To Write or Not to Write in English

HarukiMurakami

As a board member of Bom Cerpen (short story bomb in English) — whose main task is to encourage aspiring writers from Indonesia to write short stories in Indonesian — I am presented with a painful dilemma.

“Do I write in English or in Indonesian?”

It’s really a question for all aspiring writers from Indonesia. But for every other writer as well, who feels the need to choose between the most prevalent language in popular literature and their native tongue.

I think the reason why anyone wants to write in English is obvious — you can reach a broader audience. Forgive me for answering a question with another question, but I believe it’s the first thing you should ask yourself.

“Which language do I write most comfortably in?”

Writing in English doesn’t have anything to do with pride or prestige. It shouldn’t. I don’t write in English because it’s cool, or because I think it’s better than Indonesian. I write in English simply because:

  1. It’s the language I think in, most of the time. I even dream in English;
  2. Almost everything I read is written in English.

For those reasons, I write better in English than in any other language, my native tongue included. True, I still have a long way to go to refine my English writing skills, but an even longer one awaits, should I choose to write in Indonesian. And unfortunately, I’ve been given such a limited time in this world, not enough for both.

Which language you write in should not depend on your country of origin. Franz Kafka, who was Czech, wrote in German. If Kafka is not a good example, consider this: “Exophonic” writers such as Joseph Conrad (Polish), Vladimir Nabokov (Russian) and Ha Jin (Chinese) wrote, or write, in English. Samuel Beckett, who was Irish, wrote some of his best work in French.

Of course there are others who, despite being highly skilled in English, choose to write in their native tongue. Haruki Murakami, whose English skills are indubitable, chooses to write in Japanese.

The main concern should be whether you master the subtleties of the English language better than those of any other language. I am more familiar with English idioms and expressions, style, vocabulary, indeed all subtleties of the English language than those of the Indonesian language.

My point is, if you only read Indonesian literature and translated foreign (English) literature, in my opinion you should write in Indonesian. If you talk and think in Indonesian most of the time, chances are you’ll write better in Indonesian. If you, like me, are much more comfortable with English, then by all means write in English. Don’t mind others who judge you for being arrogant, anti-patriotic, or whatever insults they might throw at you.

It’s much more important to get the words flowing naturally. Don’t let others stand between your mind and the paper.

Whatever you choose, don’t force yourself. It will show in your writing.

What about you, do you prefer to write in English or in your native language?

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2 thoughts on “To Write or Not to Write in English

  1. Hai Sky 🙂
    I read Indonesian literatures a lot, but like to think in English. Sometimes read English short stories or novels, but can’t really enjoy it. So I definitely write in Indonesia for literature (as I’m not good at grammar either). You’re good at writing both, in Indo and Eng – have read your story here and Bom Cerpen 🙂 which one would you prefer for the most of your work?

    • Hey silananda, thanks for dropping by and for your kind words! I definitely prefer English, as I’ve pointed out above. But I also like writing short stories in Indonesian. Bahasa Indonesia has some aspects that English doesn’t and vice versa. I think I’ll most likely continue writing in both, for a very long time. 🙂

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