Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Old Dog, New Ticks

I was reading an article recently which suggested that it was a mistake to imagine you were ever too late on in life to master a new skill, or that having mastered one you were shut out from learning others.  The author's logic was that if it takes, say, eleven years to get really damn good at something then that's theoretically eight things you can get really damn good at in the average lifespan.

Given that most of us spend the first of those age-blocks grasping the basics of being a functional human being and the second trying to gain control of our rampaging hormones, and taking into account that you're unlikely to become, say, a world-class ballerina in your seventies, I'd have to dispute both their logic and their maths.  There are also some pretty obvious cultural assumptions in thinking that the average person is likely to live for eighty-eight years!  On the other hand, eleven years seems a bit on the pessimistic side; there are surely things you can become astonishing at in less time than that.  So by way of compromise, let's say that if you're fortunate enough to be long-lived, you should have ample time to train up kick-ass skills in at least five disciplines.  That's still pretty cool right there.  I mean, that's a good way of looking at life, isn't it?  At my current age of thirty-mumble-mumble-something, that leaves me a whole lot of learning to do yet.  Compared with the perspective that society generally encourages - you get tolerably good at one thing and then do it until you die or it becomes redundant - this feels a whole lot healthier.

But that's not really what I wanted to talk about, though obviously it is a bit.  It certainly ties into the subject I wanted to touch on, which is that if you intend to be a writer in this day and age, you have to expect to get competent at an awful lot of things that have only the most tenuous connection with writing.   You may well find yourself speaking in public, or doing other things that are outside of your comfort zone.  The necessities of research may turn you into an amateur historian, criminologist, astrophysicist or insect wrangler.  Unless you have the absolutely best agent and publisher in the world, you're looking at developing skill-sets like editing, web design, blogging, accountancy and publicity.  And if you're going the self-publishing route then feel free to add cover design, marketing and a whole host of other things to that list.

This can appear horribly intimidating and unfair, and it's easy to look at those people who only have the one thing to do - like, um, nail technicians and professional shot putters - and feel deeply envious.  Turn that on its head, though, and aren't we writers an hellaciously lucky bunch of folks?  Not only do we get to do something fundamentally awesome and creative, we inevitably acquire a whole host of new abilities in the process.  The more you go on and the deeper you get into those eleven years you've set aside in which to become a world-class author, the more you discover that you've inadvertently picked up a raft of skills that you never expected to have, some of which require every bit as much imagination and inventiveness as writing itself.

And here we are towards the end of a particularly rambling post, and I still haven't even touched on what first made me want to write it, which is that over the last month or two I've been learning to letter comic book pages, and just last week I finished my first attempt.  It wasn't something I ever anticipated needing to do, and there was a steep, steep learning curve - just getting my head around a professional art package took some serious doing - but it was also a little bit thrilling, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished.  I won't pretend I've come close to mastering it, and maybe it will take me another eleven years to do that, but I'm hopeful that I can do it well enough to not completely embarrass myself.  Whether I'm right ... well, if everything goes to plan, that will be for others to judge when the time comes!

No comments:

Post a Comment