Chimeras interviews Aliette de Bodard. Here’s an excerpt:
EEG: In general, do you think that the two worlds — writing and engineering — are two completely different compartments in your life or do you feel you couldn’t do one without the other?
ADB: I definitely couldn’t do one without the other: for one, I have this hankering for science, which I don’t think writing would satisfy; and for another, I’m a moderately social person, and I think I’d go insane if I didn’t have a day job where I’m regularly asked to interact with other people. Writing is tremendous fun, and something I could let go of as easily as, say, breathing, but it does need something in the way of a complement for me, and that’s what engineering provides.
The two worlds do interact with each other, except it’s not in terms of ideas crossing the boundaries (OK, I lie. Sometimes I’ll write scientists in a lab, and it’s good to know how scientists really function by virtue of having been there. Also, it helps to have a grounding in basic and not-so-basic science when writing science fiction, if only because it speeds up the research by several orders of magnitude: a lot of time when I’m looking up stuff in an encyclopaedia, I just skim to get the gist, because most of them refer to stuff I either know or have touched upon). Mostly, what I get from the engineering is a sense of method: I will build my stories fairly methodically, on something closely approaching a V-cycle of development. I.e., try to do as many substantial modifications to the story outline, rather than to the first draft, because the more developed the story is, the harder it is to fix. I think a lot of the analytical mind I picked up from science is something I use in my writing, and especially when I’m taking stories apart to see why they don’t work.
I do have a set of different compartments for both activities, though, because I strongly need them to be separate. My day job is my day job, and I’m not going to start brainstorming my novel in the middle of a meeting; similarly, the work stuff is all well and good, but barring leftovers or emergencies, I need my mind to be clear of it when I write. I also have a need for this because of the language problems: so much of what I do in my everyday life is in French; but, in order to write, I have to think exclusively in English. I need to be in what I call “the bubble” in order to call up the English language faster, and the bubble thing won’t work if I start crossing wires with my French-speaking day job. So, by necessity, I have to keep them both separate, and anything I can do to reinforce separation actually helps my writing. It sounds a bit counter intuitive, but that’s just the way my mind works…
And, of course, it always helps to have writing skills when you have to write an engineering proposal with convincing arguments.