Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Trust Your Tools

We have a saying in silat, "Trust your tools." What this means needs a definition, since "tool" here is more than just a saw or a hammer. There are laws, principles, strategy, tactics, techniques, all of which are part of the instrument. It's not enough just to have a hammer -- you have to know how to hold it, how to swing it without braining yourself, the best angle at which to strike -- and when to use it.

The theory is you are taught what you need to know; that you practice this until you develop a level of skill wherein the tool becomes comfortable and useful. Eventually, you get to the place where your motions approach those of reflexes.

A sidebar here:

There are some long-running discussions about maps versus territories; what you think you see versus what is really there; and how to shift on the fly quickly enough to save your ass when push comes to shove, and what you do isn't working. This is another post, and one I believe moves more into the realm of what is proper strategy versus tactics. We'll come back to this another day, but it is important.

The hammer is but one among others -- screwdrivers, pliers, shears, wrenches, chisels, saws, and so forth. When you know what each does and how to use it, you can approach a household construction project knowing which is the best for the job. You see a screw, you don't think "hammer."

(Going to be too much work to stretch this analogy any more, so let's leave it.)

In the martial ways, posit that you are beset with an attacker. Attack comes. If you have trained properly, you will -- in theory -- do whatever is necessary to deal with the situation. And, one hopes, without the "Oh-shit-what-do-I-do-now?! reaction that will almost certainly get you thumped.

This is what "trust your tools" means. It doesn't mean that you try and make a hammer work when you need a saw. It means you know what you need right now, on a level that bypasses long and conscious deliberation.

This philosophy extends past arts martial. Most activities -- sports, jobs, hobbies -- can be learned well enough that parts of them can seem almost instinctive. You know the right move at the right moment -- if you have developed your tools properly.

In writing, the same thing applies. There have been times when, during a novel, I have stalled. This is not a block -- I can still put the words down -- but the tale isn't moving as I feel it should. Not sinking -- treading water; staying afloat, but -- not going anywhere.

This is vexing, especially if there is a deadline looming. It's not that you have no answer, it's that you don't like the ones you come up with.

There is a solution, I have found, if you have put the time in developing your tools.

Your internal editor, your atman, always knows when something isn't working. If you can activate it, it will step up and offer a solution.

For me, the atman likes to take its own sweet time. Doesn't like to be pushed, but it knows, as I do, if something feels wrong in a story, it is wrong. When I can't consciously see exactly what it is, or even if I can, how best to correct it, I have found that turning the problem over to my unconscious and leaving it alone will invariably do the trick. Atman will grind and grind and grind, and of a moment, whilst walking the dogs or sitting in the hot tub or eating lunch, the solution to that plot element or character flaw will blossom in front of me: Here. Do this, it says. This'll fix the problem.

And when I listen and heed the voice, it does. So far, every time.

The limits are, of course, my own abilities -- my atman is only as good as I am when it comes to the writing; still, over the years, I have learned that -- if I have the time and patience to wait -- the answer is there. It took me a while to learn to trust this tool, but now I do.

It's a good thing to develop. And how best to do this? Practice the basics. Learn the craft, how to flow the words, and do enough so that you get a feel for language, story, plot, character. Work the muscles and make them stronger. Give the atman little chores at first, and when it gets those, trust it with bigger ones. Realize that part of you knows.

The potential is enormous ...


Bobbe Edmonds said...

Thanks for this, I appreciate it.

Steve Perry said...

You already know it. Recall our discussion about the professor offering a lecture at the first of that recent piece you wrote? You told *me* it wasn't working before you ever sent it.

Yeah, I cut it from a ship's mast to a toothpick, and that might not be the best solution, but you can't have a ten-page sociology and physics lecture at the front of a thirty-five page story, and your internal editor knows that. (Even if any of it was necessary to move the story, and most of it wasn't ...)

Worg said...

Was thinking about this the other night.

I've been out of kali class for some while now. I get back and everything they're teaching is different. It's always evolved over the years to the point where I rarely saw the same drill twice.

So it was hard for me to learn it.

But by god, over the years they got me to the point where SOMETHING always comes out.

That was what I wanted and that was what I got. My original goal with all this stuff was a deadly, multipurpose art. And they actually gave me what I paid for. That's kind of astonishing.

Worg said...

"In the martial ways, posit that you are beset with an attacker. Attack comes."

Yeah, well, what if you are sapu with an attacker?

What then?

Steve Perry said...

Well, that's a totally different thing, be sapu with attackers. Just shoot 'em.