Five Problems You’ll Face Writing a Book in English if English is Not Your Native Tongue


Art of Storytelling is a coaching service for writers of novels and memoir. We’ve worked with people all over the world to help them finish their books. Contact us for a free initial consultation.

Why are so many people these days across the globe wanting to write their novels and memoirs in English? At Art of Storytelling we keep meeting these writers — from India, Russia, Sweden, Latin America, Germany. I suspect the reason is that the publishing industry is so well developed in the English-speaking world, with powerful distribution networks. I’m pretty certain too that it’s because English is the current Lingua Franca. As a world traveler and former expat, I’m passionate about working with people all over the globe. The more stories that are told, the more different voices that are heard, the richer we all become. This is true wealth.

Here are some things to avoid when writing a novel, memoir or even screenplay when English is your second or even third language.

1. You’re trying to get the English down perfectly as you write your first draft. In whatever language you’re working in, you cannot write the first rough draft of a novel with a focus on getting it perfect. It ruins the flow. Let go of the need to get the English right in your manuscript, and just tell the story from the heart. If you don’t know the English version of a certain word, use your native tongue. You can look the word or phrase up later. On the first draft, let the passion flow. Let go of anything that impedes that passion.

2. You’re trying to sound too American (or British, or Canadian or Australian etc). Be yourself. You’re more likely to find an agent or publisher if the manuscript is passionate and from the heart, if it speaks to the soul of your truth or the truth of your soul. You can’t come from the heart if you’re trying too hard to fit in.

3. You’re avoiding local references or idioms because you’re worried the American audience won’t get it. Again, be yourself. Describe your local setting in depth. Show your love for the place you come from. Many many novels have been published of places foreign to the American audience. Remember, your reader wants to be taken away to another place, to live this other life that they may never get to see. Don’t shy away from it. Dive into it. This is the unique voice your bring to the world. This is what readers and publishers are looking for.

4. You’re too worried that if the English isn’t good in the final polished novel, no one will publish it. Here you may be right. But don’t give up, because these days there are all sorts of people you can hire to clean up your English. Just commit yourself to taking on that expense. Don’t spend your precious creative energies worried about punctuation, grammar, pronouns and idiomatic English. Let someone else do it. Get that worry out of the way so you can let your soul soar in the writing.

5. You give up too soon because it’s too hard.  It’s incredibly difficult to write a novel or memoir in your own tongue, let alone in another language. You get halfway through, and you just want to throw in the towel. Keep going. Even when English is your native tongue, it can take years to finish a book. With the added difficulty in writing in a second language, expect the book to take a bit longer than you expect.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.”

Haruki Murakami (born 1949);


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