Exciting times

A few things have got me really excited about what I do and how I work recently.

First, the buzz from the excellent Translate in Québec City conference for premium-market translators still hasn’t worn off.

Second, I’ve just launched ambos.ca, a new magazine of Québec literature in translation, with my friend and fellow literary translator Pablo Strauss. The thinking behind our magazine is to help spread the word about Québec literature – what’s new in English translation, what’s forthcoming in translation, and what we think should be translated.

This first-class interview with Samuel Archibald gave me more food for thought earlier this afternoon, combining thoughts that had been racing around in my head since Translate in Québec City: the importance of specializing and focusing on what we do best (and what is most fun and rewarding)… working as a team with editors, revisers, and publishers to end up with the best possible translation… translators as writers… reading in and around our subject area… remembering the writing that inspired us to get behind a keyboard for a living in the first place… and, perhaps most importantly of all, returning to what we consider to be great writing and reading it again and again until we understand why it works so well.

This excerpt from Archibald’s interview really resonated with me:

« Tout le monde peut écrire une phrase superbe une fois dans sa vie, le travail d’écrivain consiste surtout en à en aligner 500 sans en laisser passer une mauvaise. » — Samuel Archibald

After working for so long on a micro level at the translation conference last week (working as a group to translate one sentence or paragraph from a much longer piece, for example), it wasn’t lost on me that it’s much easier to polish short paragraphs until they really shine when you can devote half an hour to it and when it’s not just another part of the 2,000-word block you have to get through that day. So one of the things I was happy to take away from the conference was the value of looking at each line of the translation as an important part of the collective whole. Of course, this all goes without saying, but there are often compromises to be made when the clock is ticking and there’s still a lot to get through. I read somewhere once that you should reread a finished translation thinking “Would I be happy if this was the page they choose to excerpt in a magazine or on a radio?” As Samuel Archibald says, and I think this really is what separates good writers and translators from writers and translators, the trick is putting together a Cal Ripken Jr.-esque streak of great sentences in a row.