An expansion for: Nine Maxims On Translation
E Bruce Brooks / University of Massachusetts / 5 Dec 2002

A lot of people can do things, but it is the professional who can do them dependably. Part of reputable translating is being able to deliver the translation on time.

In selecting a piece to translate, calculate how long it will take. Don't sign the contract until you have verified, by experiment, that you can reach and maintain that rate of production.

In embarking on the translation, begin by taking the measure of the significant moments, the key parts of the structure, and get those in hand before settling down to fill in the whole work. But in filling in, don't do the pretty parts first and leave the rest until later, or you will wind up with the least attractive part of the job to do in the last six months, when your ardor for the job is at its lowest ebb. Once you know the territory, take the territory more or less as it comes.

Things that take a long time to get done raise problems of psychological management. You get up from your desk, on the evening of the 187th day, and the goal seems not appreciably closer than it was in the evening of the 186th day. That sort of thing can get to you. The best advice we have heard on this dilemma comes from Ishikawa Kan: treat it like a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Be patient with the day's work, and trust to the higher railway officials for the day's progress.

It also helps to have some shorter-term projects in hand at the same time, so you can, at least once in a while, put in an hour of work and see something happen as a result. Deferred results erode morale, and a diet of nothing but deferred results saps conviction. Nurture your sense of conviction. Start a fan club. Pay people to join. Read them each chapter as you finish it. Have them phone up to ask how close you are to finishing the next chapter. Arrange for applause when you finally read them the finished chapter. Tumultuous applause (as long as you are paying for it anyway) is better than polite applause. And don't be the one to ask, as Hart Crane used to ask, Isn't this the greatest thing ever written? Have the club president do it, and be sure a dozen members are primed to respond in the right way.

Excitement bubbled high around Vienna, when Brahms was close to finishing his Second Symphony. That sort of thing is still valid, no?


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