A little disclaimer here: this has absolutely nothing to do with photography. Let’s just say that one habit I’ve picked up during lockdown is journaling, and it’s been helping me gain clarity on a lot of things, and let go of unhealthy patterns that I was holding on to. I think it’s important to be open and to share where you’re at, especially in times like these, and if this resonates with anyone, well… I’d like to think it was worth writing. ☺️

One thing people might not now about me, especially those who mostly know me through photography, is that I’ve dreamt of translating novels since I was 14. More specifically, fantasy novels. I remember spending an entire summer reading Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, the Tawny Man Trilogy, and the Liveship Traders, and having some kind of crazy eureka moment where I realised that I was only able to read those thanks to the fantastic work of the translator. And just like that, it became my goal. I could see it so clearly and it fuelled me for so long, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

The thing is, even though my parents never, ever pressured me into getting good grades, I’ve always put an insane amount of pressure on myself to do well at school. I never saw myself as an artistic or athletic kid – I couldn’t draw, couldn’t play an instrument, and I sucked at most sports… so for a long time I allowed “being smart” to be the thing that defined me — throughout school, throughout a BA in English, and then a MA in translation. MA courses span over two years in France, and at the end of the first year, a bunch of tutors asked if I wanted to enrol into a brand new, one-year MA program in digital creation, in addition to the one I was currently enrolled in. It sounded like both degrees would complement each other and… well, I guess some crazy, twisted part of me just liked the idea of a challenge, so I spent my final year at uni studying for two degrees.

Reader, it was every bit as stressful as it sounds.

I don’t regret doing it — I learnt a lot and it brought me some crazy opportunities, such as presenting a paper at a conference in Norway. But it was the most nerve-racking thing I’ve ever done and I still don’t know how I got through it.

And the thing is, even though on paper I got both MAs with a First… in my heart, I felt like a complete failure, because I’d only managed to hand in one final dissertation out of two. The grades I’d got throughout the year did the rest and propped everything up so that I could pass with honours. I left uni feeling completely crushed, burnt out, with a bitter taste in my mouth. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so smart anymore.

This was 5 years ago, and I’ve been scared of translating any fiction ever since. I’ve worked as a translator for companies and marketing agencies, but anything to do with literature? Nope, nada.

It’s ridiculous and I know it. Ending university on what I consider a low doesn’t negate all the things I learnt throughout those two years, or the skills I developed, and it doesn’t make me unworthy of pursuing my dream… yet the thought of translating a few chapters and submitting them to publishers has felt impossible and terrifying. There was only one possible scenario in my head: they were going to see right through me and know that I wasn’t good enough, that I was a fraud, and they’d reject me — so why put myself through it?

But I know I’ll never be happy until I try. I’ll always feel stuck and… incomplete, I guess. I love my job and I want to keep growing as a photographer, but I know it’ll never fulfil me the way I know translating books and seeing them published would. Immersing myself in someone else’s words, writing and rewriting a paragraph until it feels right… working with words, not just pictures. I can’t give that up. I’d never forgive myself if I did.

I hit a wall at some point during lockdown — seeing so many weddings being rescheduled, so many sessions cancelled, and the uncertainty of when things would go back to “normal”… as much as I enjoyed working on my business, it was starting to feel pointless and impossible, so I did what I always do when anxiety strikes: I took refuge in books. It reminded me of why fiction, written fiction, is so important, and how much I want to make books accessible to readers who don’t speak English. So last week I chose a book and started translating it. And honestly? It’s hard. It’s been so long that I’m second guessing every word, scrapping every sentence. I feel like quitting at the end of every paragraph. But I keep going, and it’s becoming a little bit easier and a little more enjoyable every day.

I’m not writing this to ask for permission or seek validation. I’m writing this because I want to be honest. From the outside I know it sometimes look like I’ve got it all together, that I know what I’m doing and where I’m going, but really? Just like most of us, I haven’t got the faintest idea. And if this whole brain dump can give someone a little encouragement, a push in the right direction, a reminder that your dreams are worth pursuing and that it’s never too late to try, then I’d like to think it was worth writing.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: when I’m old and grey and looking back on my life, I want to be at peace with myself. I don’t want to regret not doing something because I didn’t feel good enough or because it was too scary. What about you?

Take care,
Em x

1 like