My Three Brains


Never bargain shop for your brains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have three brains that I use for writing.

I keep them in jars over my desk.

…Nah, just fucking with you. They’re out in the backyard. Free range, see?

The first one is the Idea Brain. This one just pulls stuff from everywhere and makes shit up. I don’t know where it comes from. Actually, that’s bullshit. I do know. All writers do, whether they want to admit it or not. The ideas are a mix of everything you’ve ever seen or read or thought about, combined with everyday living and not a small amount of boredom. Some people add various mind-altering substances on top of that, but I’ve always found that I’m most creative when working with straight up, non-enhanced brain matter. Even caffeine gets in the way. *

Idea Brain is just what it sounds like. It’s all flash and fire, non-stop inspiration. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s also, after about a week, fucking annoying. That’s because Idea Brain lacks focus. It can’t actually get anything done. It just presents me with a shitload of stuff I could do. And will, when Idea Brain passes. But in that moment, it’s just one idea after another, no matter what else I’m trying to do. Distracting, to say the least. I get spacey and weirder than usual the longer it goes on. I’m convinced that Idea Brain is where the stereotype of the absent-minded writer comes from.** Idea Brain can only show you where the stories are. It can’t get you there.

Pretty soon, Idea Brain burns out, like a bag of fireworks thrown on a BBQ, and it’s time for Writing Brain. It’s the workhorse of the bunch. Writing Brain is the one that shows up every day, flexes its muscles, and puts the crap that Idea Brain lets off into something worthwhile. It takes care of all the daily word count grind, getting them out day after day. It’s less fiery and purely creative than Idea Brain, but what it loses in manic inspiration it makes up in Getting Shit Done. Most of the time I’m working with this brain. It’s a good one.

And the third one is, of course, Editing Brain. The Cutter. The one that takes the mess left by the first two and makes it into something that doesn’t suck. It’s a ruthless bastard, without the sentimentality or single-mindedness of the other two. It has one question: “Where does this story fuck up?” And when it knows the answer, there are two more questions: “Can I fix it?” and “Can I cut it?” One of these leads in the right direction. Admittedly, figuring out which one is sometimes a challenge.

Shifting between these causes a certain amount of friction, but they’re all necessary. Know which one you’re working with, and which one you need. Always choose the right brain for the job.

*Interestingly, Idea Brain time is one of the only times I don’t want cigarettes.
**Well, that and the aforementioned mind-altering substances.

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