Learning to Walk

Whenever we learn something new, we have to learn the basics. Let’s be honest though: basics are boring. Who wants to drive a boring Civic with an automatic transmission when you have the option of dropping a Corvette to a lower gear and being shoved back in your seat when you hit the gas?

The thing is, you don’t get to start with the Corvette. I mean, sure, you could learn to drive a Corvette, but it’s probably better to learn how to drive on the Civic, then learn how to work a manual transmission, and then graduate to the flaming red sports car.

My coworkers have commented that when I drive I don’t use the brakes because I know how to downshift properly (side note: if you can’t down shift to slow down, you’re not allowed to say you know how to drive a stick). When I told them my factory brakes lasted nine years, and only had to be replaced because they rusted through (the pads were plenty thick), they didn’t believe me. Knowing the basics (e.g., how to use my transmission properly, not just how to make the car move) reduces wear and tear on my car.

It comes in my day job too. When I do a code review at work I’m constantly flagging exception safety issues, chances to use standard tools and algorithms, optimizations, and general design flaws. Having concepts like exception safety as second nature means I can write basic template code, and being able to do that means I can write tricky template code. It’s not because I’m a programming rock star (okay, I am, but work with me here), it’s because I’ve had the basics of programming beaten into me after years of practice.

The concept also applies to writing. Instead of trying to bite off a novel or series, write a short story or two and play with some ideas. Just taking the time to practice pays off in spades. Short stories mean you can ignore things like backstory and tying into a larger plot, so embrace that freedom so you can break things and get better.

The basics can be translating ideas in your head to paper (e.g., critiquers say things are confusing), grammar/style, tightening prose (I’m guilty of being overly verbose), or anything else.

Once walking comes easy, it’s time to tackle running. I’ll let you know what that’s like once I figure it out.

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