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Fiction

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I’m a creative person. To be happy in the long term, I need (at least) four things: mental stimulation, social interaction, physical challenges and creative input/output. If any of these are running low for a long period of time, I will feel it in some way. Being enrolled in a master’s degree program here in Taiwan, I have the first aspect above pretty much covered; just surviving my courses is mental stimulation enough to kill a small cow. Even though my social situation leaves some things to wish for (Zoe is 8361 kilometres away, and the number is roughly as large for family and friends), it still works fairly well. When it comes to physical activity, I’ve practised gymnastics this semester than ever before and I enjoy it immensely.

When it comes to creativity, however, I have felt a shortage building up since I came to Taiwan. In Sweden, I have very creative friends and play or write role-playing games regularly, which means that the default creativity input/output is significantly above zero. In Taiwan, the situation is completely different. My only significant creative output comes from more light-hearted and relaxed articles (such as the April Fool’s article last month) and some creative writing in Chinese. I have also written several hundred pages of text related to Hacking Chinese, but that doesn’t really count as creative writing. Creative input has been slightly better since I keep reading quite a lot of novels, mostly in Chinese, but output remains dismally low.

The problem

Obviously, something needs to be done about this. I feel a growing need to write freely about whatever I feel like writing about, without caring about what anybody else thinks about it, otherwise it will start creeping into my academic work (the detailed lesson plans I handed in last semester contained vampires, Hitler and fireworks, but I stopped short of including all three in the same setting).

The problem is that most of my current projects, especially my novel, takes quite a lot of time to work on, it’s not something I can pick up for half an hour and write a paragraph or two, it requires me to focus deeply. If I were in the habit of writing daily, it would be fine, but I don’t have time to do that. I always feel like I have a thousand other things to do. At this pace, I will never finish, not to mention publish, any novel. I can’t postpone my creative output forever. Let’s accept it, I will always be busy, I don’t need fewer things to do, I need a way of being able to write creatively even while I’m busy.

Enter: Creative Saturdays

To alleviate this problem, I intend to try something I’ve chosen to call creative Saturdays. It doesn’t mean that I will only spend my time doing creative things once a week, it means that I will prohibit myself from doing certain non-creative things on Saturdays. If I have already decided that I’m not going to study, review vocabulary, write on a paper or prepare next weeks classes, I might free up enough time and energy to actually get something else done. Perhaps I will be able to get rid of the feeling that I should actually be doing something else.

Here’s a list of things I won’t do on Saturdays:

  • Study Chinese in any way
  • Prepare for tests, reports or similar
  • Do any kind of homework
  • Manage the Hacking Chinese website
  • Reply to or discuss any of the above

So, what will I do instead? Well, they say the sky is the limit, so I suppose anything is possible, but here are a few things that I can say right away that I want to do more:

  • Write short stories (Swedish, English or Chinese)
  • Finish the draft of my novel (Swedish)
  • Plan the next novel (Swedish or English)
  • Write on the Hacking Chinese e-book(s) (English)
  • Write articles on this website (English)
  • Read more fiction (Chinese)

Conclusion

Will this work? Will the fact that I have forbidden myself from doing the things in the first list above actually help me create more? I don’t know. Today is the first creative Saturday and I haven’t done very much yet apart from writing this article, playing some games online, read about 50 pages in the novel I’m reading and planning an article about gymnastics. I still have almost 12 hours left before going to bed. I probably won’t have reached the sky by then, but I should at least be on my way!

 

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In an article written almost four years ago (He did there confound all the languages of the Earth), I discussed the problem of learning many languages from a writer’s point of view. Learning other languages is very cool, but many people don’t realise how much time it takes. This inevitably means that you can’t spend that much time with languages you already know. Just look at my time log from last week: 67 hours Chinese, 29 hours English and 2 hours Swedish.

The backside of learning more languages

For most people, this isn’t  a problem, because knowing your native language to a certain level or knowing English to the level I have learnt it is enough in most cases. However, for people who aspire to become authors (meaning someone who at least tries to realise dreams of living off writing things), learning foreign languages becomes a problem, at least superficially. I have spent at least ten thousand hours learning Chinese and several times as much learning English. I have also spent some time learning French, albeit not that much. If I would have spent that time honing only my Swedish skills, I would have a mastery of my native language far superior to what I have now.

Similarly, if I hadn’t started learning Chinese, my English would probably be much better today than it actually is. Instead of spending all that time learning a new language, I could have read hundreds of novels in English and possible written a handful myself. I chose, Chinese, however, and I haven’t written a single novel in English, even if I do have a draft of a novel in Swedish (more about that later). I read a total of one (that’s right, one) novel in English last year. Compare that to my average reading pace which was close to one hundred books per year before I started learning Chinese.

Two sides of the same coin

Now, it might be argued that the entire discussion is bunk. What if I can write more interesting things in English or Swedish precisely because I have learnt other languages? What if the experiences I gained on the way enables me to write novels that no-one else can write? Besides, most things about writing is, I believe, not related to the specific language in question. Writing a novel is about much more than the words; it’s about much more than language.

Should I write in Swedish or English?

However, novels still need to be projected through language, regardless of which one it is. The question for me is which language I should choose, which is the core question of this article. As mentioned above, I have a draft of a novel written in Swedish. I think it has potential, I think it could become pretty good if I rewrite it and incorporate all the changes I know the story needs. In short, I think the book is too interesting not to finish.

Roughly a month ago, the idea popped up that I might want to rewrite the novel in English instead of Swedish. This felt a bit wild and crazy at first, but I now have a slightly more balanced opinion (I think).

English vs. Swedish

Why I might want to write the novel in English:

  • I like the English language
  • More people can read it
  • It’s an interesting experiment

Why I might want to write the novel in Swedish:

  • I write better in Swedish
  • It’s an opportunity to reconnect with Swedish
  • The draft is already written in Swedish

External vs. internal factors

One relevant question is whether external factors matter or not. One reason for writing the novel in English is that more people are likely to read it (I’m much more well-known in English than in Swedish, mostly because of Hacking Chinese, but also because few of people I know who speak Chinese also speak Swedish). Still, the chances of being picked up by a real publisher is close to zero (that’s probably  true in Swedish as well, though, especially for this novel).

The fact that a Swedish version of the novel would be better is also mostly an external factor. If I care very much about what other people think of my writing, I should write in Swedish simply because I’ll do a better job. If I don’t care, the language choice doesn’t matter in terms of whether the novel is well-written or not.

At first, I thought that the draft being in Swedish was a limiting factor, but I’m now convinced that it isn’t. The reason is that I would need to rewrite the novel entirely anyway (too many things need editing), so doing it in another language might actually feel more worthwhile. It would allow me to change all the details without feeling I’m just editing a vast number of sentences.

Conclusion

To be honest, the conclusion is quite obvious. However, I only figured that out after writing this article, so what you’ve just read is a journey through my own decision making process. The conclusion is obvious because the choice I make doesn’t necessarily limit future choices. It’s not like I choose between English or Swedish and that I can never use the other language for future novels if I feel like it. This means that the choice isn’t all that important.

Thus, the conclusion is that I should simply use the language I feel like using and don’t care too much about any other factors. I won’t start rewriting the novel until this summer in any case, but right now it feels like I want to try to write in English and see what it feels like (and what other people think about it).

If it doesn’t work or I don’t like it, I’ll know and I can write in Swedish thereafter. If it turns out well and I like it, I guess I’ll have to make the same choice again each time I start a new project. With time, I might even complicate the matter further by adding Chinese to the list of options, although that prospect is still very distant.

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