Normally I never write prose. After much world building I now feel the need to. Ever since I resolved to at least pen down a draft, things get curiouser and curiouser. For when I sit down to write a short scene, I start doing so in English, which is my third language. I don't know why that happens. Perhaps I read too many English works lately, or I subconsciously associate fantasy with English, or I don't want to write I in the ornate poetic style I've cultivated in both Greek and German. I doubt that I will ever publish prose. Should I force myself to refrain from writing in this foreign language, that will certainly make me commit a hundred silly mistakes, or is there any reason to go with the flow and perhaps change it later?


The way my poetry "happens" and which I now apply to my first prose draft is the following: I receive a stimulus, often music. Then I sense I have to write a poem and that feeling is accompanied by a special feeling of discomfort, which only goes away if I write the poem. At some point a sentence forms in my mind and I start writing the poem with only a vague sense of how it will look like.

Now pretty much the same happens with my draft, only that the sentence which forms in my mind, the seed if you will, is in English.

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    I think a lot of that has to do with your overall goals of the writing. If you plan to keep it regional or read only by friends/family, you may want to keep the language to your native tongue. If you want to try to take on the world with your book, you may end up having to translate it to English anyways. Starting out in English helps eliminate that translation needed down the road but if you don't feel comfortable writing in English then definitely go where you can write easiest or your best and adjust according to how you want the book to go.
    – ggiaquin16
    Jun 21, 2017 at 22:24
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    FWIW, Joseph Conrad wrote in English, which was his third language after Polish and French. He's considered one of the greatest English-language novelists of all time. You probably aren't as good as Conrad, but there's no reason why you can't give it a try. Jun 22, 2017 at 7:39
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    Writing in foreign language is a great way to master that language (at least in writing). While what you produce may be sub-par, what you learn in the process is very valuable.
    – SF.
    Jun 22, 2017 at 13:30
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    – SF.
    Jun 22, 2017 at 17:00
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    About the committing 'a hundred silly mistakes'... if what you wrote above is any indication, I wouldn't expect any more mistakes than an author whose first language is English. Jun 22, 2017 at 21:46

3 Answers 3


I would say, it depends.

I assume you live in Greece or Germany, so writing in English might open up a new world for your readers. Your unique perspective might be your winning quality.

On the other hand, what language works best for you? That might take some experimentation before you get it.

It might even differ between stories...

I've written both in English and Swedish and I've come to the conclusion that I love my Swedish too much to let go of it... even though my current work possibly would work much better in English... at least from a "getting lots of readers" and a business point of view... but hey! business schmishness... I am an aaaartist after all... (no lack of irony here ... and still, I can always translate it if no Swede cares for it!)

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    These are good points! The number of readers is the least of my concerns though. Rather, my nightmare looks like this: "Dear Mister Gregory Pamblechook we regret to inform you that we are not at present interested in publishing this work of yours (or any other). We are, however, grateful for your manuscript, which through its singularly... creative use of the English language has spiced up many a dull coffee break. Please except the following as a token of gratitude: »Moste Basic English Grammar« by Sir Archibald Stickler, »Foreigners' favourite Dumb Mistakes«, by U. R. A. Simpleton. Sincerely
    – Ludi
    Jun 23, 2017 at 12:02
  • Continued »Sincerely, Posh and Fadsworth, publishers. 134 Losersgrave, Hope-send, Britain. «
    – Ludi
    Jun 23, 2017 at 12:07
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    @Ludi and if you manage to get past that issue, you'll get published and get comments directly from Sir Archibald Stickler himself and his many followers. One author put it like this: you get depressed when you don't get reviewed and then when you do get reviewed you get depressed anyway... You're always going to get comments from people, knowledgeable and not... the only way around it I can see is to say: fuck 'em all to hell and back! I'm writing my story regardless of the "input" from the hecklers!
    – Erk
    Jun 24, 2017 at 21:01
  • @Ludi also, any serious publisher depend on 1) new manuscripts (so they would never risk turning submitters away by being mean even if they felt like it) and 2) finding the handful manuscripts that will keep them afloat for the next year, in a multi tonne pile of submissions, so they don't really have time to spend energy on their replies unless they see potential, much less send grammars or books about mistakes. :D If they don't like your submission, you're more likely to get a standard format "Dear Mr/Mrs"-letter than anything else! If you get a reply at all...
    – Erk
    Jun 29, 2017 at 5:27
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    You're welcome! And I kind of surmised that between the lines, although it may not have come through well enough... and, some people are a bit serious about similar fears... or at least until they spell them out. On the other hand, I've heard the advice to employ a professional editor even before sending your manuscript to a publisher. If you can afford it. After all, the competition is insane, so any edge you can get is good. Oh, and check out Grammarly and similar programs... if nothing else, they may help you realize it's not so bad!
    – Erk
    Jul 1, 2017 at 17:13

Writing in a foreign language opens up "alternatives" to you. Each language has its own "mind set," and its own way of expressing things. So if you write the same thing in three different languages, you will (ideally) get three different points of view. This would not be "shooting yourself in the foot" but a way of getting different variations of the same story.

Of course, you will want to get the grammar correct in each language, but that is a relatively easy task (compared to the creative writing part). In a real pinch, you could hire a native speaker to correct your grammar.


To write in any language other than your first is extremely difficult. Language is more than words and grammar. It contains a multitude of idioms, phrases, expressions, proverbs, cultural references etc. which make no logical sense and can only be used in certain contexts.

Your question and first line: "Is writing in a foreign language a brilliant way to shoot oneself in the foot?" . . . "Normally I never write prose. After much world building I now feel the need to. Ever since I resolved to at least pen down a draft, things get curiouser and curiouser.

  • To "shoot oneself in the foot" is an idiom. It may make no sense to a Chinaman.
  • "Pen down" is slightly awkward. We "write", we "write down", we "pen". "Pen down" - not so much.
  • "Curiouser and curiouser" a cliché from Alice through the looking glass - Our Chinaman is now scratching his head vigorously.

It should also be noted: I write comedy. An out of context or incorrect idiom is a source of humour and a contribution to characterisation.

One of my favourites: An African immigrant (in the UK) complaining about other immigrants. "I don't know how they can expect to get along in this country if they cannot be bothered to learn the Queen's Mother's language!"

Of course in confused the expressions "The Queen's English" and "Mother tongue" - to invent a new, nonsensical expression.

  • That is a very helpful analysis! You know I was unsure about "pen down". In the end I felt it placed a little more emphasis on completing a task. But, as I said, I find myself committing mistakes all the time and that is despite my daily careful reading of English classics.
    – Ludi
    Jun 23, 2017 at 11:21
  • @Ludi: You'll take your "lumps" at first. But you'll get better in the foreign language and the result may be worth the effort, particularly if you are aiming for a C1 or C2 level of proficiency.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 23, 2017 at 17:54

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