No matter what you do, no matter how you learn, you are always finding new tools to keep in your toolbox. Sometimes they are unexpected, shiny and bright new, and you might look at it like what will I ever do with this? and sometimes they are simply new versions of old and well-loved tools that you use often.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as we get ready for our tournament at TKD, and as we work on a new training regime. We’ve been working on new drills, sometimes very simple, sometimes complicated. Often they are the kind of drills that have me (very adult, very overweight, very short) laughing because how will I do them? Then I do them, and I realize this is a brilliant new tool! I like this tool! And I place it reverently in my toolbox.
I think about the new combinations later, admiring the lovely tool and giving it a place of honor in my toolbox. I go over it in my mind, I visualize using it.
Then I get on the mats and we start sparring and I reach for the tried and true (and probably rusty) tool of panic and throw a roundhouse which is um, the very first tool any person gains in TKD.
The hardest part of getting shiny new tools is trying to figure out how to use them. We know they’re there. We’ve learned them and maybe we’ve even thought about how they could come up. If it’s TKD, I think about where I can use a combination–is it an offense or a defense, what does it compete against best? If it’s writing, I think about the new technique with my own words, wondering how it might fit in, or where a character could use the idea, or which words could change. It’s all conscious action.
But when we actually use our skills, we often do it subconsciously. There’s no time on the mats for me to think well, they’re about to throw a skip roundhouse, what if I step back, block, and throw a spin hook while they’re putting their foot down? If I think, I’m hit, it’s too late to do anything. I need to bring out my instincts, which means I need to get those tools right on top of the box, make sure I’m ready to pull them out because I subconsciously have realized that it’s the right thing to do.
It’s the same with writing. When we’re in the zone, the characters and plot are just rolling right along, fingers are flying, words spill onto the screen. And it’s so easy to fall back on nouns that verb adverbly. So the question becomes, how do we make sure that the shiny new tools go from conscious thought to subconscious action?
Yep, it’s the old terrifying, frustrating word: practice.
At TKD, we do drills. We repeat the motion over and over and over because body memory is an important thing, and the more often we do something, the more likely it is to come back later as an instinctive motion. Personally, I’m really hoping we do Tuesday’s drills again tonight because I loved them and want to absorb more of that shiny new tool into my toolbox.
It’s the same for writing. Yes, I know, the answer to getting better at writing is to write more. What I’m saying is you also need to practice writing consciously. Not every moment. It’s totally cool to let yourself get absorbed into your words and world when you’re working on your primary project. But it’s also good to set aside your primary project and do exercises. And by exercises I mean write a side story in the same verse, or do a little slice of life piece, or even write fanfic (yes, write fanfic, that’s a cool thing to do). But while you’re writing that side piece, practice a technique. Work with a new POV or a particular type of description. Work on world-building. Work on evoking a certain feeling. Work on dialogue. Pick a technique and work on it. Practice it. Write a few stories with it, and it’ll take the shiny off the tool. It’ll add some well-worn edges, and that tool will move from the place of honor with all the new tools into your used section of the toolbox. And when you reach out subconsciously, you’ll find it.
It’s fun to find new tools, and it’s fun to use those tools and get used to how they feel and work. But the best feeling of all is that moment when you realize that there’s a bit of rust on the new technique, and it’s become tried and true. When you realize that the tool is truly yours.