Translator’s block: tips to get your translation juices flowing again

A translator’s journey to creativity

It’s not exactly writer’s block, yet we all suffer from it one day or another. Somehow, none of the sentences you translate seem to flow the way you want them to. You have it on the tip of your tongue, but you’re unable to pinpoint the exact translation for that pesky yet so essential little word. And that creative translation just won’t translate itself despite your numerous efforts. Whatever the reasons, translator’s block is real, and it happens to all of us.

Strangely enough, I find that it happens the most to me when I’ve been very busy translating non-stop, barely stopping to do the other tasks that freelancing requires me to do (prospecting, admin, accounting, you name it!).

At first, I found it very annoying and I felt helpless. With time though, I’ve come to accept it and I now see it as a signal that lets me know that it might be time to recharge my batteries.

With experience, I know what works best to give me the right amount of inspiration when I’m stuck in a rut, and I’d like to share these few tips with you.

  • Put some music on

Translator's block Music

Whether you’re into classical music or pop, turning on the radio can be a huge help with your mood and your inspiration. This is easily explained by the mind-wandering mode, a mode into which a brain enters without effort when it’s not actively engaged on a task. In the mind-wandering mode, your brain is more relaxed and ready to be more creative. Music helps the brain to do just that, as expert Daniel J. Levitin points out in his book The Organized Mind.

Call me old-fashioned, but I absolutely love Motown music. So when I feel that I need a little pick-me-up, I turn to my favorite webradio, turn on the speakers and let the magic happen. It never fails. Need something less loud? Why don’t you try the wonderful Coffitivity? Research shows that ambient noise is ideal for creativity.

  • Read a book in your target language

I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I translate a lot, I feel like I’m using the same words and phrases over and over again. That’s why I like reading a book or a magazine in my native language, granted it’s well written. And then I ask myself “Why hadn’t I thought of putting things like this before?” Discovering another author’s style can give you ideas that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about.

  • Write for yourself

I guess this is something that most of us are guilty of. As translators, we are also writers. But when was the last time you wrote in your native language for you, and only you? I thought so. I recently started doing this whenever I felt the inspiration coming, and I must say I found it very refreshing and satisfactory not to match a source text and just follow my own intuition.

  • Work out

My favorite time to go to the gym is when I get frustrated. I need to get it out of my system and the treadmill is the perfect tool to do just that. Even bestseller author Murakami does it!

  • Sleep or take a power nap

Translator's Block SleepWhat are the odds that your translator’s block is due to exhaustion? Tight deadlines, urgent projects, it’s easy to forget something as simple as sleep. Just like Marie Jackson rightfully pointed out in her article, sleep is important for your brain. Not sticking to a healthy sleep routine is equally as dangerous as not eating healthy. Take a power nap and start working straight after you wake up. It’s a well-known routine among prolific authors (take a look at this chart of famous creative routines – no wonder so many of those great minds work a lot more in the morning rather than in the afternoon or at night!).

  • Lose yourself in nature

If nothing else works, my last resort is to wander in the nature. I’m lucky enough to live in a rather green area in a big grey capital city. Going to the park, sitting on a bench, getting a quick digital detox and just enjoying the moment frees your mind.

 

What about you, dear colleagues? What do you do when the words don’t flow?

8 Responses to Translator’s block: tips to get your translation juices flowing again

  1. […] A translator’s journey to creativity It’s not exactly writer’s block, yet we all suffer from it one day or another. Somehow, none of the sentences you translate seem to flow the way you want them to. You have it on the tip of your tongue, but you’re unable to pinpoint the exact translation for that …  […]

    Reply
    • Emeline Jamoul says:

      Yes, I guess that it’s fair to say that anything that relaxes your mind is great for inspiration and creativity. Lovely to hear about your experience, Hannah!

      Reply
  2. Thank you so much for mentioning my article on sleep and relaxation for freelancers, Emeline. I still stand by that post; who doesn’t love more sleep?! I’m also a huge fan of nature and the treadmill when I need to blow off some steam — and it seems I’m in good company! 🙂

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *