Helena Halme's top tips for writing in another language

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Helena Halme to my blog. A former BBC journalist, bookseller and magazine editor, Helena is a prize-winning author who writes contemporary Nordic fiction. Originally from Finland where she gained an MSc in Marketing, she also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes in English.

She has published eight fiction titles and two non-fiction books, including Write Your Story: Turn Your Life Into Fiction in 10 Easy StepsHelena acts as Nordic Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and helps other writers publish and market their books.

As a linguist myself, I’m fascinated by her experience of writing books in another language!

Over to Helena…

When I tell people I’m a writer, originally from Finland, they often ask me what language I use. When I tell them I write in English, the next query inevitably is ‘How do you do that?’ So after years of talking about this subject, I’ve finally put together a book on How to Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps. Here is a short summary of my top tips on writing in another language.

Use Your Unique Voice
The one important positive in writing in a foreign language is the different voice you can achieve. As a non-native speaker, you have a certain degree of detachment when writing in another language. Use this distinctiveness in your favour. Even if you don’t set your books in your native country, you can still use your uniqueness in your style, characterisation and plot development.

Get the basics right
When writing in a language that is not your mother tongue, it is vital to get the grammar and use of language right. Even if you’re looking to use a specific style or a completely new voice, it’s important to follow the most common rules on grammar and spelling.

Ask a Native Speaker
Those whose mother tongue you are using can often spot mistakes, such as wrong prepositions or clumsy word order, quicker than you can. So before you send your work to your editor, ask someone – a friend or colleague – to have a quick read-through of your text.

Ignore Your Inner Critic
When you know that your natural inner editor isn’t as effective in the adopted language as it is in your mother tongue, it’s easy to overcompensate by being too careful when writing. This slows you down and blocks your creativity, so I recommend that you try not to let your inner critic stop your flow. Remember that the first version of your manuscript, whether you are a native speaker or not, is just a draft. Ernest Hemingway famously said ‘The first draft of anything is always shit’!

Read What You Write
When I began writing in English, I didn’t stop reading books in other languages. I’d always been proud that I could read novels in the language they’d first been published in, be it Finnish, Swedish or French. But during my MA in Creative Writing, when I didn’t have time to read anything but the English texts that had been given to me, my writing improved and became more fluent. Now, sadly, I avoid reading books in anything else but English.

You may be an exception in this. There are many multilingual authors who can switch languages easily. But, if you are struggling with writing, it’s worth ‘switching off’ the other languages in your life. Immersing yourself in the language you write in may make a huge difference to you.

I hope you have found this very short rundown of my top tips useful. I believe that using different languages enriches your life and through that your writing.

I couldn’t agree more, Helena, as a speaker of several languages myself!


You can find Helena online:
Website: www.helenahalme.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenaHalmeAuthor
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Helenahalme
Instagram: www.instagram.com/helenahalme


More about Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps 

A guide for non-native writers packed with practical tips to make it easier to write in another language

  • How to strengthen your language skills
  • How to ensure your text is free from errors
  • How to use software and other online tools
  • How to take advantage of your ‘foreigness’
  • How to avoid your inner critic and let your words flow
  • How other writers use a second language for inspiration

Update 29 May: Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps is now out – get your copy here.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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