Writing in a Third Language by Rochita Ruiz

It’s been quite a hectic June-month as alongside my work as an independent creative, I worked on a science fiction story using Dutch as my writing language. When I was asked to do the story, I hesitated a bit as I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But then, I found myself curious. I wanted to know how writing in Dutch would change the way I approached story and in what way would it be different from writing in English.

One of the things I observed was how my process changed. Because I felt that I needed a stronger framework to hang onto while writing this story, I found myself brainstorming and writing down my ideas and thoughts, moving from idea to idea, questioning my choices, disagreeing with myself on solutions before starting on the act of writing. (As I am a pantser, this is a major change in my process.)

I’ve since submitted my work for consideration to the editors and am waiting to hear back from them, but here are some of my observations from that experience:

  1. I write slower in Dutch.
  2. The Van Dale, which is the dutch dictionary, is a good friend, but sometimes the word it suggests is not the right word.
  3. I turn to the Dutch dictionary almost as much as I turn to the English dictionary. But where the rules for English usage are straightforward and have become part of my system, Dutch usage and grammar still have me turned around.
  4. Sometimes a thing you think sounds right is not the right word for what you want to say. Because context affects meaning in Dutch just as context affects meaning in English.
  5. There’s a deliberateness to the language that asks me to pay more attention to how I sequence events and how I introduce characters. Where things can be implied or taken for granted in English, Dutch requires me to be more explicit.
  6. Where gender-neutral pronouns are concerned, the Dutch language is a desert.
  7. It helps when you have a person sitting beside you who is a born Dutch speaker (in my case, it was my eldest son.)

Will I write more stories in Dutch?

Now that I’ve done so, I want to try writing more in Dutch. It was challenging, to be sure, but it was encouraging to realise that I do have enough Dutch to convey what I want to say in story form.

It was also satisfying to be able to share my work with people who haven’t read my English work because English isn’t embedded in their system and that makes it harder to connect with works written in English.

I still don’t know what the editors think of my story, but I loved writing it and I loved learning from the process.

What about you, have you tried writing a story in a third language or fourth language? What was it like for you?

Rochita Ruiz is a Filipinx writer living in The Netherlands where she works as a creative artist with a focus on the written word. She was the Butler scholar for Clarion West in 2009 and was one of the recipients of the Milford BAME bursary. She has led several successful workshops among them the Envisioning Other Futures workshop for the Other Futures Festival and the Collaborative Worldbuilding workshop for the Fiber Festival. She is the founder and leader of the Alternate Munabol writing sessions for BIPOC youngsters. At present, she is developing a programme for the Research Centre for Material Culture with a focus on reimagining and dreaming. Her fiction and non-fiction can be found in various places online and in print.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / UK Visas and Immigration department licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship).
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1 Response to Writing in a Third Language by Rochita Ruiz

  1. marionpitman says:

    Respect – I don’t think I could even write in a second language.


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