If you’re a writer, one of the best investments of time you can make is in learning to touch type. It might save you from repetitive strain injury, but more importantly, if you can build up your typing speed up, you can begin to transfer your thoughts to the page at almost the rate that they occur to you in your head. That’s a very liberating thing. You forget about hunting for the keys and fixing mistakes and instead focus on taking dictation from your stream of consciousness. Learning to spell is the next skill to nail, followed by correct grammar and punctuation. Know these things well, so that they become autonomic, and you can create freely with words. That facility is a very powerful tool, because it permits you to think thoughts and then express them to others, with clarity, economy and lucidity.
There are so many fields of creativity that are like writing, in this respect. As a painter, the better you get with your medium, ground and tools (brushes and knives), the more you can focus on the painting and not the act of painting itself. Somehow, all those mechanical concerns fade into the background, like changing gears in a manual / stick shift car. At some point, it becomes something you can do without consciously thinking about it. Driving a car only really gets to be fun when you reach that state. The same holds for painting. When the paint flows from your mind to the canvas, you are in a state of sublime creative power.
As a guitarist, the best feeling is when I can play what I feel without having to think about how to play it. You need to be able to create your music at the speed of thought too. The reason that so much music making software is anathema to this feeling is that it’s so complex, that developing facility and fluency takes a very big investment in time. Secondly, a lot of the software is so poorly designed, from a user interaction point of view, that you literally cannot reach an autonomic state very easily. It thwarts you at every turn. The software has been designed to slow you down, bedevil you, make it impossible to find the controls without hunting for them, or rely on mouse drawing for control capture. Could there be a more cumbersome and slow method of creating a control curve? While you are fiddling around with the technology and trying to get it to obey, moments of musical inspiration come and then go, missed entirely by your expensive software.
I think this is why writers like to find a good fountain pen or craftsmen enjoy the feeling of using well-made, well-designed tools. Having found just the right tools, it’s clear why artists value longevity and durability in their design. Changing to another, new tool often means sacrificing some of that fluency, even if only temporarily. We don’t so much fear change as fear the loss of facility and fluidity. The point of practicing your skills is to make the actual work feel easy. That way, the hard work of converting imagination into actuality is all you need concentrate upon.
Software engineers or inventors that work with metal or wood (or whatever their material) also find that knowing their tools and materials (e.g. a computer language) intimately is a pre-requisite to productive and creative output. With increased facility comes quality. To produce a really excellent finish, you have to know your materials and tools very well, indeed. Glass blowers, bead makers, craftsmen and women, sculptors, dancers, singers, designers, electronics engineers – all of these people need to know how to create with their tools and materials without it being a deliberate, conscious, mental and physical struggle, before their best works can come forward.
Spending time and energy learning how to handle your materials and the tools you use to shape them, whether those materials are physical or intellectual, is time and energy well spent. The dividend comes when you no longer have to worry about the means of expression, just about the expression. There is a certain sort of purity to creating at the speed of thought. It feels unencumbered, minimalist and untarnished by Earthly concerns. Sometimes it is tantalisingly and frustratingly out of reach, that feeling of unbridled, artistic flow. Other times, you just let your fingers, mind, hands, and body do the talking. I love losing myself in my imagination and creations. It takes a while to develop the required fluency and to hone that into a refined and graceful facility, but the effort is worth it. Who needs to struggle against the medium and your tools, when you are already a starving artist? Life is hard enough. Beauty is the imperative.