I put together a crib today. Actually, I put the crib back together. It is Theo’s old one, and this will be the fourth time that I’ve assembled it. I feel like I should not have to reremember how to do it each time, that it should come much easier even though it has been months since I last had anything to do with it.
I’m this way with many skills. I think, “it’s like riding a bicycle,” and expect to be just as efficient at the job as the last time I gave it a try. Of course, if I were to get on a bike right now, I’m guessing I wouldn’t be that good at it. I haven’t forgotten how it works or how to balance, but I wouldn’t feel like a cyclist. (I can’t say that I’ve ever felt like a cyclist.)
I had a conversation about this last weekend while painting our bedroom. I’ve done a decent amount of painting in my life, mostly with my dad when I was younger and he was building houses. It feels like a lot anyway. Really, I’ve been exposed to painting. I’ve been shown a number of times how to do it correctly by someone with experience. But I haven’t gained all that much experience myself. And just as important, my experience has come in short spurts, spread out over years.
So, I shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t come easy, when I get paint on the ceiling or can’t manage to cut a straight line next to a baseboard. Knowing the lingo or the proper technique doesn’t mean I can pull it off flawlessly or even adequately. The knowledge, when it is remembered, only goes so far. Muscle memory is really the key to doing a nice job.
Same story with writing. I can take classes or listen to lectures or read books about writing. That can all be valuable, but they are no substitute for writing itself.
The ability to recognize good writing is one thing. The ability to produce it is another. Developing the latter takes practice. It requires some muscle memory.
With painting, I know enough to see that I didn’t do a very good job. I know enough to feel bad about it. But I have to recognize that I haven’t put in the hours, the strokes required to achieve a quality result. I haven’t developed the skills to be fast and consistent. I try to be a little easier on myself when I remember that.
With writing, I often feel like I should be further along than I am. I am critical of how long it takes me to write and the quality of the writing. But I have to remember that my writing muscles are still underdeveloped. I still have many words to go before I can really call it second nature.
Instead of being too hard on myself when I make a mistake, when I paint the ceiling or drip paint on the floor, I have to allow them to happen so I can learn from them.
I hope you do the same too.