I recently attended a panel on literary translation as a creative art. The panel aimed to show that literary translation is much more than the simple transfer of a literary work from one language into another and is an art in its own right. After the discussions, I approached both author and translator with follow-up questions. I wanted to elaborate on the relationship between the two as the author’s work becomes the translator’s masterpiece, yet still remains the author’s creation.

trustTrust seemed to be the main ingredient in creating a successful relationship. The author in this case indicated that she really didn’t speak French, so she had to put her English work in the translator’s hands, fully confident that the final product would be as good as it could be.

I guess the trust issue is a given whenever an author hands over her work for translation into a language unfamiliar to her. However, trust becomes less obvious when the author knows the target language well enough to be able to appreciate the new version of her work. In such a case, the author may feel that the foreign language version is awkward and she may even be inclined to rewrite it.

When this happens, the author can get tangled up in the creative process of a work she has already created and finished. Needless to say, rewriting in another language is redundant and unproductive for the author. And for the translator, it slows progress and makes the process unnecessarily complicated.

Here are a few tips that authors can employ to avoid falling into the rewriting trap:

  • Trust your translator. Make sure you are working with a professional literary translator so you can rest assured she is doing her best to recreate your voice, your message and your style in the target language. One way to ensure that trust exists is to first commission a sample translation. In working on that together, you can see the translator’s work and she can learn what your specific style is like. This exercise will also help you develop a working relationship. Another advantage of the sample translation is that it will help you as the author embrace the reincarnation of your own voice in a different language.
  • Be helpful, but avoid interfering. Remember, as the author, your role is not to rewrite your work all over again. Be prepared to answer the many questions your translator will ask, as she works to make sure that all nuances have been addressed. You may find that many of the questions seem too picky or unnecessary, but bear in mind that the point has been raised mostly because the target language requires clarification due to its own particularities.
  • Recognize limits. If you disagree and feel very strongly about something, let your translator know, by all means. But don’t get tangled up in the countless little things that don’t make a real difference anyway. Remember: words that seem familiar to you might actually be false friends or have different intensities of meaning in the target language. Let your translator decide on those; save your time and energy to move the project forward.
  • Credit your translator. More and more, this is common practice around the world. By recognizing the work of your translator, you can mentally distance yourself from the process of translation and the final result, even though you are still an active part of it. At the same time, your translator will have a sense of pride and accomplishment that will only motivate them to excel even more.
  • Accept that this is a new work. Your piece will look different, feel different and, above all, sound different than it did in the original. The translation is a new work in its own right. Read it once and let it sit for a while. Then read it again a couple more times and soon you’ll notice that the words convey the meanings and feelings you intended in the first place. Mission accomplished!

Authors and translators, how do you view the trust relationship? How do you establish it? What sort of limits are there? What does each side need to remember, to respect the other’s feelings and skills? Share your experience and advice with us!

And if you’ve any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them here, in a comment, or contact us.

If you liked this article, please consider giving it a like or a share!

Pilar Bolanos is a certified translator, former journalist and communications professional. Whether working in international news, international relations, as a translator and editor, the axis of her entire career has always been words. As Manager of Spanish Services with Intralingo, she helps English-language authors find their voice in her native Spanish.