When I moved out of my office in March 2007, I had to remove cardboard magazine files containing print-outs of every translation I had ever done since I started freelancing in 1997. That’s a lot of paper. I moved them here to our new house, transporting them from the car in a wheelbarrow, and stacked them in the cold, damp, unheated, earth-floored storeroom by the back door, the only place there was room. I planned to go through them, shred any that were confidential and put the rest in the recycling.
Um… in two years I’d only managed to get through two boxes. The Finn bought a little machine that was supposed to turn paper into handy briquettes that you can burn in your woodburning stove and he thought we could get rid of some of it that way, but you had to shred the paper first and get it wet and in our climate the briquettes never dried and there was nowhere to stack them while they did, so we gave up on that idea. By this year the stacks of paper had started going mouldy and the ones that were faxes (when I started, all of my source texts were faxes) had faded beyond legibility. In June we had an enormous bonfire and burned the lot.
Although I felt strangely mournful and bereft seeing ten years of work, (my work!) going up in flames, I had to admit that I had hardly ever looked at any of those translations again after finishing them. What exactly was I keeping them for?
When I started out, you had to keep the hard copies because often that was the only version of your source text you had. I also used to teach translation at the University of Surrey and raided my past jobs for teaching material. But now I can’t remember the last job I had that wasn’t e-mailed. These days, if the client comes back with questions weeks later or I need to look up a previous job on the same subject, I’ll search my hard drive rather than tipping boxes of files over the floor. Everything is also backed up onto a separate hard drive and, as of last week, automatically backed up to Zen’s remote storage every night (thanks Philippa for reminding me to sort that out). Even if the computer exploded, I wouldn’t have to scan every translation I’d ever done in again.
I proofread on paper (nothing will convince me that quality would be improved by doing otherwise) and printing out every source text as soon as it’s confirmed and having it sitting on my desk as well as booking the job into TO3000 means there is no way I will forget I’ve got to do it. But once the job is done and sent it is probably unnecessary to keep the paper copy forever.
However, I now have six full magazine files of finished translations on the desk and the windowsill and recently completed jobs are balanced on top and overflowing onto the floor. It might have to be time to cull some of it if I don’t want another huge bonfire in 2029.