Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Insecure Writers Support Group -- The Language Fear

Dear Insecure Writers,

I like to think I do something extraordinary. I'm writing a novel. It's not a fancy one, with Deep Ideas about Human Nature. Not that there's anything wrong with literary fiction. At all. But I'm not sure I have that fibre in me. I leave it to others, with a better understanding of what makes us human. And while sometimes I'm afraid of people judging me for writing commercial fiction, it's not my biggest fear.

No. I'm afraid they will judge me for writing in English. Quebec's fight for French preservation is old and never-ending. I am proud of my language, of its lyrical sound, of its peculiarities and culture and warmth. I love it. But often, so often, I feel like I'm betraying it. So many words on a page, in English, trampling on a heritage I ought to defend. 

You have to wonder if I'm a hypocrite. I fight for French's correct usage, I preach its presence at work even in English-dominated domains (hello, science), and I believe in immigrants learning it, along with English. French is an integral part of what Quebec is.

Yet when it comes to writing, an art so deeply tied to language, I write my stories in English.
When asked why, I don't know what to answer. Sorry. That's how the story spills. 

But I know I will be judged and critiqued for it. And I'm afraid, so afraid, it will come from my family and friends. That they'll be impressed that I can, disappointed that I did. 

I'm starting to go public with my writing life. Every step – every new person I tell – is terrifying.
I can't express how good it is to have you at my back. You're welcoming, reassuring, energetic, helpful, everything! Thank you for being here. 


P.S.: This is part of Alex J. Cauvanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group, every first Wednesday of the month. Your writing community is a great support for your fears, insecurities, problems. Don't be afraid to call on them, or to help your fellow writers. There are amazing people out there.

P.P.S.: I forgot to mention yesterday that you can vote for the pieces of flash fictions? I'm #214 on the list, if you wanted to go that way. :)


  1. You have a very unique fear on your hands. I'm not sure any of us could relate to just how serious this is, though I know on a very peripherial level how seriously Quebec takes its language. I took French in college (it was a catastrophe) but I had several friends were gorgeous speakers of the language. Our French professor was from Paris but wanted to take some of the senior speakers to Quebec for part of a semester. I was not among the invited students of course, but my friends were and they were very frightened of going to Quebec. They were excited and couldn't wait to see the city, but they were so acutely aware of possibly offending the pride of Quebec by being too American and not respecting the language enough or doing a good enough job learning. The small group of them work very hard to prepare so they would not only represent our school well but that they would endeavor to show the utmost respect to the people of Quebec that they encountered.

    I remember the intense studying they did and the worry and the passionate way they'd speak about Quebec and so I have a tiny idea, just a spark, of what you must be feeling.

  2. My best advice is to stay strong. I deal with language issues in a different realm: expletives. I curse like a sailor, but am cautious about when and where I use it. When it comes to my writing, I find situations that lend to my colorful speech and others that don't. I find myself paralyzed with fear that my writing will turn off my readers. But I've learned that I am what I am. If they don't like my writing, then they aren't the audience I'm trying to reach. Good luck!

  3. Sommer: Wow, it's so nice of the group of students to have taken this time. I've always considered it a mark of respect to at least try and communicate in the language of the country/place you visit, even if it's to revert to English later on. I hope they had a lot of fun.

    Laura: Well, at least that's not a problem for me. In an english environment, I can curse all I want and no one will notice. ;)

    I have to agree, though, that there are elements of our writings that we can't change. It's impossible to please everyone. We just have to ignore those who don't like our respective styles, and focus on those who love it.

  4. My French is atrocious. I only remember how to swear and order a beer. :) I think being able to think and write in multiple languages would give you insights the rest of us don't have. Perhaps you could give some of your characters your fears.

  5. First off, thanks for letting me know about the Insecure Writers Support Group!

    And keep on writing your stories the way you feel they have to be told. The French of Quebec is a beautiful language with a rich literary history, (I'm sure,) but it's not your responsibility to carry that tradition forward. There will be other Canadian writers, I'm sure, who keep on writing in French because their hearts are in it, and that's the only reason to write anything.

    I've lost most of my facility with le francais, although je parle un petit peu. When I visited Montreal and Quebec City, I basically functioned as an Anglo tourist. ;)

  6. That is a unique worry. I'm glad I don't have to deal with it. (I'd love to be that fluent in another language though!) In the end, you just have to do what feels right for the story and hope that others can understand that.

  7. That's a heavy burden! Never thought about the issue of language. Do what's best for you and the story.

  8. I have another online friend who is writing in English, but her native language is something else. I think it's awesome that you are so fluent in both languages. Makes sense to me, though, that you would want to write in English purely from a practical standpoint. I mean, if you are going to query New York agents and editors, you gotta write in English, right? It would be kind of ironic, though, if your book got published and later translated into French. :)

  9. M Pax: "My French is atrocious. I only remember how to swear and order a beer. :)" Hey, that's the important part! ;)

    Kel: Thanks for the comment. I was curious of what I'd hear from fellow canadians, too. :) And you're right, my best friends are writers and do it in French. Thankfully they're a close circle of people I can speak of the English-thing with!

    Sarah: I can assure you that after spending hours looking for the right French terms for some fantasy words, English worked better. It comes from reading so much of it. My genre-specific vocabulary is more appropriate in English. Best for the story!

    Alex: Thanks! It's not an issue very common around writers, which is part of why I brought it up. :)

    LG : From a market size point of view, it does make a lot of sense. On the other hand, Quebec has a lively and unique publishing industry, so I could go that way, too.

    And yeah, that would be downright ironic. I'd rather hope they'd give me *some* input (though I doubt it).

  10. I understand your fear, the unique nature of it and how negative responses will hurt. Be true to your writing. If it flows in English, write it in English. Other writers and artists will understand your choice, as long as it is authentic. And those that love you may not understand it, but will hopefully accept it.