Creativity Boosting Ideas for Translators

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Translation isn’t always thought of as a creative process. Some view translation as a simple act of moving already created sentences and phrases from one language to another. Translation is actually much more complex. As a translator, you act as a gateway between two languages, as if you are standing along a border, balancing two worlds. It requires an understanding of the complexities involved in not only the original and translated languages, but also an intimate understanding of the two cultures.  Creativity is present, and even necessary, within the process of translation. 

Creativity, when defined as “seeing the intersection of seemingly unrelated topics and combining them into something new” (Brian Clark), nearly perfectly defines the life of a translator.  Another definition that perhaps fits even snugger proposes that creativity is “starting with nothing and ending up with something. Interpreting something you saw or experienced and processing it so it comes out different than how it went in” (Henry Rollins).  Both of these definitions fully capture the role and scope of translation. 

Creativity is sparked in many different areas of the brain. It requires heavy use of the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for higher level thinking, logic, and cognitive flexibility. However, depending on the type of tasking and creativity you are engaging in will indicate which area will be used. For translators, Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas are more likely to be used in the creative process. Armed with knowledge on the neurobiology of creativity has given researchers and other professionals tools to cultivate it.   

 How to cultivate creativity? 

 1.      Increasing Curiosity 

Curiosity often leads to creativity. Like a developing child that has an innate drive to curiously explore his or her world and creatively provide input back to his or her environment, so too do adults have these needs.  By borrowing the wonder of a child, we can use your five senses to explore the world in curiosity, feel the need to creatively input into our world, and thus grow our creativity.  

 2.      Setting a creative mood 

You can alter your environment to boost creativity. What we take in through our senses can be soothing, energizing, and can change our moods.  It is worth experimenting with different sights, smells, textures, audio or music, and tastes to see what engages your brain into action. Remember, though, what works for one individual may not work for someone else, and this will require you to experiment with different environments, sensory tools, etc, in order to figure out what works for you.  

 3.      Titrating Creativity 

Going back and forth from the opposite forces of creativity and disengagement can lead to a boost in creative moments and decrease moments of stagnation. Further, a longer and more serious disengagement like sleep has been shown to boost our ability to find insight - that is, the sudden gain of knowledge or spark of idea, which are the offspring of creativity. 

 4.      Collaboration and Gathering Feedback 

Creativity can be sparked when we bounce ideas off one another, because sometimes we are too close to an issue or problem to be able to step back and find a new creative path.  Asking for help and advice from friends, peers, and people from your personal network that you trust and respect can provide valuable input to start the creative process. Every person has a unique skill set, experience, and knowledge. A fresh outside perspective can spark some new, creative thinking, particularly when ideas are stuck. 

 5.      Do Something Different, Do Something Fun, or Do Nothing at All 

Finally, when we are stuck and creativity is no longer flowing, it can help to change things up, step out of your professional role, or simply do nothing, Sometimes unplugging your mind rather than actively engaging it can give your mind the break and the rest that it needs. Sometimes the best ideas are born from spontaneous insights rather than active thinking processes.   

Creativity lives within interpretation. The transformative aspect of translation requires it. When creativity stagnates, there are research-supported ways to boost it. Not just for painters and authors of children’s books, creativity is found in all of us, and often in heavy doses in translators.