ESL writers and switching to writing in English

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Moggo

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I live in a country where the odds that you'll make a living as a writer are close to nil, doubly so if you write Fantasy and/or Science fiction. I was lucky enough to realize early on that I wouldn't get anywhere by writing in my own language and switched to writing almost exclusively in English (which is taught as a foreign language at school, so I already had the basics down). A couple of my RL acquaintances who are also aspiring writers did the same thing. Over the years I've seen those who held out become increasingly pessimistic. They lament that they weren't born in the UK or US, that the publishing industry here is what it is, say they love our native language but hate that they can't build a career on that love, think their dream is dead, have vowed to quit writing altogether or lost the motivation to do more of it, and so on and so forth.

I guess what I'm asking for here is, how do I help them? Can I help them? The way I went about improving my English, it took me six years to get to a point where I'm reasonably certain I can properly string sentences together. Even now I'm still not sure I don't let wonky grammar slip into my text sometimes. "Look, you can totally write in English, it will only require a LOT of writing and a LOT of reading and spending years and years on that, writing and discarding, until you end up . . . average and riddled with self-doubt," isn't the most uplifting motivational speech you can give someone. So, if you are in the same boat, if you are ESL and at some point decided that writing in English was the way to go, how did that work out for you? Do you regret it? Are you happy with the level you're currently at? Do you have any advice that can ease or speed things up for someone who is about to start on this path? Was it hard to, in a sense, push aside the language you grew up speaking or didn't you even think about it in those terms? I'd love to have your thoughts on this, no matter what your experience was like. Thank you in advance :)
 
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Lawless

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The way I see it, the domestic market is for testing how well the audience will receive your work.

I came to the realization a long time ago that writing books in my native language is pointless from the commercial point of view. The number of speakers is so small that when a novel sells 1000 copies, it's considered great success.

On the other hand, I couldn't write in English. I mean, I do write a lot in English, but that's blog articles, forum posts and a few trip reports. When I write fiction, I don't want to have to constantly spend time with dictionaries in order to find the word that would express the exact nuance I want.

So how to solve this dilemma? I have decided that I will write my novel in my native language and publish it in my native language in order to get feedback from the readers, as well as some money. Based on that feedback, I will make changes that seem appropriate, and have the novel translated into a couple of big languages, including English. As I'm fluent in English, it'll be easy for me to verify that the translation is correct. Maybe I'll even translate it myself.
 
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Elenitsa

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Don't think about writing in your language as a COMMERCIAL venture, but as the patriotic duty to add something to your national literature. Besides the little you sell, you can make it available for free in pdf, to younger readers who can't afford buying books. And ask for feedback!

I am writing in my mother tongue too, and publishing my novels in 200 copies. My first was requested for additional 100 copies. This is a good thing. Do I expect being really famous or rich? Not at all. I expect, however, some critics (and I got them, mostly favourable :) and one of the older writers will be sponsoring me for being admitted in the National Writers Union, when I get the number of published books asked for in the rules (most likely, next year).

I know people from my country who write in English and want to self-publish, aiming at a bigger number of readers. I put my first novel for free in electronic format on a specialised site, and this way I can get a larger readership who might enjoy my writings and help me get more known. (Not famous, just known).
 

Lawless

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Don't think about writing in your language as a COMMERCIAL venture, but as the patriotic duty to add something to your national literature.

Don't twist my words. I said writing in my native language is pointless from the commercial point of view. I didn't say the commercial point of view was the only point of view.

Neither did I say I think about writing as a commercial venture. I wouldn't write primarily for money. It just isn't enough motivation. But I don't understand the authors who are happy to be popular in a tiny market and don't even strive to reach audiences hundreds of times bigger.

This topic is about language. For those who don't care about commercial success, the question of language doesn't even arise. Of course you write in your native language because you can express yourself in it better than in any other. But I don't think that's what the OP was asking about, so it's off-topic. I think we all wish we could afford not to care about money.
 
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Snitchcat

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Hmm... Not really seeing anyone twist anyone's words; only see posters expressing opinions.

Personally, if I could write in my native language as well as I do in English, I'd be tapping into that market. (Not patriotic, I just know the demographics.) I imagine the reverse would also be true.

IMO, how well one would like to be known involves an individual's definition of "known". Perhaps some are content with a small niche market. Or they may be working up to something bigger but want a solid fan base from which to start. However, all of this is conjecture.

Back to the OP's questions.

My counter would be: Do those writers want the help? Not lip service, but truly. If they do, and you make it known you're willing to mentor or provide resources, perhaps they'll approach you.

OTOH, if it feels too much like prying, you could always set up a blog / vlog / podcast / etc., detailing your journey. Then promote whichever tool you've chosen.

One more point to consider: Why do you want to help them? Genuine desire to see them succeed because *they* want to succeed, or because *you* can see a path for them? Note that the path you see for them may not be the one they want.

However, I wonder if you might do better to share your journey and let the other writers decide if they want to tread a similar path.
 
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Snitchcat

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Regarding the remaining questions: IMO, if the other writers want the crash course, they're going to need a lot of resources they may not have on hand. Namely money.

Crash course? Private tutoring for the written language, especially in fiction writing (more on this bit later). Immersive language learning.

The fiction writing thing will be the most labour intensive for tutor and student: Student attempts a short descriptive paragraph, tutor breaks it down and explains *why* something is wrong and what the correct version should like. Then the student goes away and practices till the next tutorial session. Rinse repeat with all aspects of fiction writing / whichever type of writing the student is pursuing. Oh, and immersive reading.

IME, it's not a case of pushing aside your native language; it's more learning how to be comfortable code switching.
 

Yasia

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I actually don't have any real advice to give but just my experience and what are my conclusions for now.
I don’t have a native language. Let me explain: I’m currently living in a country in which I was not born but of which I speak better the language; my “native” language is really hard for me, I can speak it but I barely can read it. Spoiler alert: none of those two languages are English.
And I love writing, while growing up I always excelled in it, if compared to my classmates, but the praise would always be: “for someone who wasn’t born here you are really good.” (notice how it sounds like “for a woman, you are really funny”)
Therefore when I messed up the comments where: “The idea was good but you can’t do much about the fact the you are foreign.”
And it made me so sad because what could I do? They didn’t pinpoint my mistakes but the “reason” for them. Dude, I studied from grade ONE in your language, I know grammar better than 80% of my classmates, and I still get knocked down because I wasn’t born here. That’s people for you. I was a really angry teenager after I realised that.
But then, with time, I came to think something else: writing isn’t grammar. It’s important, super important, but none of our manuscripts start out the same as they end up being like, even the plot sometimes changes. Editing is magic, and while no one can write for you someone can help you edit. Also I know a lot of people that have better grammar than me and can’t write something interesting to save their lives, and it doesn’t even matter because they are not interested in doing it.
Ok, so now you can tell me that that can be applied only to people that already know, say, a certain level of english, and you are probably right. What can you do if you are just starting in learning a language and want to write in it? PRACTICE, in every way possible, and it’s not impossible to achieve a satisfactory level of knowledge.
And I’m sorry, this subject is kind of important for me so I don’t know if what I just wrote makes sense or is just a jumble of nonsense but it’s ok, maybe next time that I write about it I will be more eloquent. Doubt is the biggest enemy of every writer, or everyone really, because if it’s not your knowledge of the language it’s the dialogues, it’s realistic characters, it’s action scenes that make you feel like you are not good enough. So help them by saying that their brains are amazing and can do much more than they think, that no one is asking them to be perfect and that love always wi- no wait, wrong situation,sorry, jus say that no one likes grammar anyway. Ah, and that the most important part of writing is the story and that there are people that did what they are scared to try quite successfully.
(I should totally put this post in my daily word count)
 

Elenitsa

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Yasia, I understand you. Everything you are saying makes sense, and this is the most important reason why I am not writing my novels in English. I was asked why, and I replied every time that if I had the possibility to get a native speaking editor, then yes, I would. Since I can't, then... I am sticking to my mother tongue for writing novels.
 

Yasia

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That is great! For now I'm not writing in english as well, at least not my main novel. It doesn't mean that I won't decide to do otherwise in the future. What I also wanted to say is that if you decide to do something then just do it because you will find a way. There is always a reason for not doing something and if everyone gave up just because it was too hard then we wouldn't probably even have doctors. (And I partially know, my psychobiology book is a 500 pages monster)
But also if you decide to write in you own language it's fantastic too, it may be hard because the market is smaller or yout genre is yet well received, but it may be worth to you. It's just about not giving up because even the people that have the, in your prospective, easier are probably battling something. Just set your mind on the goal and do it, and adjust when something doesn't work, don't give up either way.
 

Guy Pierrefeu

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Im an ESL songwriter that just recently made the change to writing in English permanently. It was a good move for me, personally I think there is a wider market for English speaking/writing artists in the industry than for any other language out there.
 

Snitchcat

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Im an ESL songwriter that just recently made the change to writing in English permanently. It was a good move for me, personally I think there is a wider market for English speaking/writing artists in the industry than for any other language out there.

Don't discount Simplified Chinese so quickly. The market potential is colossal: Chinese people love to read and many spend almost all of one day in a bookshop -- they treat it as a library if they can't afford the books; if they can, they buy. (Btw, it's easy to blow the equivalent of up to US$1000 on books in a Chinese bookshop, IME. (Yeah, not doing that again -- not 'cos I didn't want the books, but 'cos I forgot they can weight quite a bit together.))
 

FlyBird

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Don't discount Simplified Chinese so quickly. The market potential is colossal: Chinese people love to read and many spend almost all of one day in a bookshop -- they treat it as a library if they can't afford the books; if they can, they buy. (Btw, it's easy to blow the equivalent of up to US$1000 on books in a Chinese bookshop, IME. (Yeah, not doing that again -- not 'cos I didn't want the books, but 'cos I forgot they can weight quite a bit together.))
I totally agree, the Chinese market is huge. How do you go about publishing there, say you have a manuscript in Chinese? Is there publishers or agents in HongKong who will take a look?
 

Snitchcat

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I totally agree, the Chinese market is huge. How do you go about publishing there, say you have a manuscript in Chinese? Is there publishers or agents in HongKong who will take a look?

The publishing industry works very differently: It's state controlled.

So, all the publishers must meet government-approved guidelines.

As far as I've been able to determine, you submit to the publishers themselves; however, I have seen instances where the editor solicits pieces (not a scam), or a writer already with a publishing house helps the publisher recruit other writers or translators (again, not a scam).

But submitting to HK publishers or agents is close to a lost cause if you're targeting the Mainland, or if you're writing novels and intend to target the HK market. The HK reading public prefer magazines and newspapers, or manga, and all in Traditional Chinese.

If you're writing a novel and want to publish in HK, you're looking at the Expat community (English in this case) -- it's huge here, but the adults' reading tastes vary greatly and I've seen mainstream fiction purchased more than genre fiction. If you're writing for kids, say 8 years old up to 13 or so, you have a huge market for an English novel.

For both the Mainland and HK, parents will spend whatever it takes (if they can) on their kids' education. This includes fiction.
 

FlyBird

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The publishing industry works very differently: It's state controlled.

So, all the publishers must meet government-approved guidelines.

As far as I've been able to determine, you submit to the publishers themselves; however, I have seen instances where the editor solicits pieces (not a scam), or a writer already with a publishing house helps the publisher recruit other writers or translators (again, not a scam).

But submitting to HK publishers or agents is close to a lost cause if you're targeting the Mainland, or if you're writing novels and intend to target the HK market. The HK reading public prefer magazines and newspapers, or manga, and all in Traditional Chinese.

If you're writing a novel and want to publish in HK, you're looking at the Expat community (English in this case) -- it's huge here, but the adults' reading tastes vary greatly and I've seen mainstream fiction purchased more than genre fiction. If you're writing for kids, say 8 years old up to 13 or so, you have a huge market for an English novel.

For both the Mainland and HK, parents will spend whatever it takes (if they can) on their kids' education. This includes fiction.
Thanks so much for this, I've learned a lot! You are very knowledgeable about the publishing industry there!
 

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