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I currently write in Russian, but I think of switching to English to gain more audience and to play with both languages and linguistics.

So could I ever reach the level of native English writers and maybe even gain some honor as a good one? I know that writing doesn't stick with language, but what is the price of switching? How much I'll have to learn?

While answering, please abstract from Russian and English, let them be Hindi and Japan, or something else.

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10 Answers 10

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It is certainly not easy, but I'd like to point to a possible advantage of coming from a different culture with a different language: it might also give you an edge!

When I read manga (japanese comic books) for instance, I always gravitate towards the type of manga which draws its inspiration from western culture. The manga that talk about eastern culture, like ninja or samurai stories don't interest me. It's the ones about pirates and bounty hunters.

On the other hand, the comic books treating the same themes do not interest me at all. Why? It's precisely because of the refreshing look of japanese manga artists on our culture. They view it totally differently, bring in aspects from their own culture into it, and that's what makes it so very fresh and entertaining.

Something similar must be true for literature. Isn't Nabokov, the great Russian writer, writing in English, French and Russian? Often drawing inspiration from the various languages.

Certainly, the task ahead is not an easy one, but nothing worthwhile is easy, don't let it discourage you!

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Sorry to break it to you, but Nabokov has been dead for 35 years. He's not writing in any language. –  Aerovistae Jun 20 '13 at 19:05
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Knowing some native speaker/writers, I'd say it's certainly possible. What kind of writing are you doing? I can see pros and cons for literary versus genre fiction.

Literary fiction is, I think, much more dependent on the words used to get the story across. I think of it as long free-form poetry, a poetic prose. Perhaps others would disagree, but the language itself is important to the reader. As someone who would have to think carefully about word choices, I could see writing as a non-native speaker might be helpful because you'd have to be intentional. The phrasing differences between English and Whatever could either help or hinder the writer's work. It could either be fresh or confusing for the reader.

In genre fiction, however, the language of the writing is not quite as important. Obviously if something is too "off", the reader will pick up on it (I would note that this is the case for me even between British and U.S. English).

However, you might get into the idiomatic issue depending on your setting. I think you'd be safer placing your writing in a context that would be familiar to you, even if you're writing in a non-native language. So your story would take place in Russia if you're a Russian speaker, as opposed to setting it in pre-World War II Japan, for example.

And if you're writing in a first person perspective and your main character isn't a native speaker, then people might be a little more forgiving as readers. To join along with the struggles of another.

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Probably the greatest example of a non-native speaker who wrote in English would be Joseph Conrad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Conrad. Also, Oscar Wilde wrote in French (Salome) as did Samuel Beckett (after Waiting for Godot).

My recommendation would be: listen and read. Hear as much spoken English as you can to get the rhythm and flow; read as much as you can to see it put together. Journal in English.

But yes, you will be rediscovering both your style and your voice in English. The process may come faster, but it's going to be a process similar to what you have already completed in Russian.

An aside on translators: Translation is, in of itself, a creative act. A "good translator" is very hard to find, and as subjective as "good art".

I was fluent in French, and have written some in French when it was appropriate for what I wanted from the piece, but I never quite felt I reached the clarity of style or voice I have in English.

Also, the English language may have simple rules, but the exceptions are near endless. I suspect that would make it a difficult language in which to achieve a fluid style.

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It's certainly possible, it's just more difficult, because a writer needs to get the idioms and subtle differences in connotation that a casual speaker may miss and still get his or her message across.

If you can, spend some time in an English-speaking country, or at least consume their media and talk to native speakers online. The more you use it, the better you'll get.

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As a note on idioms, I know two non-native English speakers (Serbian + French) who are fluent in English and come up with much more interestingly turned phrases and idioms. So as a non-native English writer, I'm sure you'd come up with some very refreshing and non-cliché language. –  Maddy Byahoo Sep 25 '12 at 18:45
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Yes.

Proof:
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead A famous, brilliant comedy play by Tom Stoppard, who wasn't a native speaker of English (admittedly, he did learn it when he was an older child, not as an adult).

(but don't dismiss the idea of writing in Russian and then finding a really good translator - that would certainly be much easier. I speak Japanese pretty well, but I'd never try to compose a novel in it)

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You absolutely can be a success as a writer if you don't speak (or write) English as a native language. One of my best freelance writers is German. I think he spoke English fluently before he began writing in English, but that may not be the case.

It may mean that you have to work harder during the edit process. But working hard isn't a bad thing!

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It is definitely possible. As an example, Hannu Rajanemi has recently had his first novel-length work published, written entirely (well, there are the occasional Finnish word in there, but that is due to one of the viewpoint characters being Finnish-ethnic) in English. His mother tongue is Finnish.

However, it probably requires a fair bit of work on behalf of the writer and probably benefits from immersion in "the target language".

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go ahead! start writing in English and then be your own judge. you definitely will get an answer yourself. you cant learn swimming until you've jumped into the water. don't be afraid of drowning. i am a native Urdu speaker and i write articles both in English and Urdu. and you'll be interested to know that iv won prizes for my writings in English but none in Urdu!

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Whether you take her seriously or not, Ayn Rand's language and style were impeccable. She knew practically no English at all when she moved to the United States in 1925, at the age of twenty. So there's no reason you can't develop an original and respectable style as a writer in a language that isn't your own, once you've developed a strong base in its grammar and syntax.

(I was at first going to mention Vladimir Nabokov, a writer whose style was so rich and wordplay so brilliant that it's a wonder he never won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he was for all practical purposes trilingual.)

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Yeah, I think Nabokov is an unfair example-- he was a linguistic genius almost without peer. And moreover, he grew up in a trilingual household, so I wouldn't say his situation was entirely analogous. –  Aerovistae Jun 20 '13 at 19:08
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I think,if you want to be a non-native english writer you have to do more and more hard work.It's depands on your around circumstances,is it helpful for english practising.If not.IT will be more challenging for you.In this situation you may take help of english movie,news,news paper,talkshow,variety cultural program and english speaking with native speaker in online.

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