We have all heard them. Bad but very well-meaning advice that you later regret you listened to.
Of course, we can only blame ourselves for listening to the advice. It is, first and foremost, our decision whether we listen to advice or not. Most advice and tips I have received about my writing have been excellent. Many of them have elevated my writing and made it so much better than it would’ve been otherwise.
But there is this one advice that I latched onto and followed with all my heart and soul, which I deeply regret. I heard that same advice from so many people and professionals, I can’t even blame a specific person for it, other than myself.
That advice was “only write in your mother tongue.”
Having gone back and thought of this I realize that I made two mistakes when attempting to implement this advice.
1. I took it too seriously. Never take writing advice too seriously. I’m serious. There are always exceptions.
2. I interpreted “mother tongue” incorrectly as “the language you spoke with your parents when you were a child.” It should rather be “any language you could read long books in before you were 20.”
I grew up in Sweden, speaking only Swedish until I was 10. That’s when I started learning English at school. I absorbed it quickly, and I remember being able to think in English around the age of 11.
When I was 13 we moved to Israel, and since they didn’t speak Hebrew, my parents surrounded themselves with friends from the US, Canada and South Africa. As a new immigrant, English was my only way of communication until I had mastered Hebrew. I read C.S. Lewis in the original language for the first time before I hit 14.
Ever since, I read books in both Swedish and English, getting increasingly fluent in both. English was taught in schools while Swedish of course wasn’t, which made the literary and formal English develop more than the Swedish.
Despite all that, I took the advice of “mother tongue” seriously. Far too seriously. When I decided I wanted to write a book I figured “I’ll write a Christian historical fiction in a language that very few people can read, that belongs to one of the most secular nations on earth. Once it’s out, my publisher will find me a translator to get it to the US. What could possibly go wrong?”
Well, a lot. I spent 2016 and 2017 writing and perfecting the book with both beta readers and a professional editor. I spent most of 2018 querying publishers only to get over 20 rejections. I also spent these years building a Swedish platform, establishing connections with Swedish writers and pastors. I made a facebook page in Swedish where I promoted myself and chronicled my writing.
So here we are now. A few years down the drain, but an experience richer. It is soon four years since I started writing “The Secret Scroll of Magdala,” and I am still working on it. Slowly but surely rewriting it into English (not translating – I am rewriting it and making it better). Once I am done, it will be a masterpiece.
I will take all advice with a grain of salt from now on… but I will never dismiss criticism without taking it seriously.