Chapter 1: The Quest for Pura Vida

First Bit of Creative Writing in a Foreign Language

As I’ve (probably) mentioned before, I am in a creative writing class in Costa Rica.  Besides the fact that taking a creative writing class is a good idea in general, I was inspired to take a writing class in another language by a friend of mine.  She was an exchange student from Mexico who took the same Intro to Creative Writing class as me my freshman year.  I decided if she could take a writing class in English, I could take one in Spanish.  So, here I am.

The structure of the class is different here.  At UNT, and presumably most American universities, the creative writing classes revolve around workshopping students’ creations.  We read examples of different kinds of works and styles and discuss techniques as they come up, but the emphasis is on developing our own writing.  In the class here, each week has a different theme and we discuss topics such as feminist writing, “beyond fiction” or Costa Rican writing, for example, with readings to go with it.  We have writing assignments, but it is usually just the professor that reads and comments on them.

I’m actually quite grateful for this since my grammar is straight-up embarrassing at this point.

This is my favorite class, even though it’s been a struggle.  We started the semester reading poetry.  The fun thing about poetry is that you really have to know the connotations, nuances, and “feel” of words to understand poems–obviously something impossible for someone who doesn’t even quite grasp basic conversations.  I tried translating the first poem I had to read.  I thought I was a terrible translator, but turns out the poem was literally gibberish.  Dang visionary poets.

The second part of the semester has been cuentos, or short stories.  These are easier to read, partly because my Spanish is better and partly because there’s usually online translations.  Just kidding, I read them in both languages since I would only be cheating myself if I just read them in English.   Except for the “horror” portion.  I have a limit as to how many times I can read about dead bodies, and one time is already over it so there’s no way I’m going through that again, other language or not.

Writing is another story altogether.  Creative writing depends so much on being able to manipulate nuances in words and structure, and writing in another language is like trying to draw a picture with your eyes closed.  Sure, you can probably get the basic shape, but you have no idea how the details are coming across, and it’s probably not going to be pretty.  I’ve had to turn in six pieces of creative writing so far.  The poems went well since I could literally look up all the connotations of every word and I had Spanish-speaking friends who were kind enough to revise them for me, but the cuentos have been harder.  The comment I got back on my first piece was, “The story is very confusing.  There are drafting problems.”  I went to talk to the professor, and she said as far as she could tell, the idea was good, I was just having problems communicating it.

Story of my Costa Rican life.

Anyway, I’ve decided to share my first bit of creative writing in another language.  Poetry’s never been my strong suit, but I’m quite pleased with how this one came out.



Si yo muero antes que tú,
Incendia la realidad y
Conviértela en rumores.

Quema la sangre antes de que se seque;
Quema la piel antes de que se pudra;
Quema el cuerpo antes de que se vuelva
Parte de la pesadilla de una niña.

Y si debes recordarme,
Edifica el memorial en papel
En vez de piedra,
Así la memoria se hará trizas
Dentro de los estratos del mundo.


And the translation for the linguistically-challenged:



If I die before you,
Set fire to the reality and
Turn it into hearsay.

Burn the blood before it dries;
Burn the skin before it rots;
Burn the body before it becomes
Part of a little girl’s nightmare.

And if you must remember me,
Build a memorial out of paper
Rather than stone,
So my memory will shred
Into the layers of the world.


It’s not really a masterpiece in either language since poetry depends so much on mastery of sound, form, and words, which I don’t have (yet) in Spanish, and I wasn’t writing it to be read in English; nevertheless, I’m quite proud of it.


One thought on “First Bit of Creative Writing in a Foreign Language

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