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You are here: Home > Books blog > BookBlog20170902 Drafting a book - FrankfurtDiaries and a language journey

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Published on 2017-09-02 | Updated on 2019-12-07 16:59:00 | words: 2278

It is has been a long time since I posted on this "book writing blog" thread on my portal.

But, unfortunately, while formally my current activity wasn't supposed to have impact on my book writing, I ended up being partially dragged into discussing and doing something that was closer to my previous activity.

Therefore, I put on hold few of the books that I was writing- and just kept "posting around".

Well, until I decided, after my check in November 2016 in Frankfurt (during a Cloud conference) that it was worth the risk and cost to start doing again something with a longer-term plan: bringing an additional European language on a par with my two main foreign languages, English and French (my mother tongue is Italian, but I have also other language skills, to varying degrees).

But it was actually before end 2016 that I started that journey.

PREAMBLE (skip it if you want)

My readers since 2007 know that my really long-term "hobby" that replaced as a teenager the dream of becoming an astronaut (I went so far as studying for the private pilot license and asking for info to the Italian Air Force- but my bookworm eyesight killed my hopes; pity, as that dream had started in July 1969, after standing up all night to watch the Moon landing) is... eventually learn all the official UN languages.

I have also another childhood dream- but that is something completely different.

As for the languages, initially the target was to be able to read (it all started with English, as in school I studied just French and Latin, of course along with Italian), after reading few books on compared Constitutions as part of my "cultural anthropology" and "archeology" interests (as a good bookworm who at 14 looked 18, just to then look 20 at 25, I spent some time in the Turin Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria reading funny books e.g. from the early XVI century on the Roman roads).

But learning languages and cultures changed when, at 17, started doing European-level youth political activities: and blended languages with their actual use and cultural context.

To cut a long story short and return to 2016: I decided back then to expand my language skills to bring my German on a par first with my French, and eventually my still to be improved English.

I am somewhat rusty on the French writing side, as I almost never used the language since I stopped working in Brussels in 2010, except for few interviews or occasionally on the job.

But while working in Brussels colleagues told me that they were amazed that I was perfectly bilingual in French and English- so, I do have hope to recover my French writing skills too (well, I worked also as a negotiator in Paris at the end of the last century- so, it should be just a matter of time).

How do you improve your language skills? In my case, by "absorbing pattern"- reading, listening, etc- until in the end your understand and are able to talk.

I know that I already posted this story online few times- but a scene from a movie that better represents this "adult learning process" is the journey that Banderas does within the movie "The 13th Warrior"- he starts understanding nothing, gradually he begins to understand one word once in a while, then concepts, and eventually... surprises the Vikings by talking fluently with them in their own language http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120657/).

And now, back to the article.


Therefore, I did what I was used to since I was a kid for various reasons: plan, schedule learning activities, and try to reconcile that with my business schedule.

Well, it wasn't easy, and my study plan was skipped way too many times (I am a loner, but I am quite "territorial" and gregarious, as people working for me or reporting to me in the past saw: if I get involved, I get involved, and sideline my own personal activities- that I am a single with no children obviously makes easier in turning into the "seemingly workaholic" trap).

Anyway, I did manage to get to the entry level I wanted, but then, while in Frankfurt, I had a couple of surprises: first, my continuous reading and listening had created a better foundation for my learning/resurrection of German skills that I had acquired in the past than I expected (albeit, as any self-learner, obviously I had and still have "holes" in my syntax, etc.)

Second, thanks to a friend, unexpectedly my stay in Frankfurt served also to resurrect my French- it was funny to talk again French so fast with a native French speaker- morever, to talk about anything anytime, not just repeat formulaic set phrases as it happens in business.

But I know myself, so, as I had done by chance in Brussels first, then in Berlin in 2012, this time announced before my travel that I would have blogged about my stay there, and prepared drafts for a book, to be called #FrankfurtDiaries (I know, I know- I wrote already #BerlinDiaries, drafted in Berlin, but the title was chosen on purpose).

This is a book drafting blog, so let's focus on the writing process.

Writing a book about what you are experiencing, and announcing it before you even start creates both a set of constraints for you and those around you.

Including ethical constraints: I did not write everything, as generally since 2007 I blog about people only if they waste my time, to share the lessons and "patterns" learned should other find themselves in the same situation, or if they are willing to be part of the picture.

I prefer to talk about what happens or happened directly with those involved, not broadcasting via blog.

Therefore, generally my pictures are without people (but this well before the Internet, already in the late 1970s, while I was shooting pictures continuously).

And, moreover, the pictures that I share online (except those visible only to friends directly involved) do not contain people.

Announcing that you will publish something also plays well with the above mentioned "gregarious" attitude: as I saw since I was a kid that was used to be told that "should give the example", if I announce something, it is akin to having a guiding hand that reminds you to stay on track- as I am way too curious and excited about learning (as my classmates saw in Frankfurt), and therefore serendipity often takes over.

Which, in my experience, actually produces funny results: I lost count how many times, both in my business and private life, I ended up being carried away by my serendipity bookworm instinct, and it seemed a waste of time- but then, as if by magic, it all converged into something useful (yes, also when I decided at the last minute and nobody could have been involved to "influence", you conspiracy theorists!).

Also, having committed to write on a daily basis 1,000+ words to write each day generates a framework that saves you from derailing your main activities- which, in my case, were focused on studying.

In Frankfurt, I routinely got up really early to do my homework, as I did also over 20 years ago while studying during the summer at LSE.

I like to write at night or dawn, when nobody is around, and socialize whenever possible but avoiding "spillover" from my work- if interested in something or someone, I do not really feel the need to sleep that much, as just the company of books or people relax me enough to "recharge my batteries".

And I find instead really draining my energy those fake friendships that occur in canteens, company events, and so on and so forth, as anyway there is too much posturing for my taste (I said so also in Frankfurt occasionally, when in some events somebody went a little bit over the board with posturing as a way to position for I do not know what).

Anyway, book drafting is not a 9-to-5 job: it is a 24/7, as you can always find cameos, find something worth adding or keeping track of, and when eventually deciding to make it all converge into a book or document form (I did so also while working on Business & Marketing Plans, to "create a narrative"), it is tough to let words go.

So, I keep having a much larger archive of what I did not use, and, as I saw since 2013 (when I published my first mini-book to see the reaction), during the process to convert what I wrote into something coherent, I often end up keeping the overall structure (if it makes sense), but rewriting the content.

Therefore, as one of the book that is on hold (#ExpoDiaries), also #FrankfurtDiaries, following the "format" of #BerlinDiaries, is for my more interesting, as I already shared the draft content, and therefore I feel "committed" to keep as much as possible of what was posted, and maybe just expand, restructure, reconsider, qualify- but not drop.

It will be a while before #FrankfurtDiaries will be ready, and therefore decided to keep my fingers busy with something that I announced in Frankfurt to classmates and friends: as I did in the past with other languages, will share my learning journey online: not just to receive notifications of my mistakes while writing in German (that I hope will become less and less frequent), but also to get used to assemble "patterns" into something coherent.

So, on Thursday and yesterday I had a true "writers' block": what should I do to make this journey interesting but self-paced?

Then, as usual, serendipity helped me: I had a look in the afternoon to Wirtschaft Woche, a business news weekly published in Germany, and saw a couple of news items (one directly related to Brexit, the other to something that could be eventually part of a European Union defense scheme), items that were then augmented by other news from La Stampa and FAZ.

I had tried the "Mojito" approach- did not work: but, at least, were good Mojitos and had a further chance to talk in French, and remember some information about Paris I had not talked about in over a decade.

OK, I confused the Arrondissement with the Metro line, but that's a detail that was fixed minutes after I said it- funny, after almost 20 years!

And yesterday did what I used to do in London and Brussels when I had to write or think about something new- stay up also when tired, until the words started flowing from my fingers.

I only wish that that had happened at 8pm and not at 2am, but a couple of hours of continuous writing is a massive adrenaline boost: I stayed in bed less then 4h, slept half as much, but this morning I was walking around and feeling as fresh as a rose...

Back to the point.

So, I had my thread. I had my storyline. And I had my format.

Therefore, I re-activated www.facebook.com/Berlindiaries, where I shared EU-centric news, but created a new series, #EUalacarte, as a practical joke derived from the title of a news item published by FAZ to discuss the quixotic request of PM Orban for "European solidarity" (a.k.a. 400mln EUR for a wall, it seems), after he made a nuisance on anything from staying with the framework of what is considered "ordinary human rights" in Europe, to burden-sharing on immigration.

Along with a longer post in English (links on that Facebook page, but published in my largest community, on www.frype.com/robertolofaro/blog), I will publish also a German "summary" that will rephrase and outline the key points- in German.

While in Frankfurt, whenever I was asked to review my classmates' phrases I used a pencil, but whenever I wrote something, and then cross-checked vs. grammar or the solution, used a red pen, to visually highlight in my memory weakness in my knowledge that I had identified- a kind of marker that helps me to raise a flag when I am writing again something similar.

Therefore, also on the German blog I adopted a simple policy: I write, I check what I wrote by getting it through GoogleTranslate too confirm that it delivers a decent English version- i.e. that "understands it".

Well, GoogleTranslate has still some issues with cases- and sometimes translates correctly from German to English also if the word order or case endings of the source are not correct- so sometimes I agree to disagree.

But if I find mistakes after I post a blog entry, I add the amendments as comments, not as edits to the phrase.

Why? Again, to do keep track- and share also mistakes and (hopefully, maybe with somebody else's support) amendments, as maybe my mistakes are quite common.

It will be a long journey, so these are just the first steps...

Stay tuned!