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I live in a country that doesn't have English as its main language. I have two choices in writing, either write in my mother language or write in English.

Why should or shouldn't I write in English?

My first few thoughts were:

Do publishers often publish works that are not in that country's language?

More people speak English, so one would assume you have a bigger audience in English. But, it is also logical that it is easier to connect to people in the same language and it will gain readers faster.

Of course, language skills are also an issue. What level of English would be acceptable (and editable) for publishers? Where would they draw the line and say, no, this is too awful?

Is it possible to publish a book in a country you don't live in, but it's an English-speaking country and so better suited for an English book? How do publishers address this? Do they pay attention to country when getting a manuscript?

So, to summarize, I think it would be a good idea to generate a list of pros and cons so people thinking about writing in English instead of their main language can read it and make a better decision.

  • Doesn't this depend very heavily on the country and language in question? If you live in a country where very few books are published, or in which almost all books are published in English (or some other non-native language) it's a different story to if you live in a country where lots gets published in the language. If your native language is spoken in multiple countries, that's also a different story to if it's spoken only in one. One could generate a pros and cons list in each case, of course, but those lists might look very different to each other. – TheTermiteSociety Feb 12 '17 at 21:49
  • If you're specifically interested in one of those possible pros and cons lists, it might be worth editing your question to clarify. All said, I do think this is a good question, and should hopefully attract some good answers. – TheTermiteSociety Feb 12 '17 at 21:53
  • If you live in a country where almost all books are published in english, I don't think the problem exists. The distinction between the native language being spoken in multiple countries or not, would be an interesting one to make. – Noralie Feb 12 '17 at 21:56
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You should write in whatever language you are most comfortable with. Personally, I find that one of the biggest downfalls in writing is worrying about your audience too much. You will eventually build everything around trying to appease your readers, making the story you're writing seem stale and boring to yourself. Or, you will lose yourself in fixing tiny unnecessary details to try to make a masterpiece.

If you're deciding on what language you want to write in, consider these two questions;

  1. What are you most comfortable writing in?

  2. What language do you read the most in?

Experience in reading in a certain language will play heavily into how well you write, however I will still prioritise what you feel the most comfortable writing in. After all, if your writing is good enough to be read in one language - it can be easily translated to a multitude of others.

  • 1
    My experience is that comfort comes with practice. The more you use a particular language, the more you like it and the more comfortable you feel with it (provided you've overcome the initial struggle). I. e. the level of comfort with a particular language isn't a fixed value, you can change it, if you want. – Franz Drollig Feb 14 '17 at 6:42
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What do you want to achieve with your writing?

  • One answer is to spread a universal (useful to all people on Earth) message to as many people as possible. Then you can write in English.
  • If you want to change your particular society, then you can write in your mother tongue.
  • If you like a particular genre and want to have fun writing in it, write in the language of the works you like most.
  • If you want to write to have fun (and you are not willing to work like a prisoner in a concentration camp to perfect your skills), write in whatever language you are most comfortable in.
  • If you want to write to preserve your language from dying, then you can write in your mother tongue.
  • If you want to earn as much money as possible, write in English.
  • If you want to write poetry, I'm not sure you have an option. There are several successful prose writers, who weren't native English speakers. I'm not sure there are any significant poets, who wrote in English and weren't native speakers (correct me, if I'm wrong).
  • If several of the aforementioned motives apply to you, you may write in both languages. There are skills (characterization, plotting, worldbuilding), which are language-agnostic.
  • "If you want to earn as much money as possible, write in English." I don't exactly agree! If I want to write about bullfighting, I'll probably make more money using Spanish. If I want to write about making Rakija, I'll probably make more money in Serbo-Croatian or Bulgarian – David Jul 8 at 9:31
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There are separate aspects to this question: writing, publishing and finding success as a writer. The answer would be different depending on which aspect we have in mind.

If the question is only about writing, then I agree with other answers - write in language that you like. If it's not your native language, there are many ways to improve.

If the question is about publishing, then English may not be a good choice for you. If you want to get published in your country, look around and see how many books in English by local authors are already published. Publishing in English-speaking country may be more fruitful, but then it's a whole new topic "How do I find a publisher in different country". You can always spend some money and self-publish and/or e-publish, if you like.

If the question is about finding success with readers, that's probably the most difficult one. First, in my opinion, you should love to write. If you don't love to write in your native language, then don't do it. Second is the quality of writing, and this is where native language normally has a big advantage. Should you go ahead and write in English, make sure you have a test audience that would read your writing and criticize you. Publishing will come third (see the paragraph above). And if all 3 steps are good, then you should find your success!

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