Time To Check Your IEM: “Intellectual Energy Meter”
Imagine for just one moment that you are one of The Sims. Yes, one of those burbling, gibbering digital assholes with the green buttplug (“plumbob”) turning above their heads:
That’s you. Maybe you’re the cantankerous old lady. Or Yoga chick. Or Brokeback Mountain.
You start your day, and you move through your many hours, and you have to do all the things a good little Sim has to do: he has to pee, he has to eat, he has to work, he has to have fun, he has to burn his mother alive in a fireplace, he has to drown the neighbors in the pool by stealing the ladder so they can’t climb out — you know. The basic shit.
One thing that the Sims don’t really have a meter for, though: intellectual energy.
At least, that’s what I call it. You call it whatever the fuck you want. Brain-Squeezin’s. Mindjuice. Thought-Liquor. No matter what you call it, the idea remains the same in each: you have a certain amount of pre-existing brainpower that’ll get you through the day. Some people have more than others. Stephen Hawking’s probably got a fucking tanker truck of the stuff. Me? I have like, a wobbly tray and on it are seven thimbles, and each thimble is brimming with my Think-Flavored Beverage.
All day, you do shit that drains your intellectual voodoo. It just does. You go to work? You lose mindjuice. You play Dragon Age: Origins and spend an hour managing your goddamn inventory? You lose mindjuice. You pay bills, you play chess with the dog, you fight with the wife, you do any of that and you might start to lose mindjuice.
Now, everybody loses mindjuice in different ways and in different quantities. You and me, we’re not the same person. Sure, I know you sometimes catch me in your house, and I’m wearing your dresses and licking all your jewelry, but that doesn’t make us the same. It just makes me a stalker. One who’s gone totally off the reservation — I mean, we’re talking total fuckshit here. What I’m saying is, you and I have different thresholds for this whole intellectual energy thing.
Me, I plan a game session for a roleplaying game, I lose intellectual energy. I play a game like Bioshock, my mindjuice is neutral — but if I play something that requires more thought like, say, Dragon Age or God Help Me, Braid, then I will lose mindjuice.
And me, I suspect I just leak the stuff as the day progresses no matter what I do. It just trickles from my ears into the ether. A strand of ephemera; raw thought potential fleeing my skull like streams of pollen.
Writers, this is where I really start talking to you.
Writing, for me, takes up a good chunk of intellectual energy. It just does. It’s my work, and it’s my work day, and so the act of writing drinks up several flagons of mindjuice.
What I’m telling you is, you need to figure that into your writing day. Doesn’t matter if you write full-time or you write part-time. You have to develop a strategy to put pen to paper and fingers to keys, y’see? Take a look at your day. See where and how writing falls into the equation. Are you maybe trying to write when your intellectual energy has already been gobbled up by other things? Any way to rejigger the order of operations (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, holy shit I still remember that?)? Any chance to give writing a higher brain priority so it gets some of that really good, really sweet thought voodoo?
It’s why I write in the morning. I write in the morning, I feel like Hercules: big beefy dude kicking ass at the Twelve Motherfizzuckin’ Labors. I write in the evening, I feel like Sisyphus: poor frail dude pushing a rock up a hill (and letting it roll back down) forever and ever. And ever. And ever.
I place too much before my writing, well, that’s it for me. Call it. Time of death.
Now, here’s the thing, though.
You can get some of that mindjuice back.
And, just as you need to figure out what activities cause you to lose it, you need to figure out what activities might earn you some back in the bank. Me, I have a few ways. Drink tea? Yes. A 15-minute power nap? Yes. Take a walk and enjoy a nice day? Absolutely. Masturbation and vodka? Mmm, maybe not so much.
You won’t really see a total refill of the meter until you get a good night’s sleep, but you can bump it a little.
What it means, though, is you need to eye up the scope of your day. Check your routine. Are you finding that, when you write, it just isn’t there? Navigate your own headspace on this one. Check your brain-squeezin’s. For you gamers, I’m telling you to min-max that shit. Minimize the bullshit. Maximize your word count. Maybe you need to write in the morning. Maybe you get one last spike of intellectual energy just before bedtime. Juggle some stuff if you have to. Rearrange so that writing is more of a priority and so it gets some of that sweet-ass priority mindjuice.
Do what needs doing.
That is, if you really want to put words on paper.
Maybe you’d just rather masturbate and drink vodka. Thing is, you can do both — you just have to know which comes first.
…okay, I did not intend for that pun. Shut up.