Being a Beginner

It’s difficult being a beginner and trying to identify and negotiate the unfamiliar issues of unfamiliar work. It’s frustrating being unable to act effectively. Especially if there are other areas where you are used to acting effectively. As a result of years of practice as writer and editor, I have developed some facility with words and with writing. Although writing is often difficult in the sense that it demands effort and concentration, I can generally work quickly and effectively.  And that efficacy makes writing feel extremely easy compared to unfamiliar tasks, even though writing is still difficult.

When I write, because of my experience, I can sense the potential of a plan to create a coherent piece of work. I can make decisions about scope and focus, and I am not troubled about the possibility of making those decisions wrong.  I am confident that I can always write another draft (indeed, I will probably write another draft of something tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, and so on…), and this confidence in the process is a powerful emotional shield against the frustrations of the process. If I decide to throw a draft away, it’s not a problem, it’s just part of the process.

Recently, I have been working on making videos (and diagrams/images to supplement visual presentation of ideas) to expand the range of media in which I work.  I have experimented with basic videos in the past, posting several quickly made dissertation-related videos during the early months of 2018. The quality was unsatisfactory and I dropped the project to focus on finding a publisher for my book. Having found a publisher, I see my publisher suggesting I make some videos to help promote my book.  “Make a simple video,” the material suggests, “It doesn’t have to be fancy.” That framing of it—a simple video, doesn’t have to be fancy—is kind of inspiring or at least reassuring. But then I start work.

This is a field in which I am mostly a beginner.  My experience as a writer helps me with writing a script. Beyond that, I’m largely lost and kind of overwhelmed. The tools of the process are unfamiliar to me. Visual imagery? Soundtracks? I’m a rank amateur. But here I am, making a stab at it because it sounds like a good idea.  And because I’m a rank amateur, every step is frustrating. Mistakes abound. Doubts multiply. Every step is uncertain, uncomfortable.  Even trying to write scripts/outlines/storyboards…I mean I don’t even know how to apply words here. My instincts about how much to say in written form fail me when I contemplate the temporal structure of video presentation: I know how word counts relate to desired reading time, but I don’t know how word counts relate to speaking/listening time.  I’ll learn this, and other things with practice, as long as I practice. 

And images. I don’t work in visual media; I don’t really rely on images or diagrams when I think about the processes of writing and research. So I’m trying to imagine images that might help me convey ideas, which is hard, and then, when I get an idea, I’m trying to use unfamiliar tools to capture what I imagined (I’m mostly working on the computer, which is difficult, but produces better results than I do drawing by hand). And what I do create doesn’t look all that good to me.

Being a novice is difficult emotionally. Doubts about how to precede receive no emotional support from past successes in the same area of experience. Because of the doubt, the work is more tiring and more frustrating. I procrastinate—indeed, I’m writing a blog post instead of working on a video right now, even though my video still needs to be made. I try to focus on making a video, and my attention goes to other projects that are related. In response, I try to keep refocusing on the practice—the repeated attempt to make something connected with a video. Not on the weaknesses of the specific piece that I’m working on, but just on the process. On taking one step after another. On exploring. On making mistakes so that I can learn from them. On making drafts that I throw away, so that I can experiment with things to see what seems to work (very little, so far!) and what doesn’t.

Being a beginner is frustrating. But when the goal seems worthy, if you can step into a practice where you experiment, make mistakes and keep practicing, you will improve your ability and then, whatever abilities you have will be amplified by your practice-based skills.