With the end of the first really sunny day of the year my thoughts have turned towards the summer break. Each year the courts have a summer recess that spans the whole of August and September. It’s lean pickings if your day job depends of trial reporting but I look forward to it every year. Last year it gave me time to write Devil, this year I have something completely different planned (well, sort of).
I’ve been working on a novel for years now. Since I started working in the courts it’s been sitting in the filing cabinet gathering dust but I’ve been persuaded to take it out and have another look.
So that’s going to be my summer this year. Instead of chronicling real life I’ll be living in my head in the company of the characters I made up so long ago. I’m still rather fond of them so it should be fun. Fiction writing is an entirely different discipline to journalism or non fiction work so it’ll be great to slip back into that gear.
When I’m working on non fiction getting things right is, obviously, key so I tend to work at my desk away from the distractions of the outside world. I might do initial planning in a cafe or sitting in the garden but when it comes down to the actual drafting I need my notebooks around me and to be as free from distractions as possible.
Fiction’s completely different. When I’m writing that I could be sitting in the middle of a brass band with fireworks going off around me and I wouldn’t notice. The scenes I’m imagining into being seem far realer at the time than anything around me. Writing about world’s and characters I’ve created is like flying, a freewheeling dash that’s only stops when it’s run out of steam.
Non fiction is different. It’s a far more cerebral experience, an almost academic excercise to fit seperate events and quotes into a cohesive whole. It’s just as rewarding, and as absorbing when it’s going well, but very, very different.
I remember talking with a very good friend once about these different gears. I was saying that I find it much easier to switch between fiction and non fiction when I’m working on different projects in one day than to switch between cases. Facts can get muddled, the language, the way you write in these two different ways doesn’t.
My friend is a translator and also a trained journalist. We ended up speculating that perhaps the different styles of writing use the brain in a similar way to switching between languages. Once you’ve got the knack you can switch back and forth perfectly happily, it’s hard wired into you so the gears don’t tend to slip. Writing fiction and non fiction are almost like totally different languages, at least as far as your brain is concerned.
Neither of us is a neurologist so I’ve no clue how accurate our theory is but it that’s what it feels like. And this summer break I will be spending my time (most of it anyway) talking in that other language. I can’t wait!