As some of you may (most likely may not) know, English isn’t my first language. If we’re getting technical, and go by order of learning it in school, it’s not even my second. And yet I’ve chosen to not only write in this language, but to make a career out of it.
Why, yes, I am a fan of taking risks. Why do you ask?
These tips are more suited for beginners, but every writer taking a linguistic gamble can benefit from them.
Now, a small caveat is needed here. My language (Romanian, ftw) is Latin; more specifically, based on vulgar Latin, the dialect used by Roman soldiers who came here and didn’t want to leave (some Romanians are still bitter about that, btw). We also have some Dacian (the other half of our culture) and Slavic influences, but all in all, it’s a pretty standard European language. Same as English. So it’s not that big of a leap to write in English, which 1. also has a Latin alphabet, 2. has many Latin words, and 3. is basically Internet speech. The transition from Romanian to English isn’t as big as, say, from Romanian to Japanese.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the tips that have helped me write my way through 5+ manuscripts. And counting.
- You kinda need to be fluent in the language of your choice
Now, this goes without saying, but I’ve CPed enough manuscripts in my life to know that not everyone follows this rule. I’m not talking about a basic grasp here. You need to dig deep. To know the difference subbing ‘slash’ for ‘cut’ can have on your sentence. And let me tell you, Word synonyms is not a tool you should constantly rely on (though I encourage you to use it sometimes, especially when stuck). The problem is that if you’re writing with only a handful of words, your paragraphs get real repetitive, real fast. So branch out. Pick up a dictionary. Take some online courses. Pay attention to nuances. It can do wonders.
- Know the dialect
This is something all writers should research, to be honest. If you’re writing contemporary YA, you need to know how teenagers talk. Again, the Internet will be your best friend. And catch up on those Netflix shows, they’re a goldmine.
If you’re writing historical, pick up books from that time period. Oh, you’re more of a medieval fan? Great, other writers are as well, and they’ve written books. Know your category and read, see what words they used, where, and, most importantly, why.
As much as you can, as diversely as you can. Don’t just stick to one genre, or you’ll be biased in your own use of the language. Coming back to English novels, there’s (usually) a pretty big difference between a gritty Adult thriller and a fun, upbeat YA contemporary. Branch out.
- Use the tools at your disposal
What did people do before the Internet? There are so many sites you can access, you won’t have time to discover them all. I sometimes think of a word in English, but know it’s not right. Try as I might, I can’t find the perfect one. Or, worse, I think of an antonym. So what do I do? I use my trusty online Thesaurus. Type in the word and surf through the almost endless options. You’ll find your word, trust me.
And if you don’t find it on your first try, you should have a pretty strong grasp of the language to know which one of those imperfect words has the perfect synonym for you.
- Make a list of words
And bust it out when the inspiration strikes.
I love lists. I’d marry them if it were legal (I kinda think it is in like…Vermont. Vermont sounds like the kind of place that would let you get away with stuff like this).
This is more of a tip for when you’re starting out. If you write a genre/scene specific word you know you’re going to use again, write it down in a separate .doc. If you’re writing an action-packed YA, and you have fighting scenes galore, there’s only so many times you can use the word ‘kick’.
Don’t just write down any old word that comes to mind. Focus on the ones which induce a certain state of mind, highly specific, that immediately create a mental image, and offer characterization when possible. The difference between ‘walking’ and ‘limping’ should come to mind when you’re deciding which words should go on this list.
- Don’t translate
And I’m not just talking about using Google translate or some other app that’s never been programmed to detect, let alone utilize, the nuances inherent to every language. Never, ever think this is a good idea. You can, of course, use these apps for specific words, much like in the case of synonyms. Don’t know how to say ‘banister’? No problem, there’s some program out there which does. But when it comes to entire sentences, you’re much better off.
However, it’s harder to resist the urge of writing an entire manuscript in your own language and then translating it. I get it. I wrote half of my first novel this way. Huge mistake. For starters, your language probably has a very different sentence structure than the one you’re translating into. Why is this important? Because you can translate the words, but still accidentally keep the structure, which can result in things like “Ana has eyes beautiful”. This is a simplistic example, but if you’re the kind of writer who uses long, flowing sentences, the likelihood of this happening is even bigger.
I suggest writing in your language of choice from the get-go. Your brain will slowly be trained to think in that language and your phrases will flow naturally. It takes time. It takes practice. But you’ll get there.
As often as you can, for as long as you can. Experiment with dialects. Internalize the sentence structure and it’ll become second nature soon enough.
Is it easy? Nope. Is it worth it? You tell me, you clicked on this post for a reason.
Even after years of writing in English, I still mess things up. It happens. Prepositions are my constant tormentors, the bastards. But I’m learning as I go, same as I have since starting this journey.
I’ll share a post about why *I* chose to write in English. It might not be the best decision for everyone, but I think it’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Coming to your screens next week.