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.

Brain Wrangling For The Tired And/Or Lazy


Brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

(Disclaimer: I’m writing this post while tired. This may become apparent shortly. I’m also testing the Doom Buzzer. Be warned.)

It’s hard to be creative when you’re tired. Seems like that’s always the last part of the brain to wake up. Your body is up and going, but nothing short of a shot of adrenaline is going to wake up the writing part, because it’s a lazy bastard. It just claws its way aimlessly towards daylight, like a legless zombie. And, hey, if you’re tired, you can put it off for a day, right? Come back to it later?

*Doom buzzer* That’s a slippery slope, friend. Putting writing (or other seemingly optional things) off because the circumstances aren’t perfect usually means that those things never get done. You’re tired? Lots of people go to work tired. According to the news, even airline pilots do it.

But it’s hard to convince yourself when you’re drooling over your laptop. So here’s some tips on getting up and going when you just want to crawl under your desk and nap under a blanket of rejection letters (the hate makes them extra cozy).

1)Breakfast: If your tiredness is there first thing in the morning, maybe due to a schedule change or a restless night, then get breakfast. And not sugar-laced crap. You know better than that. It doesn’t have to be big, but get something decent in your stomach. You can’t work your brain without fuel. My go-to morning meals are eggs and toast or fruit and cheese. And the second one requires zero effort except opening the fridge. A monkey could do this. And may have, if the mess of my fridge is anything to go by.

2) Exercise: This might seem counter-productive. You need more energy, so why spend what little you have on exercise, right? *Doom buzzer* Wrong. Exercise will make you feel more alert. I’m not talking about running a marathon here, but get your blood moving. Go for a brisk walk, skip rope, hit the gym for a short workout, do some pushups in your office. Whatever. As soon as I’m done this post, I’m going to lace up my sneakers and go for a run. (Edit: I did. And I feel better now. Good enough that I can actually edit this post instead of letting it go half-cocked. I moved up on the Brain Hierarchy in point #4.)

3)Coffee: But in moderation only. Too much of it (for me, anyway) makes me have to piss every five minutes, and that interrupts workflow. I usually limit myself to one mug with breakfast, and another later if I really want it. The rest of the time I go with tea (black, green, or white, not picky, but none of the herbal ones. I want real tea, damn it.) and lots of it. Oh, and easy on the sugar. It’ll give you a spike, but then you’ll crash. And napping on your computer leaves funny-shaped dents on your forehead.

4)Change it up: This is where it’s useful to have multiple projects like I mention here. Depending on your particular tired brain, you might be better off sticking to certain tasks. Here’s my hierarchy of activity brain requirements, from most to least:

Major Rewrites
Minor Rewrites
First Draft
Line Edits
Idea Hammering
Idea Storming
Re-reading and Making Notes
Re-Reading Without Making Notes
Staring Blankly Into Space
Checking Facebook

When I don’t have enough brain for something higher on the list, I’ll move on down until I find a fit. If I drop to the Facebook Level, I need to do some more pushups.

5) Music: I listen to music most of the time when I’m writing anyway, but tired days are especially important. Make it loud, make it fast. Anything to get me fired up. Try putting on that playlist from the gym that gets you pumped for one more set. Today’s selection: We’re Not Going To Take It by Twisted Sister. Because nothing makes me feel more creative than looking at Dee Snider in a belly top and pink-and-black spandex pants.

So what are you waiting for? Time’s wasting. Get out of those pyjamas, sit your ass down, and get to work. And crank the glam rock. It’s going to be one of those days.