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Musings from an underworked translator April 30, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

Karen’s guest post on Corinne’s blog today made me question whether I should keep up the blog, but I know deep down that I don’t blog for notoriety or to attract clients. I use my blog as my emotional outlet to vent about situations in the industry that upset me or share my experiences with others. I used to complain on listservs. Most people have no choice but read or at least glance at the various posts that are sent to a listserv. When I blog, people can choose whether or not they want to listen to me. When I was teaching the graduate translation students at Kent I hated the grading, but loved sharing my experience and the wisdom I had gained from so many of my colleagues over the years with the students. I consider my blog to be an extension of this. I also enjoy sharing the occasional video or comic strip about our field. I had hoarded them on my computer, but they needed to be shared and enjoyed.

You might have been wondering why I have been posting less often here in the last few months. The fact is that business has really dried up for me in the last six months. It was slowing down all year last year, as I struggled to find time to translate while settling my uncle’s estate. Then the three week stint at the law firm had me turning down work while working on a large translation at night. After both job assignments finished in early December I have rarely had lots of work. I haven’t needed to use my job board. The jobs come in in dribs and drabs (a thousand words here, 800 words there), with long days of nothing in between. I don’t know the cause of it, but the fact remains that I am woefully underworked. And when I am underworked I start to question things – my life, my abilities as a translator, whether I should continue freelancing or get a “real job.” I start to wonder whether this blog is a detriment to my job – if customers are turned off by the “overworked” moniker or if my complaining about bad clients or bad business practices repulses potential clients or my readers. My motivation wanes: my motivation to blog, motivation to tweet, motivation to sit at my computer, motivation to market myself. I am in a weird position at the moment where I don’t need to work, but want to work. There are only so many books I can read and so much television I can watch. Judge Judy is awesome, but when I have time to watch her twice a day that’s a problem. I know that this can’t continue indefinitely though. Working makes me happy. It makes me feel fulfilled. Like I have a purpose in life. When I am underworked I get bored. listless. depressed.

I know that this too shall pass, but it’s hard to experience. I need to contact my existing clients and let them know I’m available for work. I really need to send out some marketing e-mails and find some new clients. Maybe even reach out to new direct clients like the local law firms and hospitals here in Cleveland. I just need to find the motivation. The death of Dr. Lee Wright has kind of been a kick in the pants for me. I have taken over his responsibilities as Membership Chair of NOTA. His wife Sue Ellen (my mentor and the person who motivated me to be a translator in the first place) brought me his files on Saturday. We went to dinner and reminisced about Lee and his passion for translation, for his students, and for the arts. It was a lovely evening. We enjoyed the Baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos together. They had season tickets, and Lee used to take me when Sue Ellen was out of town on business. I miss him so much. Sue Ellen told me that when he was told that his cancer had come back Lee made a bucket list, although he never managed to do anything on the list. I am inspired to make my own bucket list. I am healthy and alive and should not squander that. And neither should you.

First on my list is to get away and enjoy a much needed vacation in Hawaii at the end of May. I think I desperately need to reenergize. The flights are booked, the hotels and car rental are arranged, the clothes and swimsuits are bought. I can’t wait. I’ll start the marketing campaign when I get back. Until then please bear with me.



1. patenttranslator - April 30, 2012

Some bloggers, such Celine at Naked Translation, know how to design a blog that attracts business, while at the same time they can vent about things they don’t like, have some fun, etc.

But most translators who blog probably mostly vent, and vent, and vent, including myself.

But blogging can play an an important function in your professional life even if it does not attract much business, if any, which is my case, because I am connected to other translators through my blog and I have a means of trying to influence things important to translators, albeit in a small way.

That to me is the most important function of my blog.

I use my website to find new customers, not my blog. And my website is working for me. Without it I would have been losing 20 to 30 percent of my income year after year for about the last eight years.

I think that my blog posts will probably put some potential customers off if they don’t like what I am saying, while other people may be more likely to send me work if they like my posts.

And I’m OK with that.

I don’t know whether you have a commercial website, but if you do have one, maybe you should think about why it does not seem to work for you right now.

Jill (@bonnjill) - April 30, 2012

That’s a really good point, Steve, I’ve had a website since 1995 (in various incarnations). It serves as a business card for potential clients, but it doesn’t attract new clients. I should probably revamp it.

2. Carolina Prat - April 30, 2012

Dear Jill, regarding your blog, please don´t stop writing! I enjoy your posts (I am not even in your same language combination, but just a freelancer who loves translating and enjoys reading about translation). I have shown this blog to other colleagues, and they all found it great). I do not agree with Karen´s guest post. Blogging does not necessarily have to be a productive activity, but it is just something people like (and dare) to do: to say what they feel/think. And if others have an opinion about it, they might agree or not. But that should not stop you from doing something you like.
My humble opinion.
Thank you for sharing. Please, keep on sharing.

Regarding the ups and downs of business, don´t let them depress you. It happens everywhere (and I am writing from Buenos Aires, the capital of “ups and downs” if there is one…). Enjoy your well earned vacation and life will look different afterwards.


Jill (@bonnjill) - April 30, 2012

Thank you very much for your kind words, Carolina. I appreciate it a lot.

3. patenttranslator - April 30, 2012

If you want to talk to my web master (web mistress?) send me a private e-mail and I will send you a link to her website.

She has been updating my website for about 2 years now. She is also a German translator, which is the key to understanding what needs to be done on my commercial website.

Don’t forget to enjoy your vacation. I have never been to Hawaii, only to the airport on my way to Japan.

P.S. Business will pick up dramatically when you are unable to work because you are wasting time on the beach. You can count on it!

4. Corinne McKay - April 30, 2012

Jill, don’t quit your blog, the translation blogosphere would miss you (seriously!). But I think you have two issues at work here: is the problem that you still want to be a freelance translator but you are just going through a slump, or that you no longer want to be a freelance translator (either because you don’t want to freelance or because you don’t want to be a translator). You are great at giving other people business advice (market yourself consistently, have multiple revenue streams, focus on specializations you know and like, all that stuff!) so I think you are completely capable of revving up your business if you want to. But if you’ve come to a point where you feel that translation and/or freelancing are no longer for you, I think it helps to assess what exactly is not satisfying to you (do you hate sitting at the computer, hate being home alone, hate having a fluctuating work flow, etc.). I think the answers to those questions will help you figure out where to go next. But your blog is awesome and a great gathering point for other translators; thank you for writing it!!

5. Wenjer Leuschel - May 1, 2012

Dear Jill,

Enjoy your vacation and keep on writing your blog posts when you come back.

Your blog is not a marketing tool. It provides information, views and advice for translation colleagues. And it is valuable that you use your blog as your emotional outlet to vent about situations in the industry that upset us or share your experiences with others. It is valuable that colleagues exchange minds at yours, even if their views are different.

Bloggers have different styles. I don’t follow many in all languages I happen to have an idea of, but your blog is one of those few I follow. Karen pronounces her verdict: “A successful blog will be uncommon, regular, novel, entertaining or instructive.” My question would be about the definition of “success.” So long I learn from a blogger (instructive), so long I enjoy reading a blogger (entertaining), I do not expect her/him to be uncommon, regualr or novel. All these do not necessarily lead to success as a translator.

Since “not all of us can be that blogger we aspire to be,” I admire those bloggers who persist on blogging, even if they are aware of the fact that blogging does not necessarily bring them real business. Because, it is not always about business.

So, keep on blogging and do not worry about the slow business. It goes up and down from time to time. There are a lot of other things than business only, even when we run our business alongside.


6. LinguaGreca - May 1, 2012

Hi Jill,
First of all let me reiterate Carolina’s plea: please please please don’t stop blogging. Your blog was the first window I discovered to the world of translators outside my small office. It was the one who showed me there are others out there going through the same things as I do. It gave me the chance to meet you! And it’s by far my favorite translation blog.
I know we’re supposed to use our blogs as marketing tools to attract clients. But most of us aren’t corporations, our blogs are personal, so even though we can write a few client-oriented posts, we all know that our colleagues are our actual visitors. That’s the way we truly market ourselves, through networking with other translators, discussing and sharing experiences with them. So, you’re spot on.
As for the situation you’re going through, I’m sure you’ll find your way and what you want very soon, especially after your dreamy vacation in Hawaii. I just wanted to say that this post didn’t sound as venting at all. You’d expect someone to read it and think ‘Oh, she’s going through a tough time, I hope she finds a solution soon’. Well, that’s not what I thought. I found it so motivating! To find yourself at a crossroads and still be able to think clearly and see the options you have and the ways to get there whatever you choose at the end.
That’s why you shouldn’t stop blogging. Because even faced with the hard stuff, people are still motivated by you to get their heads together and figure out what they want and how to achieve it.

7. catherinetranslates - May 1, 2012

Jill, I’m counting on you to keep livening up my RSS reader. Your blog has really grown on me, and I hope the musings continue.

I liked Steve’s comment about websites. May I make two suggestions? What about adding some sort of “hire me” button to your blog or at least link to your website in a prominent manner? Also, what about publishing a German version of your website so that German clients can contact you directly?

I look forward to your future posts! Enjoy Hawaii!

Jill (@bonnjill) - May 1, 2012

I had a German version for a long time and just got rid of it last year. I didn’t notice any additional business from it. In fact, I just canceled the German domain name last month.

8. Tom Ellett - May 1, 2012

Jill, I’m sorry to hear that business is slow for you right now. But in my 16 years’ experience of the translation industry, the one constant is unpredictability – so I wouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself deluged with work on your return from Hawaii!

I too had a very quiet start to the year, only to be crazy busy throughout March and April. You’re doing the right thing in taking a vacation, because when work picks up again you’ll be glad you did. And I’m sure the marketing campaign will be much easier when you’re feeling refreshed and positive.

9. akismet-e616883755c7f32e24ff88019a729fa4 - May 1, 2012

>> I know we’re supposed to use our blogs
>> as marketing tools to attract clients.

Really? That one actually never occurred to me when I started. Like Jill, I had my own reasons that seldom had anything to do with marketing.

Hang in there, Jill. Work at the wordface does seem to have more hazards about it than most outside the profession would imagine, and what we can give to it is too often affected by things that are difficult to control. Enjoy the earned vacation, and don’t measure yourself by anyone else’s yardstick in matters of business volume or anything else. Sometimes success just means you draw another breath.

Melissa - May 2, 2012

“Sometimes success just means you draw another breath.”

Well said.

Give yourself time to grieve the passing of your friend, enjoy your vacation, tweak your website and in a few months, you may find yourself writing up a post about the ups and downs of life as a freelancer.

I hope you keep blogging.

10. mfdanis - May 1, 2012


I didn’t know about your blog when I was a student at Kent, and I am sorry I didn’t. I stumbled upon it after I left (“Hey, Jill’s got a blog!”) Your blog is an invaluable resource for translators who are just starting out, and pretty entertaining for translators in general. I don’t think the blog name discourages clients from approaching you with potential projects. And I think the number of clients who may be turned off by your writing is probably very small. I think you are honest and fair in your judgements, and any client who is likewise honest and fair in their business practices would appreciate that.

11. Céline Graciet (@NTceline) - May 8, 2012

Jill! Sorry to hear you’re in a slump. It sounds like you’re reassessing what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, which is always useful. I hope the process leads you to a better place. Best of luck with it.

12. Sally Loren - May 10, 2012

I also enjoy your blog very much and it stops me from sticking two fingers down my throat when a customer rings up to ask “Why can’t I say that – it’s on LEO!”. Quiet periods are the only constant in this game and something that all us freelancers fear – whether we’re translators, actors, singers or whatever.

And by the way: I’ve only been doing my blog since January. It’s tremendous fun and I HAVE got business through it.

13. Cassy - May 18, 2012

we all need to find some times to unwind ourselves from stress and be refresh. It’s good that you will be having by the end of May. That’s gonna be great!

14. Sarai - May 19, 2012

I’m sorry, I just stumbled upon this post, but I have a hypothesis regarding work. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I do academic translations, and went from having lots to having a similar situation to described in the post, and I think it works in the same cycles as the research cycles at the University. During the first half of the year, everyone is gathering, recording and interpreting data – so there isn’t that much need to communicate, and therefore less need to translate. I have no clue if there is any truth to this – what do you think? It’s a bit crap for me at the moment since I had to go right through my savings and now I’m living hand-to-mouth BUT I am organising my life now completely so that I can be totally efficient… so that when work DOES start coming in, I can handle it all and still maintain balance in my life. Idealistic? Maybe, but I’d like to hear what you think 🙂

15. Jeff Clingenpeel - May 24, 2012

Hi Jill,

My work has also slowed to a trickle over the past year, and the change came very abruptly. I’d had on of my best quarters ever and then boom: from last June to now my income has dropped by nearly 25%. My suspicion is that, since our work is completely dependent on the German economy, the ongoing euro crisis is probably the real culprit—and not anything you or I did or tweeted or blogged 🙂

It’s depressing, but I think it will ultimately get better. Your idea of a vacation sounds like a good one. Enjoy!

-Jeff (Clingenpeel from Kent)

Jill (@bonnjill) - May 24, 2012

Thanks, Jeff! Glad to hear it isn’t just me. Good to see you here. I miss hanging out with you at Silver Ghettos 🙂

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