Seth Godin has commented that the connection economy thrives on art and generosity, and today I want to consider both.
For the translators among us, art is the mastery of our craft—the ability to create texts that go beyond accurate (the bare-bones minimum) to embrace style and flow and rhythm. That go beyond the words to the ideas behind the words. Compelling texts. Texts that entice readers to jump aboard and keep reading clear through to the end. Texts that give authors a voice in a different culture and language. That open windows and doors.
At the premium end of the market, this can also mean making clients shine regardless of what they put on the page in their native language. That’s right: if you take this work seriously, your texts will often be better than the original. Because as a translator you’re a professional writer (unlike many customers, who are professional business people, scientists, patent attorneys, film-makers and so on).
It’s part of your art; it’s what you do.
The minute you ship bumpy translations and hide behind “well, the original didn’t make much sense either” or “did you see what they’re paying; what did they expect?” you’ve self-selected out of the circle of trust.
And it was your choice, not theirs.
If your clients do pay peanuts and send disconnected bits of murky, misspelled documents to translate, and this bothers you—well, it’s time to leave the commodity end of the market behind. Raise your bar. Your choice.
But that will be much, much harder if you’ve let your own world view, skills and track record get contaminated by commodity thinking.
On to generosity.
I can’t read my notes here, so Seth may have meant something else. But in my own practice, generosity means genuinely caring about outcomes.
So much so that you lend a hand to fellow translators who dare show their vulnerability by asking for help with a passage or term. You pitch in when your professional association needs manpower. You welcome newcomers to the profession and do what you can to help them find their feet.
So much so that you put in the extra time and effort to make your client or author look really good. Not in payback-comin’ mode, rather because it’s more satisfying to do work that makes sense and has meaning. Work that you can refer back to yourself with pleasure and pride—and refer potential clients to with confidence.
This commitment to yourself is also why you sign your work.
But more on that tomorrow.