Sunday, September 01, 2013

First completed attempt at literary translation (process notes, etc.)

This is not going to be very professional or super high quality because I'm procrastinating on some work at the moment, but I wanted to try to get some notes down on the process I used to complete (and what I mean by "complete" is "work on up to the deadline and submit") my first literary translation. Outside of picture books. Outside of a project for a class I took (that did not have this level of polish, whatever "this level of polish" is).

No, I'm not posting it here. The translation was submitted to Asymptote Journal's Close Approximations contest. A partner and I did the opening of my favorite author's debut novel, with his permission (which in and of itself is a bit dreamlike). Anyways, here are notes:

On the process

*First, I had already read the book, and so had my partner, so we just needed to pick a good excerpt. We decided on the beginning because it had a compelling any good novel should, I suppose.

*Then I copied the selection by hand and did some color-coding underlining. The categories were based on the Defining Writing Style class from Intralingo, but a little loosely. I seemed to find that rather than going through everything we did in class, it was more useful to mark stuff I thought I needed to pay attention to, places where I needed to ask my partner about the nuance, stuff I needed to look up (in the sense of English spellings of real places or what not, not the meanings of words...)

*One day I tweeted something like, "Translation is a lot of things and one of those is looking up words you already know." Of course you look up the words you are less familiar with, but looking up words you understand to remind yourself of your options is pretty important, at seems important. Maybe it only seems important when you are inexperienced and not well-read enough and generally a poser. (Ahem.)

*I highlighted stuff in yellow that I thought kind of sucked or I wasn't sure I wanted to be in the final.

*Once the first draft (typed on a computer; I don't translate by hand) was done I asked my partner about the spots I underlined to ask him about. I fixed those things and then sent him the 1.1 draft to go over. This meant I got a total break from the text.

*Then we went over his fixes. There were not as many back-and-forth emails as I had expected.

*Then after that I looked at the text as a whole again because I hadn't in a while. There was some stuff I could improve.

*Had a native speaker look over it. I made a "beta" version of the next stripped of my notes and highlights. While he looked at it I took another complete break.

*I took my native checker's notes and fixed those.

*Then there was a period of really random editing. Maybe I was feeling discouraged or burned out, but I didn't want to do a serious pass, but I felt I should be working on it, so I would just kind of scroll around and see what caught my eye. Like some of those yellow highlights that remained. This was actually very productive and recommended. I mean I can't recommend it as a substitution for thoroughly front to back editing, but if you know you need to work on it but can't bring yourself to do "serious" work, it's surprising how much you can get done by just messing around with it.

*I had to type up the Japanese text to submit with the translation, but this was helpful because it got my head back into the Japanese. While I was going I would notice things and scroll up to compare to the English and think, "Oh, this would be better!" so it was pretty good to have to do that.

*In order to ensure the accuracy of the Japanese text I had my parter read from the typed up version aloud while I looked at the book. This was exactly as effective as I thought it would be.

*Then I had him read again, only from the book, and I looked at the English. I wanted to do this because while I had been typing up the Japanese I found at least one place where I had jumped a line, which is horrible. It's a nightmare! A missing line! So yeah, if there were any more I wanted to catch them. What I ended up catching more of, though, were tiny little things all sorts of tiny little things, mainly places where I felt maybe I should follow the Japanese a little more closely.

On working with a partner

I knew I couldn't do this alone. It may still have been too early even with a partner. It's frustrating to think that, but in the end I decided how do you know when you're "ready"? If I wait my whole life I will never translate anything. I will never be "good enough." Who is? If you feel "good enough," you are probably an accident waiting to happen [is what I sometimes say to myself, but it seems kind of mean so I wouldn't ever actually say it]. Honestly, I might be an accident waiting to happen.

Anyhow, I needed a partner and I found one. We met on Twitter because I was following tweets in real time from a book signing the author was having in Tokyo that I could not attend. When we met I hadn't really decided whether I would invite him to work with me or not, but his background as a lit student and his love for the author were clearly assets and we seemed to hit it off, so I broached the topic right away and he gleefully accepted.

More than a partner, I guess you could call him a native Japanese consultant. I'm not saying this is a bad thing (certainly he was incredibly helpful, and even caught a reference to an American novel that I didn't see), but just I'm not sure if you can say we were collaborators on the translation, if that makes sense. He would ask me things if he thought the English seemed too far from the Japanese, but his English was not enough to offer much beyond that (which he emphasized often). So...I don't know how other people collaborate but this felt very one-sided. Again, not in a bad or good way, just in that's how it was. I translated and asked him for help, basically.

It was interesting reading in this interview how David Mitchell worked with his wife on his first translation.

On accomplishment 

Today I submitted the document and paid the $10 entry fee, so that means it's "done" in some sense. After a while it almost started to feel like this novel was actually a short story that ended in a cliff hanger for some reason. We were so focused on these first bunch of pages that they positively loom over the rest of the story in my mind now.

In that same interview I just linked to, David Mitchell said, "As a writer I can be bad, but I can't be wrong. A translator can be good, but can never be right." This is something I'm painfully aware of at all times. What is right? It's just...not. It doesn't exist. And honestly I have no idea how to know if I am "good." I feel like I don't know the rules. I feel like I'm not even sure if there are rules.

People say (and I have been told) that as long as you can be edited relatively painlessly you are "good." Or maybe it was "good enough," I can't remember. I've never really been a "good enough" kind of person, much more of an "endless self-doubt/hatred" kind of person. I don't want to be "good enough," I want to be amazing, precisely because this is not about me at all, but about the author's work coming to you through me.

Translation is probably the closest I get to being spiritual because you basically feel like you have to purge yourself and be as empty as possible. "Sterile" is not really the right word, because you have to be creative and overflowing with a sense of style, but you have to be a clean conduit from source language to target language.

It's really hard! You can't say something because it sounds cool, you have to have a reason.

Anyways, this is going to end abruptly and has not been in essay form and is not edited, but I just wanted to splatter some thoughts here quick before I forget how this has felt. It has definitely felt different than anything I've experienced so far.