Break writer’s block with translation

In college I had a professor who told us one of his favorite ways to get past writer’s block was to translate a poem into English from a language you don’t know. In fact, to do this correctly, you should choose a language you know nothing about. Most people recognize too many Spanish and French words for this to work well.

Instead of looking for the meanings of the words, treat the poem like an object. Look to the shape of the poem and the length of the lines. If you can sound out words, use the sound to help you. If it character writing, look to the shapes and guess the meaning. Look for patterns in the writing and repetition.

Treat it as a real translation. The first time through you should get a rough approximation of the poem. Then, once you have a feel for your “translation,” smooth the language and amplify the meaning. Choose appropriate vocabulary. Read it to yourself.

Once you’re done, you’ll have a completely original work. The professor said that he had several published poems that were actually “translations” from great poets. Don’t read any actual translations until you’re completely finished, but do read a translation just in case you are too close.

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