One thing Act Two is good for, with those years of experience, is re-examining the whys of what I do. In Act Two, you’ve had the time to develop a lot of habits. Aside from the obvious bad habits, I’ve been looking at my good and neutral habits as well, and asking WHY I do what I do. Because even if it’s a good habit, I still need to know why.
One challenge I’ve taken on is to finally come to grips with my process as a writer. In the second act of life, it’s not uncommon to have gotten good at something–whether or not you monetize that thing as your job, career, or calling. There’s a good side to this, as you have finally “aged into” being respected for your knowledge and experience, instead of having to fight the “know-it-all brat” stereotype. The bad side of this, however, is that you can get stuck in your process–the best way is not always the most familiar way. I noticed this when helping my 4th grader with her math homework and seeing the blowback from certain snarky parts of the internets about how Common Core makes parents ragequit their kids’ homework.
The meme going around is that a parent, angry with a CC homework exercise where a student is asked to figure out a subtraction problem using a certain method, instead writes a nasty letter to the teacher explaining why the homework isn’t done and the teacher shouldn’t be respected. Aside from the fact that parents should know better than to make their kids’ lives in school a living hell by helicoptering, the supposedly well-educated parent missed out on a few things. The parent failed to understand that the lesson wasn’t meant to solve the subtraction problem, but rather to provide the child with a facility with numbers that would better equip her in more advanced mathematics.
Relevant to my efforts, the old familiar way of doing the subtraction problem would take ten steps, while the method described in the worksheet would only have taken four. What truly struck me was that I, like most people, engaged in the same kneejerk reaction at first. I ignored my own reasoning behind whether I approved or condemned the response until I went and looked it up (leading me to realize that the “new” way was not only quicker, but something I had been doing unconsciously every time I counted change). Most of us past a certain age would have taken the ten-step process, because that’s how we’ve been taught to do subtraction, and that’s how we’ve been doing it.
Or have we? The method demonstrated in the exercise much more resembled the way people count change–that is, starting with the highest bills and moving down until we make up the difference with coins. But the text of the problem didn’t identify the exercise as change counting, so people had no frame of reference.
I decided to examine my own process for my own presumptions as well. In the course of examining things, I’ve found places where I’ve persisted in some bad thinking habits–cargo-cult mentality for creative inspiration, thinking myself too “precious” to increase my productive creative time, or talking myself into thinking that writing has to be hard to be good (and thereby making things way more complicated than they need to be, in order to properly “suffer for my work”).
My writing process is a Byzantine thing, recommendable to absolutely no one as any sort of recipe for success. But when I come out of this, I will understand and be aware of the reasoning behind why I do what I do. And that, my friends, is working smarter.