Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Real Life Gets in the Way

It does. It's not "if," it's "when." Life interferes with EVERYTHING from time to time.

For example, I was planning on writing so many things on this blog for the past month. And then we had to move, kind of suddenly, to a temporary apartment on the third floor of a friend's parents' house in the suburbs, and the two-day move stretched into five days, and Mr. S got an interview in Rhode Island, and Labor Day weekend family visits happened, and now here we are, just over two weeks from the ALTA Conference in Rochester, and I've just finished my to-do list to prepare for the conference, and we're trying to figure out which boxes we should be unpacking so we can actually live a normal life and which we should just leave in storage. And yet, through all of that, I've been working. I've taken my paying jobs, and I've done some volunteer work for my favorite NGO in Switzerland, and I've even started a new pet project (it's a French comic book about an awesome cross-dressing heroine who can win knife and gun fights on a merchant ship in the late 18th century, thank you for asking). The conference is coming up so quickly, and I'm so excited about it -- I've even got a meeting lined up with the adviser for the University of Rochester's MA in Literary Translation program, which may be my next destination.

Life gets in the way, and pushes you forward at the same time. But only if you work at it.

Things I've Learned: Ask the questions that need asking

This starts with the contract. So many questions that you'll have along the way can be answered while discussing the contract. Feel free to start with the offered contract, or with the PEN model contract, and work from there. Figure out WHY things are done the way they are. For example, if your contract is a work for hire contract, that actually means that you'll most likely have little to no say in the editing process, for better or for worse. But ask up front. "How involved will I be expected and allowed to be in the editing process?" Will I ever see my translation between the final draft and the published book?

Another thing: payment. Maybe you're going to get paid upon final delivery. Great. But is that payable on receipt? Is it Net 30? You'll feel better if you know when your money is coming in, and if you know it sooner rather than later.

Next, before you even start translating, talk to the editor. After you've read the book send her/him a list of stylistic questions. "How do you want me to handle the historical present tense?" "How much slang are you comfortable with this character using in English? There are equivalents to XYZ in the original."

Just ask. Ask your editor, the admin assistant, anyone who's involved. Don't be afraid of asking stupid questions, because chances are, they'll all be important at some point.


P.S. This was a tough love letter to myself. Dear Allison, I'm writing to you. Fix your mistakes. Learn from them. Do better next time. I know you can.

On the brink...

I feel as though I've climbed a mountain to get here. It is midnight. Eight hours until I wake up for my first day of my first professional conference. I've done more prep work than I imagined possible (and have invariably missed many things). I'm on the brink, waiting to step out into nothingness... Except not quite. I've climbed one mountain, but just a foothill, really. Compare it to the McKinley of the conference, the Everest of a career, all this prep work was really just training. A rock climbing wall.

Here's hoping I remember my not-too-corny elevator pitch by morning!

Here we go again!

New adventure: translation.

I took a course in translation as an undergrad at NYU, and immediately was hooked.  I spent a couple psych lectures that semester working on a particularly finicky translation.  (It's not the lecture's fault that it directly followed my translation class!)  Ever since then, I've been translating something, at least once every week or two.  But it's always been on the side.  And I've never gotten paid for a single word.

Now it's career-building time.  Back in Brooklyn, ready to learn a ton and figure this out.  How does one build a freelance translation career, anyway?  I've hit the blogs, the American Translators Association website, the monthly meetings of the New York Circle of Translators.  I've started talking to people who do this for a living.  I took a job as a proofreader (and occasional project manager) at one of the largest translation agencies in the world, to get experience from the other side.

But the biggest "first" step I'm about to take?  I'll be attending the ATA's Annual Conference at the end of the month.  What a learning experience I will have, if I can overcome the learning curve.

My fears (of course they exist, and they are indeed plentiful) for the moment center on the conference.  What if, what if, what if?  What if nobody talks to me?  What if I don't learn a single thing?  What if this is just too hard?  It's like the first day of school all over again.

But any hurdle demands pogo stick, or a horse, or possibly a helicopter.  My current pogo sticks include:

  • creating a modest website
  • ordering business cards
  • sprucing up my resume
  • physically writing out a list of questions to ask people while chatting or networking
And my helicopter?  I'll be staying with a good friend of mine from high school who lives in Boston now.  Lifeline: procured.
(To be fair, I was considering staying in the conference hotel, which would have been a better professional option.  At the moment, though, my income is a bit too modest to warrant such extravagance.)