Psychology and novel writing: intimately connected


In a recent interview with Nick Coffer of BBC Three Counties Radio, I talked about my work as a business psychologist.  As I had been interviewed by Nick previously,  about my novel, Honor’s Shadow,  this new interview made me think about the similarities and differences of  my two occupations.

You can listen to edited highlights of the interview here:     Voula talking about business psychology

Relating: Solitary vs social…. Totally different

When I am writing I prefer to be in an empty, silent house; ideally with a whole day to write, even though I will break up the day with a gym session, lunch and maybe an afternoon snooze…. If I am really on a mission, I may go so far as to exit from my email and social networking sites. I’m happiest if I neither see nor speak to another person… in theory anyway… in practice if a friend calls me I keep the call going for as long as possible.  A day of writing leaves me energized and happy; and pleased to see my family at the end of the day.

When I’m psychologizing I am in intense and close contact, either with one person, or with

small groups of people in a team.  I have to listen closely, be alert and aware of body language, think fast on my feet and communicate thoughtfully.  I have to be conscious of and deliberately manage my own impact on the situation and person. I am thinking, watching, listening, responding the entire time.  A day of this work leaves me satisfied and fulfilled, and often a bit brain dead: I like an hour on my own, watching  junk TV, when I get home.

Thinking: Analysis vs Imagination…. Surprisingly similar

I commonly feel that the state of mind I have, the thinking skills, are completely different for each of my two occupations.  This is definitely the case at the start point of whichever one I’m doing, but they do get more mixed up as the work develops.

As a psychologist I draw on theoretical analysis when I am thinking about an issue: I gather all the facts and pull together data.  Though once I have all that general theory, my next task is to apply my imagination to the specifics: to understand how this person, might feel in this situation, about this issue.

When I am writing, my overall challenge is to imagine my characters, in the plot, and what they would do in specific situations. During any one writing session, I will be focused on a particular chapter, which I will, at some point, have analysed and charted, keeping in mind its position in the plot.

So I use both types of thinking for both, just in a different order, usually.

I prefer not mix up the two types of work on the same day, but I often do, simply by flicking a switch in my brain to move me from one to the other.  The two occupations do enrich each other: modern organisations have started to prefer communication stories rather than graphs; and my novel file is full of chapter structures, story flows, charts and plot summaries. I make extensive use of theoretical psychology to submit my characters to a full analysis, keeping them well-rounded and real.

On busy days, I find myself longing to just have one occupation.  On good days, I love them both!

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