There are fair number of people who say ‘before you started would have been a good time, Dave!’ There is sometimes an element of truth in that too. Sometimes. There are a lot of bad ideas I’ve worked very hard to try and make work. Some of them were bad ideas from the very start, the ‘Good Idea Fairy’ being hard at work in my life. But… although daft (perhaps just seeming, but perhaps really) by actually plunging headlong into things where angels tread with caution has worked out for me. Sometimes.
It’s why I left a nice safe (boring) clerical job and battered my way into what was then one of the hardest – and more obscure – pieces of science, where I was part of the bludgeoning edge, which I helped to keep blunt. It wasn’t boring anyway. It wasn’t safe or entirely nice at times either. ‘Fragrant’ is more accurate.
It’s a story that repeats itself throughout my life. The ‘fragrant’ part frequently too. Part of that is that dirty jobs need to be done by someone. And there’s a part of my brain that says ‘it can’t be that bad.’ and ‘you can do it’. The former is an outright lie, but the second part is usually true.
Part of this is backing yourself against the odds. And part of this is that humans are amazing. They can do all sorts of things, even jobs that common sense says they couldn’t or at least shouldn’t. I say this as the guy who has driven a very elderly tractor without brakes extensively. I’d never driven a tractor before I used that one for pipe-laying on steep terrain. I lived. It was pretty stupid. And less dangerous than it sounds or felt. If I had known what i was doing, quite safe, really.
Of course you can make anything dangerous -especially when you have no real experience, and have to learn without much or any instruction. The tractor, front-end loader, 10 ton truck, 8 ton excavator… I’ve been fortunate to be able to have the use of them building the farm. I also had no experience – no idea, really, of how any of these should be used. If I was lucky I got a couple of minutes instruction. Sometimes a manual (yeah, I have read a few. Take away my man card, see if I care). Sometimes I didn’t get that. Look, I have grown up around fish, hunter-gatherer stuff, diving and rock-climbing. Those ALSO had terrifying moments, but I had the advantage of a lot of experience and learning with people who were good at these things. With heavy machinery – it was all new.
I could have shied away, but it’s not really in my nature. I freely admit I was scared shitless and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. With the 20:20 vision of hindsight I did a lot of things badly and a lot much less well than the job needed. But… well, it got done. It’s something that translates very much to to my writing world. When I set out to ‘become an author’ I knew even less about it. Now, it is a little harder to kill yourself or wreck machinery or buildings. Suicide, depression and despair can still do it for you. When it comes to wrecking your career I certainly had a bloody good try a good few times. The only one I regret is when I did NOT seize an opportunity – and I seized a good few. If I had known what to do with them, it might have helped! I made a horse’s butt out of a few.
And one of the reasons I made horse’s butt out them is that I KNEW I had to give my absolute best, push myself into areas I don’t have a natural skill at, and pretty little experience (dealing with people, particularly. But a lot of things, with Indy, even more.)
Now, when Joe the excavator driver with 20 years experience is making earth-work miracles happen, all his co-ordination and experience work perfectly with the machine. He doesn’t have to think about what he’s doing – his body and mind know how to dig a perfectly level trench around the building or whatever. He does eight hours, goes for a run, has a meal, and goes off to work on his vintage car or play poker or paint minis for a few hours. He’s done what would take me 40 hours to do, and less well… maybe (some things take more skill than I have. Some things just take a little more patience and care, and those I’ll do pretty close to as well, if not better. It’ll just take me much longer. And much much more concentration.)
If I put in eight hours at a stretch, likely I’d wreck the machine, or kill myself, or destroy several buildings, or all three. I get out of the cab, and I am good for absolutely doing nothing – physical or mental. I need a shower because I’ve sweated like a monsoon. My eyes just want to stay closed – because I have focused so hard and carefully. Nothing has been done ‘automatically’. It’s all done by thinking each step. It’s been done slowly with extreme care because 1) I am not that good at it yet. Better than I was. But I can wreck a week or years of work very easily -and the machine. 2)It is inevitably at least slightly dangerous, for the machine, for the job, for the surroundings – no people, beside me thank goodness A lot of the work has been on slopes and around buildings. It’s not easy, but if i don’t do it, I can’t afford to get it done, and I can still do a month’s shovel work in an hour. I am – compared to the guy who started out, now a skilled operator. But I just keep pushing my standards that I want to achieve and the tasks I will undertake, to a harder better level.
In some ways I am in the same boat with writing and publishing. I’m more experienced than I was, but, in my case anyway, that leads me to see how good I am not. So I give things my intense concentration and effort. I can do things I could not dream of, once. But once that gets easy I simply try to do more.
And this is when knowing when to stop is so important. Look: everyone tells you what you need for success is arse-glue to stick you down in front of that screen. Keep you working away and all will be well.
To a point, yes. Beyond that point… well, it’s one thing I have learned from my moderately infrequent use of the heavy machines. When you start to make even slightest mis-judgement (like you’re an inch from where you planned to be with the bucket. Don’t wait until it is a foot)… it’s time to stop.
I didn’t say you don’t come back. You do have to come back. Again and again. Each time giving it your best, your entire concentration. That’s what it takes. Maybe in 20 years you’ll be able to do easily. I can’t.