I was watching what was probably the best hockey game I ever watched, last night. When I got thinking about how they looked like artists out there. Let me set the scene:

These 15-17 year olds are among the best in their province. It was clear they had all the knowledge they needed to play this game and they were applying what they learnt--daily. You could see them thinking out there. They would try something and watch how it was stopped, study how the defense brought it back into their favour. The same mistake was never made twice. Every shot was planned and appreciated. It was so cool to watch. When they scored, it was earned and it showed. Very little luck was involved, it was skill and brains at work. They weren't just taking penalties by accident, well... maybe a few, happens while we learn.

Since I am a writing addict, while I sat there on the edge of my seat it dawned on me that I used to write like this. Well not on skates, but I mean I used to Apply what I had Acquired in just this way: testing out the competition, watching my peers, trying things, pulling back and trying something else.

What surprised me was the words USED TO. I used to write like that. What happened? What was I doing differently?

Watcher says it best so I'll let him explain:

“I can do anything. I acquire knowledge, apply what I learn, and eventually it’s automatic. I don’t want a copy of your cell. I want... the real deal. I want my magic when I demand it. This is what makes me powerful... ” --Surviving the Storm
There is a certain power when we work in the automatic stage because it gives us freedom to break rules in a new way. I was reading Grammar Girl-- gosh I love her, she's so fun-- and I was hoping she could teach me something but somehow I have this knowledge, and so I watched how she applied it because somehow I don't always do this. Still, I smiled when she wrote something that implied that dead is dead-- don't qualify it. And the old me, the one applying this knowledge would have agreed. Because let's face it, dead is dead, she's right. However, the new powerful me who works in the automatic stage knew that it was possible to qualify dead. In fact, in The Hunt for Julia, Steve looks at the poor sap he just killed and... well here is the scene:

Steve laid Bobby by the shed but already it was too late. And by the looks of him, Steve was pretty sure this wasn’t the type of body Julia could bring back. Zombie came to mind. Yeah, leave these guys dead, Julia. --The Hunt for Julia
You see that is very dead as opposed to Julia's brother who is a soul hanging around his body trying to figure out how to get it breathing again. That is kinda dead. Of course I would never tell you they were kinda dead or really dead, I wouldn't break the rules to that extreme.

These are not the type of writing decisions I would have made while I was applying the rules. These are made because I applied them.

Don't get me wrong, you never stop learning, you always need to apply what you learn, but certain things become automatic. Like how to use a red herring, or describe a character, or where to put a question mark. Not long ago I had an editor show me how to use knowledge I already had in a new way and I was speechless. All I could do was apply it, over and over again, and marvel at the new power I had Acquired.

Take a look at your life. What skills did you Acquire that you Applied endlessly and now find that the Automatic stage gives it new magic?


Victoria Lindstrom said...

This is an excellent post, Tanya. We all have tasks (hopefully writing) that after the Acquire and Apply stage has become Automatic. Right now I'm doing laundry. Unfortunately, I can do that automatically too!

Richard said...

There are a lot of things I do automatically. Unfortunately, I don't always do the right things automatically.

Valentina Hepburn said...

Much of life is on automatic, so much so I think we often forget that things, situations, whatever, don't come in black and white but in shades of grey. (50 if necessary).
Many things we do in life are a given for us - e.g. the first thing I do in the morning is cushion plumping. (pathetic I know, but I can't stop myself.I hate an untidy cushion).
In my writing, I know I always use the same voice - slightly feisty with nurturing overtones and that's just the way I am and the way I write, but I'm open to new knowledge there and a different voice if needs be. The grammar thing is different. Rules apply here and sometimes I think my lack of knowledge lets me down which irritates me. I'm constantly referring to websites and books to get it right. A good post, Tanya. One to set the 'Acquiring and Applying' juices flowing.

Pk Hrezo said...

Excellent point, Tanya! Which is why we still read posts and books on craft, even tho we know so much of it already. We need that automatic pilot action. It also helps me to identify techniques in books I read for fun--taking note of how an author did something and remembering it in my own craft.
It's also why I leave certian writing advice posted over my desk for me to read everyday--cuz I want it ingrained in my head and automatic.

P.S. Thanks for stopping by my blog with war wishes. Means a lot! :)

Anonymous said...

An excellent, thought-provoking post. Glad I stopped by. Thanks!

S.P. Bowers said...

Lol writing on skates. That would be worth watching!

I guess I'm in the in between stages. There are some things that are automatic and some things I'm still working on learning.

Misha Gericke said...

Excellent post. I know what you mean, but to take it back to the hockey game, the players also played well because they'd applied their skills and ways of thinking so often that it's become automatic.

My view-point when it comes to writing is to know the rules so you know how to bend them.

I you break rules because you didn't know what they are, you look sloppy.

But if you bend them consistently, you're creating art.


Anonymous said...

I've always been good at acquiring info, and less good at applying it. Thanks for giving us examples. I know how hard that was for you. :-D