Recently I was employed as a literary translator from English to Bulgarian and was tasked to translate my first ever novel – an international spy thriller which is more than just guys with guns. When taking this on I was very naïve in thinking it would be a piece of cake, after all I had read a ton of literature in both languages and thought my vocabulary was extensive enough. I had no idea how comedic the process of translation would look on the outside, especially while on the inside I was struggling to think of the most basic Bulgarian equivalents to simple English words, and anxiously trying to meet my deadlines.
Any sensible human being would look at the genre thriller and immediately think ~action~. From the very first page it was obvious that there would be a lot of weapons, automobiles and robberies involved, all things I had no prior knowledge of in either language. Most pages I translated required a hefty amount of googling, and looking through my search history afterwards made me more than laugh out loud.
The novel is set mostly in France and I was instructed to translate every location into Bulgarian. Google maps and I have now become very closely acquainted.
One thing that I still feel embarrassed about is how much I had to use Google Translate. It made me feel like I was somehow cheating, when in reality it just gave me a basis to work with without losing track of where I was up to. I had to come to terms with the fact that there is no shame in a little help and my using it did not diminish my knowledge of either language.
Distraction was my biggest nemesis throughout this experience. On a good day I’d start work at 9 in the morning and bang out up to 10 pages in a couple of hours. However, most of the time it would turn into this continuous loop of translating two sentences, then taking an hour long break on my phone, or making coffee, or going for a walk, or binge watching Gilmore Girls. In fact, the most work I ever did was when I walked 2 and a half miles to the university library, and once inside was forced by the fear of social embarrassment to do nothing but work.
Coming out of this experience I now know literary translation is no easy work. It requires an enormous amount of concentration, responsibility and dedication, which not everyone is prepared to invest. On the plus side it does wonders for your time management skills, as well as your body’s ability to resist caffeine. My advice to anyone who is thinking of going down the translation career path is: do your research, find the right space to work in and structure your work days as if this was any other office job – trust me, no one wants to work weekends, even when it depends solely on you.