The craft and business of writing and self publishing

Five Things I Learned as an ESL Writer

By Barbara G. Tarn

 

With the new millennium, I started going to book fairs and creative writing courses (which started only around 2001 in Italy, probably since the internet had informed us that in the US there was such a thing as “creative writing”). So I started to understand how things worked a little better.

I improved my craft and then started researching publishers. At the same time, I thought, “Why don’t I write in English? I’d have so many more readers, since Italians don’t read!” English is the language of business and literature. It’s not just for the natives, but also for the ESL readers. Millions and billions of them!

The thought of writing in a second language was scary at first. But I loved English and its brevity, and so I decided I needed to be fluent and able to do it! Here’s how I did it.

1) Learn through things you love

You like music? Listen to song lyrics. You like movies? Watch DVDs with subtitles in the language you want to learn (i.e. in my case I watched English movies with English subtitles. If you want to learn Italian, you should watch Italian movies with Italian subtitles). I watched a lot of movies, and with the advent of DVDs and subtitles, my English improved tenfold. Even the written English.

2) Read a lot in that language

I think that in the new millennium I have read maybe a dozen books in Italian. Everything else is now done in English, be it research or fiction. I started in the 1990s when I bought David Eddings sagas in English after reading the Belgariad in Italian. And the Dragonlance books. And graphic novels that weren’t translated yet (A Distant Soil, Elfquest). And so on and so forth.

3) Start easy

I decided to write screenplays, since the mechanics were much easier that prose. My own prose was quite visual and more like jotting down a movie in my head, so I thought it would be the perfect medium for my stories. Except to break into Hollywood… it’s complicated. (Yes, I failed the conquest of Hollywood, so? Not a big deal anymore!)

I mean, start small, with a short story, don’t dive in a novel at the first attempt! And try to think it in the language it’s supposed to be written.

4) You might want to recycle old stuff at first

Although it’s not advisable to translate from your own language into another, it might be useful to have a story completely laid out, especially if you’re an outliner. My first indie-published books were translations/rewritings of my backlist.

Five years later, I have so many new ideas that I stopped rewriting and translating old stuff. Maybe one or two will eventually be rewritten – after I’m done with the new series and the new books that I’m currently writing!

5) Find native friends and you’ll be fine

In 2005 I discovered there was a group of English-speaking writers in Rome. I have attended their meetings in Rome from September 2005 to May 2017, leave or take a month or three (and no summer meetings). Among them was my wonderful offline first reader who is unfortunately moving back to the US this September, so I’m losing invaluable feedback, sigh.

I still consult with people from all over the world when I write in a culture I’m not familiar with. Some I’ve met in person, some only online, but it’s always a pleasure to meet somebody new and talk in this international language that is English.

Global Sales via KWL for the past 5 years

This year I celebrate 5 years of KWL and as you can see, I actually sell more Italian titles, but that’s because the indie market in Italy is much smaller, so it’s much easier to be noticed. I now have 135 titles on KWL, 100 in English and 35 in Italian, and some of those titles overlap.

I may sell more in my mother tongue, but reaching out to the world is done at a much slower pace with English. I’m in for the long run anyway.

 

 


Barbara G. Tarn had an intense life in the Middle Ages that stuck to her through the centuries. She prefers swords to guns, long gowns to mini-skirts, and even though she buried the warrior woman, she deplores the death of knights in shining chainmail. She likes to think her condo apartment is a medieval castle, unfortunately lacking a dungeon to throw noisy neighbors and naughty colleagues in. Also known as the Lady with the Unicorns, these days she prefers to add a touch of fantasy to all her stories, past and present – when she’s not wandering on her fantasy world of Silvery Earth or in her Star Minds futuristic universe. She’s a writer, sometimes artist, mostly a world-creator and story-teller. Two of her stories received an Honorable Mention at the Writers of the Future contest. She writes, draws, ignores her day job and blogs at: http://creativebarbwire.wordpress.com.

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