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So far, all of the fiction I've written in my life has been short stories given as writing tasks in school. However, I've always enjoyed reading/watching/experiencing fiction and for the last few years I've slowly gotten more and more attracted to the idea of writing my own work(s) of fiction. After some hesitation, I feel like it is finally time for me to start writing for real since I've managed to think of an outline to a story that seems like it would be really fun to write.

But before I start writing there is a decision to be made: what language should I write the story in? I'm not a native English speaker, but I feel like writing in English would give me better opportunities at getting feedback on my work than writing in Swedish, which is my native language. On the other hand, if I write in Swedish there is a smaller risk that I make subtle syntax-based errors in my prose since I have a much stronger intuitive grasp of subtleties in Swedish than in English.

Does anyone have experience writing in a different language than their native one? Is it feasible, or does the quality of the prose suffer too much for it to be worth the trouble? Should I try something along the lines of writing my story in Swedish and then if I have trouble finding test readers/writing groups for feedback I could translate it to English?

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    Your English is very good. – Robyn Aug 2 at 0:32
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The answer to your question depends on your proficiency with English: to what extent you're comfortable writing in English, to what extent you enjoy writing in English compared to Swedish. Do not discount the last part: if you do not enjoy the process, what are you doing it for?

There is more than one example of writers who wrote in a language other than their mother tongue. Nabokov is one example: Russian-born, his family left Russia after the Revolution, his work was written in America, in English. Many Israeli poets active in the beginning of last century, among them Bialik and Tchernichovsky were also Russian-born, but wrote poetry in Hebrew, as part of their work to rebuild the Hebrew language and provide the nascent state with poetry.

For my own part, I am now in the process of learning my fifth language. English is my third, the one I write in, and the one I feel most comfortable writing in. Here are my considerations for this choice. You might stand differently on each point, which could make the final choice different for you.

  • I am completely mother-tongue-level fluent in English. I am comfortable with colloquial speech (though I could not use the slang of a specific location without doing further research). I can distinguish between middle-class and upper-class English, and employ this in my writing. I most certainly have no fear of grammar mistakes slipping in. That is to say, anything I wish to express, I can express in English.
  • Most of the literature I read is in English. I do not enjoy reading translations, and what interests me at the moment is English literature. Because I read more in English, it's easier for me to write in English.
  • Because of my academic work, because interaction on the internet is in English, and for other reasons, I type fastest in English. In English I type at the speed of thought, while in another language I need to slow down to match my typing speed. I find I really struggle to be creative when I need to slow down like this.
  • What I want to say - I want to say it to an international crowd. Writing in my mother tongue, I'd be preaching to the choir.

Now, where do you stand with regards to all this? What language are you most comfortable creating in? What language do you most enjoy creating in? Writing is a creative work. If writing in on language blocks your creative juices in some way, you should write in the other. As far as audience goes, you'll find it in either.

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If I may add my own perspective, I am French and currently in the process of writing a story in English.

The reason, quite simple, is that I could not imagine my world, the characters and their interactions in French in my head. I have always had an attraction for the English tongue specifically (for example, songs sound more natural to me in English, they just make more sense to my ears - if that makes sense for you).

However, I feel able to do so because I am comfortable in that language in general, whether for writing or speaking - here I completely agree with Galastel's answer.

Despite still living in France today, pretty much everything I read or watch is in English, all my electronic devices are setup in English, I also find myself thinking in that language most of the time and so on. It is simply part of my life.

It surely brings its challenges, as I have to think more thoroughly to find the right words, and it does mean I spend more time doing research and translation. It also means I surely make more mistakes, but I spend enough time going over what I wrote to make the necessary changes.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Anthemish, glad you found us. Please check out our tour and help center. Thanks for starting off with a great answer. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 29 at 16:17
  • It is the exact same for me regarding, electronic devices, movies, songs, books, etc. The only difference is, I am Swiss and my mother tongue is German... – Thomas Aug 15 at 7:36
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I agree with Galastel, write in the language you are most comfortable with reading and writing in, I would however like to raise a flag; Beware transliteration in the guise of translation. If/when you end up converting works to another language be very careful that do not lose the sense of what your work because the individual words are converted but the concepts behind the finished phrases don't match up.

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Galastel's answer is a great guideline, but I would like to add the following:

I am not sure about whether you will get more feedback by writing in English. Of course more people will be able to read your story, but that people will also have many more other stories to read!

In a slightly different (but related) context: I once made a chess course in both English and French. To my surprise, the French one had ten times the students despite the site being international. The reason? There were dozens of other courses in English, so it was hard to show why mine was worth it!

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