would seem too apologetic for her, because people here say ‘Please’ or ‘I’m sorry’ constantly, even when it’s the other person blocking our way to a Public Building, we have to say ‘I’m sorry’ on account on not seeming rude. This post, I imagine, feels a bit off in several parts for a native english speaker, because I still think in my mother-tongue 50% of the time.
So you must surround yourself with English as much as you can. I must confess I wouldn’t have chosen to write a Novel in english if I wasn’t already living in an english-speaking country. It would have been too much of a challenge for me and English books gave me headaches. But if you have the will and you are persistent enough, you have the power to make it happen.
I live in Ireland, but I can’t say I go out and mingle with the natives that much. The things in English that surround me daily are: TV, internet, supermarket labels, songs, occasional strangers or colleagues, and most important of all BOOKS (including my novel-in-progress). See how many things from this list you can have in English.
Books are the most important thing to have in English because they will show you how it’s done, how’s the rhythm and feel of a novel meant for Americans, English, Irish … or whatever culture you admire… It may be hard at the beginning because you’ll read much slower than you’re used to.
I used to read and re-read every other 3 paragraphs of John Grogan‘s Marley & Me (the first book I finished reading in english) and struggled with the meaning of so many words (like ‘heel’) that I soon realized I couldn’t stop to check every single meaning or I would set the book on fire in a matter of minutes.
What I did was read and be happy with knowing the general idea of the text. It has helped that Marley & Me is written in a very casual fashion – I gave up on several books before that one – so be sure to keep on reading if the theme interests you enough, no matter what’s about as long as it is in english.
Then, when I became a better reader (even if just a little), I decided to buy a book with which I became in love after reading it back home, translated in my mother-tongue. So I knew the story and I knew I loved it, and most of all, I knew that I wanted to be able to write stories like that (even if about different themes).
That book was Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight. So after ‘Marley & Me’, I bought ‘Twilight’ in its original version and let me assure you: it was a million times better! even with me still struggling to understand some of the words, like ‘sigh’, one of the things Bella does often enough to drive me crazy, drop everything and look it up on Google.
By Breaking Dawn, the fourth and latest book of the Twilight saga, I was already reading page after page, eager to get to the end and fully appreciating every little bit of it. Yes, some words still got stuck in my mind, but that only goes away with time and a million books more.
I already read several books by now (example: several from the irish author, Cecelia Ahern, bestseller with ‘PS: I Love You’), and still find the need to read every day or this magical-spell fades away quickly. The difference is, the words I don’t understand in a novel are not as many now, so I can stop, write them on Google Translator and then on my notepad, and carry on reading the book without much disturbance.
Reading novels it’s a must in the to-do-list of every single person that is writing a novel. English or not, published or unpublished, all authors say it: writing is an art that only comes from practice and that practice includes reading as much as writing.
Like any job, the brain needs to exercise it daily. We all need to be active readers to know what readers want to read about. I feel a big difference on my writing skills if I don’t do one of the two every day. But that’s a subject for another post and this one is already too big.