Writing on a certain level is a lonely affair, with the writer bravely trying to fill the blank screen or paper with the intended idea in such a way as the reader will understand it. In most cases, the author is in a bubble never receiving criticism (in the positive meaning of the word), with the only feedback being the internal drive to make the text better. As s translator, I live that reality, almost never actually seeing how my best intentioned text arrives at the client’s desk and the latter’s reaction to it. The major exceptions are texts that are published either as a book or on the Internet.
It should be noted that writing is a such a personal task to which criticism, no matter how well intended, is generally viewed as hostility as if it is the reader’s fault for not understanding what the writer meant or appreciating the author’s unique style. As a demonstration, my father, who worked as a journalist for the AP for many years, used to edit all of my papers through high school. Since they usually came back more red than black, I dreaded the experience each time.
Later, when I wrote my thesis for the MBA, I was grateful for my father’s help as I was working full time and being a father to a small baby. Not having time to revise my raw first drafts, I would send them to him. They, of course, came to me very bloody. This time, however, I was grateful for the corrections and did not dread them.
Recently, I translated one of two documents of a large, complicated project involving a price quote from French to English. It turned out that the other document was basically identical. So, two translators essentially produced two different versions of the same text. After the project was finished, I was asked by the translation company to “harmonize”, that is, create one version. Overcoming my initial reluctance, I read through the two documents sentence by sentence, comparing the versions and either selecting the better of the two or combining elements of both. It should be noted that both translations were generally quite good, even if with an occasional gaff.
While the process was time-consuming and tiring, it was extremely enlightening and encouraging. First, the final documents were at a clearly higher level than either of the originals. Second, discovering the manner of improving the text provided a lesson in better writing I intend to apply to future translations. Last, the experience emphasized that making the search for the perfect text the focus instead of justifying the writer’s word choice is not only vital and possible, but makes self-criticism a positive experience. To go beyond that quote “There is no good writing; there is only good re-writing,; translators and writers of all kinds can not only benefit from feedback, they can also learn to relish it to the benefit of their work.