As a child I loved to go to my friend Jennifer’s house for dinner. One of the reasons was the family’s meal schedule with specific meals on specific days. Every Tuesday was sausage and beans, Wednesday was fishfingers and chips and so on. This blew my mind and made me question the spontaneous eating habits of my family. For us, every day was different. Were we weird? But, as much as I loved the novelty, the thought of my parents implementing this kind of regime forever made me shudder. I have always been simulataneously allergic to routines and in awe of those who implement them.
How does this relate to translation?
The received wisdom in the translation industry is that specialisation is crucial. Specialising allows you to make economies of scale, translating more content in less time and making more money. You can also target your marketing efforts towards your ‘ideal client’. And, of course, you gain the satisfaction of becoming an expert in a particular topic. In short, it makes you a better, more successful translator.
Believe me I get it. Like most conventional productivity tips the theory makes perfect sense.
And yet, in my 12 years as a freelance translator I have struggled to implement this advice and could not always relate to my colleagues’ experience. Perhaps this meant I wasn’t a good translator or that I was doomed to failure? Maybe there was something wrong with me.
Since my ADHD diagnosis I understand that I work differently because my brain works differently. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is a misnomer. Those of us with ADHD do not suffer from a defecit of attention but from inconsistent attention due to low dopamine levels. We can actually target our attention extremely effectively in certain situations. This is known as ‘hyperfocus’ and is when we do our best work.
One of the keys to achieving this degree of focus is novelty and challenge. Researching new topics fires up my neurones in a way that nothing else does. It turns my brain into a dog with a linguistic bone. Routine and repetition has the opposite effect, sending it off for a fireside nap.
Of course, I do have particular areas of interest and expertise. I love to get my teeth into French employment and social affairs since the topic is vast and constantly evolving. As a history graduate, if you ask me to translate a text on the Normans I will bite your hand off.
I do know my limits and if you need some nuclear power plant specs translating I will happily refer you to a colleague.
But I could no more work on the same texts every day than I could eat sausages and beans every Tuesday. So, if you have a niche document I would love to take on the challenge. If it’s my first time working on the subject I will research it extensively. If I have any questions I will ask. If I can’t translate it myself I will refer you to someone who can.