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.


  • Ha! You may not have intended the pun, but I did! I intend all puns everywhere. Which takes unconscious amounts of idearea, which is what I’ll call mind juice.

    I, also, write in the morning. I find it’s when my idearea flows strongest and thickest. This is true at work, doing more mundane writing like treatment plans. If I try to do it near 4pm it’s worthless. I’m all out of idearea, it’s just dust, sand and a little pfft noise.

    I agree to RPG prep. It’s much like trying to write and herd cats. Though I love it dearly, it can sap you. Conversely, I find games like Dragon Age refill some of my idearea and get the thought-gut churning again. They engage my creativity.

    I find that car rides can help me put some pieces together on projects, which helps channel the idearea into the short morning bursts which time allows. When writing, there is no down time, since your brain is always with you.


    • Wait. Is “idearea” like, “idea + diarrhea?”

      Goddamn you. I love that. You sonofabitch.

      RPG prep — sadly! — consumes my brainmeats. Same as in the old days of making Magic or Vampire card decks. My brain would run after those things because they were more “fun” than writing, and further, it sapped my gray matter.

      Car rides for me, not so much — but mowing the lawn? Taking a shower? Both dole out small returns to my IEM.

      Yeah, for me — and for probably everybody — 4pm is like the Devil’s Hour. The Sleepy Devil’s Hour. Where the Devil is a cat. And he sleeps on your chest and brain, drinking in any effort you might hope to expend.

      — c.

  • LOL!!!…spot on bud! This is totally what I am trying to figure out at the moment. I have tried writing in the morning; sometimes works, sometimes nope! Depends how good the sleep was and how much other crap I need to do in the day, mind wanders down the chore path….what’ that noise? Traffic! Why is everyone in their car at 8:00 am – don’t these f***ing people know I am writing for Lawd’s sake?!?! Write at night, not bad, pretty creative actually, man…I could keep going here for hours! Woohoo!!!!…look at me go! What? Holy Shit! 3 in the morning….OMG! gonna feel like shit in the morning….

    That happens 5 days a week…on the weekend, hubby is home. 100% supportive of writing, just likes to bust in and yap at me every 10 min….40 yrs old…but is still being bottle fed for some reason.

    Now considering locking myself away somewhere…when all the planets are aligned, you know Jupiter in line with Mars etc. I can sit and write for days, sleeping now and then and pump out 20 to 30K…

    I read the comments from other people on here…kids, work, school…ugh! How horrible, so happy to have been there done that, now I have nothing all day but time to write. Yeah…that is the theory. But where has all the “intellectual energy gone?”

    Well, I took a shower and guess it went down the drain…..currently at 286 words and then I decided to take a peek at your blog. Damn you!!!

    • Oh. Dang. I don’t want to intimate that I consider vodka and masturbation a *problem* — hell, they make a lovely reward for when your writing day is complete!

      Porn and Potato Juice, baby. Name of my autobiography.

      — c.

  • Everything that needs more then 5 minutes of my attention drains my mindjuice. Reading? Yes. Wtaching por… a movie? Yes. Playing a RPG? Yes. Attending class? No! I write in about half of my classes.
    But what drains my brainjuice more then anything is the actual writing. The more I get in it, the more juice it takes from me. And, of course, being sick prevent that mindjuice from coming back. Which is why I don’t think I’m going t have anything done this week. But I’ll try!

    • Well, being sick is one of those problems that isn’t an excuse — it’s an actual problem.

      I still write when I’m sick, but my output is always lessened. It’s like my mindjuice thickens to a snotty treacle.

      After that, though, push on — prioritize the writing if it takes so much out. That is, if you consider writing a priority.

      — c.

  • My brain butter is similar to your thinkin’ jizz, it’s fresh squeezed daily and best in the AM. Life tends to cock that up, though, so I have to rejuve in the day and my number one ways are a long walk/jog with my derg or sitting in the garden, puttering around like I’m some 83 year old woman.

    Although I’m dexterous enough to drink, masturbate and write at the same time, but that’s because I invested in some software that transcribes my talking. It’s because if Stephen Hawking-voice isn’t telling me harder, or more soda in the vodka, or to angle myself in a Fibonacci curve, I may as well not even do it.

  • Chuck, what do you think I’ve been procrastinating on all these weeks? My memoir! But then, I procrastinated this past weekend by writing a 2000 word essay about Ozzy Osbourne for my new website (not public, yet.)

    To call my brain ADHD is like saying Carrot Top has a touch of the creepies, just a touch.

  • Odd, I seem to have lost my avatar. *shrug* The skull is cooler anyway.

    On to the brain-squeezins…

    I tend to do a metric poop-ton of outlining, design, brainstorming, whatever you want to call it, before I sit down to start actually writing. I’ll have post-its tacked to the back of my iPhone that is sitting on top of a stack of notebooks right beside the full-color Venn diagram tacked to the wall showing all of the interconnections of the project.

    Anyway, all of this prep work takes only minute amounts of my brainjuice, but the actual writing? Holy suck-vac, Batman! The crafting, the sculpting, the putting it all together into a coherent narrative drains the ol’ headbones faster than you can say golf-ball through a garden-hose.

    Thus, I try to get my actual “craft-work” (no, not the German techno band) accomplished in the mornings. The prep…the brainstorming and mad notetaking (maybe the more “artistic” and free-flowing side of things?) happens over the course of the rest of the day in a more organic fashion.

    Sometimes, when I’m riding the donkey of luck, something will spike my IEM a bit and I add a few dozen to the wordcount late at night, but I try not to count on that.

  • Yes, this. I starting really thinking about this when I went through a spate of surgeries from 2005-2007. Originally, I thought that since I’ll juts be lying around all the time, I could use the time to write, not realizing that your mental energy is just as depleted. As I recovered each time, I paid careful attention to how much energy I was using on each side (and because I’m a damned nerd, I always imagined a red and blue bar over my head that dropped a little over the course of the day).

    More interesting, though, is that it extends beyond the day. You can push hard and work 12 hours, but the next day you’re a bit lower, even if you sleep well. I had to work 10 days straight recently, and although I really needed to get more work done this weekend, I just couldn’t — that portion of my mental energy was just tapped out. I switched to a personal fun project, and that recharged my batteries for Monday.

    So, sometimes you need to take a day off here and there.

  • Good music also help me recharge my mindmojo. I wonder if I’m the only one like that. I started “Carry on my Wayward Son” and it seems I have some energy back and I really want to work on my RPG.
    Am I the only one around here who gets this kind of boost from music?

  • Ye Gods, do I wish I could write in the morning. I get into work-mode, pour my first cup of coffee, and sit down ready to work. But I can’t work on MY work. I have to work on OTHER work. For a good seven hours or so. Then commute home. Only THEN am I truly free to work on my work.

    Sometimes I can squeeze in some lines here and there. Eek out a blog post. Comment on stuff that interest me. Bat around some Tweets. But none of it is really ‘top-bang-for-buck’ in terms of brainjuice investment.

    Thankfully, lately, I still have enough juice swirling around in the brainpan that I can do a bit of my work when I get home. I’ve committed myself do squeezing out that semi-liquid intelligence into 1000 words at the very least per evening.

    Fantasy epics don’t write themselves.

  • I switch back and forth between keyboard and longhand. Funny enough, I do this when I am out of IE. Banging away at the keys sometimes gets me all edgy and I feel like; got to get this down…rush rush!!! get it down…drains me.
    so I will switch to longhand and kind of mellow out and the IE goes a lot further. Sometimes I just grab my notepad and go find an awesome spot and write longhand…does me wonders – and potato juice in a paper bag…

    • Oooh. Long-hand as a way to to slow it down. Interesting.

      Won’t work for me — my longhand is awful and frustrating to perform, but that might be viable for people.



      — c.

  • Smells like common sense. Or stale sheets. Not sure. Either way, it’s 100% accurate. Definitely helps to read.

    My day job sucks my tank dry. Also, I think some things take more or less juice depending on your frame of mind.

  • Reading usually resuscitates the hamsters that keep the wheels in my brain spinning. It’s not a total cure, but at least it keeps the little buggers from dying and attracting flies by the time evening rolls around. But yeah, when I write at night, it’s still basically word vomit. Afternoon works much better for me.

  • Yes, Chucky. Idearea is ‘zactly that. I’m glad you like it. I thought that your only response might be ” *vomits* ” but I was ok with that.

    I feelz ya, Josh. My morning writing runs from 4:30-6:30am before the baby and wife are up and I’m off to work. This is because I am insane.


  • So writers are… wizards?

    “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.”

    Getting back those spell slots is a bitch, eh?

  • So I’m not the only one who sees life in terms of those stupid meters the Sims have? (Worse still, that’s how I calculate things like ‘times between feeding the kids’ and ‘maximum diaper capacity before explosion.’)

    I get a lot of juice back doing dishes, which is a shame because I LOATH dishes. Also showering. I don’t know if it’s the water moving or what, but it almost never fails to recharge me. And I’m not alone. Agatha Christie is said to have said “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

    When that doesn’t work, how about haunted baby doll island? http://community.livejournal.com/awesome_places/99697.html

  • Oh, so THAT’S what the goo is that runs out of my ears each day around lunchtime.

    Yeah, if I don’t get the ideas down in the morning, or I squander that time on Twitter, I’m pretty much hosed the rest of the day. Major brain cloud sets in.

    I hate brain cloud.

    And lately I find coffee does nothing for me. No bounce. In fact, I think it’s giving me more brain cloud. Coke, however, can kick me through the afternoon.

    Morning’s without a doubt my best time, though.

    Great post. Gots me thinking. I definitely will shuffle my tasks around to maximize my goo.

  • You’re totally spot-on, dude. This is exactly how I think of my brain working — I can write if the cup is full (cup=brain, full with rich steaming mulled brainwine) and every so often, I go too long without topping it up and it’s empty yo, and no more words are a-comin’. I top up by reading, talking with people, getting outside, that sort of thing. Definitely write best in the morning, but I sometimes get a second peak in the evening, too.

    @Eddy — Your comment about energy expended on writing while recovering from surgery completely summarised what has been this year’s Big Revelation for me! Writing places a physical demand on you that you might not expect and it can be really tiring. I had kind of thought of writing as some sort of spontaneous byproduct of a twitchy brain, which I just had to sweep up and stick on a page. Now I think of myself as a magical machine for turning lunch into words.

  • There are so many gorgeous frocks to choose from and stock changes monthly, so you’re sure to find something you love to bits and pieces.I absolutely love that has been kind enough to allow our winner to choose the style that suits them best, so it really will be the perfect party dress.

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