When I tell people that I want to write a novel in English, they tend to be sceptical or even downright dispiriting and depressing. I haven’t even started writing yet and I’m already moaning and groaning about the long, arduous task at hand! Surely writing a book can’t be as formidable as the Twelve Labours of Hercules? ... Can it?
Of course I understand their scepticism: English isn’t my mother tongue (that would be Dutch) and it’s not even the first foreign language I learned (that would be French). What my discouraging friends don’t understand is that I love the English language more than any other language. Dutch sounds bland, neutral, artificial and bloodless; French is too sweet and cloying and it feels like there’s never an end to it. German, on the other hand, is a beautiful, brisk language but I don’t have a good enough grasp on German grammar to even begin the thought of writing something larger than one page in it.
English, however... Ahhh, angelic English! In my life I have read more books and articles in English than in Dutch, French and German combined. It’s not that my family is of English descent or that I live in an English neighbourhood; I have just always been attracted to it. Over the years I have discovered many wonderful authors: from Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to William Blake and H.P. Lovecraft. Even well-crafted translations of, say, Fyodor Dostoevsky or Mikhail Bulgakov can enchant me endlessly. I consider English to be my true mother tongue.
My friends don’t understand that and their repeated remarks about how it is impossible for a non-native speaker to write a successful novel are getting to me. I am too meek and shy to defend myself, although a resolute, fist-shaking thought of “I’ll show them! I’ll show them all!” always echoes in the back of my mind. Joseph Conrad only learned English when he was in his twenties and look how successful he was. I’m sure there are other examples as well.
But my knowledge of the English language isn’t my biggest concern; I usually manage to cast these doubts out and I never think of them while I’m writing. The obstacle that bothers me most is my notorious procrastination. Even when I was in college and difficult mid-terms or finals were looming on the horizon, I always waited until the final day before I started studying (and I use the word “studying” very loosely here). Somehow I managed to complete college without too many problems, but that was because my procrastination was always overcome by the knowledge that finals were real and that there was nothing I could do to make them go away. Eventually the freight trains of reality and pressure hit me in the face and projected me into my books. I don’t have those motivations when it comes to writing a book.
I’ve written a few dozen poems and I’ve started mapping out countless short stories and novels, but I never actually sat down to write those stories themselves because there was never any pressure. I don’t respond well to a lack of pressure. You could also say that I don’t have the discipline to sit down at my desk to just write for hours at a time. Does anyone else experience the same problems? How do you overcome them?