When I first began writing, I wondered when I’d get to a point where I knew what I was doing–where every new story didn’t force me to stretch or learn something new. Later, I wondered why I couldn’t just kick back and use what I’d already learned; it was as if some stubborn part of my brain was–still is–looking for the sorts of stories that would take more work rather than less, that would demand some tool I didn’t yet have hold of instead of just using the ones I had firmly in hand. Couldn’t I just settle in and enjoy this writing thing, instead of always trying to make it harder? Wasn’t that the whole point of learning to write in the first place?
Maybe not. A Scientific American article suggests that pushing beyond the things we already know is the way to grow, in any field.
Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time … Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance–for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam–most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement.
I find myself thinking, too, of the things I’ve consciously decided not to pursue seriously through the years–things I’ve just dabbled in for time. There’s always been a steep (and energizing) learning curve at the start; but then, later, there’s come another point–when I have to decide either to stay where I am, or to commit to the higher level of effort needed to continue to learn and grow. It may be, in part, that the difference between a sometime-hobby and a more serious vocation or avocation is whether the continued effort seems worth it.
Because sometimes one wants–legitimately–to reach a basic level of skill and go with that, to have some fun without forever pushing beyond one’s comfort zone. What’s interesting is pondering why, for each of us, that’s enough for some things, but not for others.
(With thanks to holyoutlaw, whose discussion of the article led me to seek it out.)