I’ve had a couple of really good chats with friends this weekend. Thinking about brain capacity, what you spend your brain energy on, wearing it down, and being short on capacity.
I kind of having been letting that shift around in my head a little and based on some of those conversations, here are my thoughts.
I have several different kinds of brain capacity and different things spend down different buckets.
This is the stuff that is the focused details, the checklists, the tools. For me this is something I spend down fairly quickly when I’m overwhelmed. I do ok when I have the same project or I know the work and just loop through and am repeating it. When I’m trying to come up with a new organizational plan it’s much more creative than organizational for me. But once I’m settled in, it’s just a matter of following through, which I’m great at when I’m not spending down my energy on other things. (I’ve had a couple of spates of this being really hard for me this year, when I was really sick for over a month, and when I had the Giant Person Eating Work Project. I was a mess.)
For podcasting there was a lot of creating a new plan and coming up with the structure in the month before and the 6 months or so after I started the podcast, but by that point I was settled into a routine and I’m feeling pretty good about it. I have shifted things up a bit here and there and I have a couple more shifts I’d like to make, but they are fairly small, and my routine feels comfortable and like it’s mostly accomplishing what I want.
For writing it’s still a really big challenge on the front and back ends. The middles I’m good with, and the short works I’m ok with. But the start and end of novels or novellas and the organization, planning, and structure that goes into those is rough. I have a novella I’m supposed to be working on putting out this fall and I’m just…exhausting thinking about it. I have no idea how I’m going to manage it.
Oooof. This is…hard. Just hard. It’s such a challenge for me, and the thing I always feel like I’m worst at. It’s also the most important when I’m stressed about other things so that makes it more of a challenge.
When I started the podcast I was at a really good humaning place at work which I think let me feel comfortable starting it out. I was surprised by the amount of humaning podcasting required, but I think that I am an underestimator of how much work it takes me to do. Meeting new people, reaching out, having new conversations, traveling uncharted waters.
Writing I don’t human as much, still more than ideally, but I think much, much less than I need to to really be successful.
And here’s the kicker. In the last couple months at my day job I’ve been moving into work that is basically entirely humaning. (It’s good and I’m excited, but for right now…) It’s exhausting. I need to learn a whole new set of people, how they react, what sets them off, what makes them gleeful, what pisses them off. What to do when I have to ask a favor. What to do when I screw up. And what to expect from them. When someone asks me a question, is it going to make me grind my teeth or will it be a whole lot of something for a 2 second answer.
This isn’t just writing, this is creative problem solving, this is creative thoughts about a project, this is trying to develop something new. Writing is a corner stone of this for me. And it is something that I was doing when my day to day work was less creative. I’ve had jobs that have had a ton of creativity in them. Not writing fiction. But there is a lot of creativity beyond that out there. But when I’ve been satisfied at my jobs, but not quite so challenged creatively, writing has been a great opportunity for me. I don’t think that I want to seek out jobs that don’t challenge me creatively simply in order to write, but I think that it is a internal conversation worth having. At this time and place in my life the answer to that is no. But that doesn’t mean it won’t change. I could very well some day decide that what I want is a quiet job I can do peacefully without strain for 8 hours a day and go home and be incredibly creative.
The day job is taking a lot more of my creative brain. When I’m letting my mind wander at 3 am it is more often wandering to work projects than wandering off into outer space. I’m thinking about how to resolve an issue with work instead of with a character. It’s left me feeling a little like I’m bad at being creative, but I don’t think that’s it at all, I think it’s just different. It’s not that I’m not good at thinking about the world differently, it’s that I’m applying those skills to a different problem in my life.
This might not be the perfect way to talk about this. And it isn’t exclusively technical as in computers and such. It is technical as in the meat and potatoes of the work I’m doing. If it’s writing it’s stuff like how well structured is this plot. Have I done a good job of developing all of my characters. For writing this might include things like creating character bios for all of my characters as well as just the put my damn pen to the damn paper (or my fingers on the keyboard) and write. For work this would be the actual every day work. The digging in and doing it.
Technical seems like the bucket that is most easily replenished. It is also the thing that I can most easily OOMPH my way through if I just need to dig in and get shit done. If that’s writing it’s on day 25 of NaNo still sitting down at the keyboard and typing even though I don’t feel like it. It is following the plan and structure that I already have based on the creative skills and the planning I did. If there’s an outline of what to do, technical is following it through.
Technical isn’t bad at all. It is something I am extremely proud of. Technical is what turns someone from a dreamer into an author. Technical is what makes an “ideas person” into a leader. Technical is doing the damn work. And if you aren’t doing the damn work and you’re just talking about it?
(Thank you Meg from Indoorswomen (which is awesome) for being the Gif Queen!)
I’m mostly just sharing this because I think it can be really helpful to examine where you are (where I am!) and what skills you are flexing or using. Right now I’m using a lot of Creative and Humaning at work and I’m leaning on my Technical for podcasting (which makes me feel really good about the podcast, about being a podcaster, and about podcasting, all forms of that word!).
What are your brain capacity buckets? What do you use? Lean on? Flail with? Other?