How to improve your talent – by Wayne Blackburn

How to improve your talent – by Wayne Blackburn

You, in the third run from the back. Yeah, I heard the joke about ventilated boobs!

What’s that you say? You know how to improve? “Practice, practice, practice!”?

Well, you’d be right, of course, but that’s not the whole story.

I’ve heard (ok, read) Sarah and others talk about “the myth of talent”, with which I have had my disagreements. It turns out, though, that I have never actually encountered the myth of talent, which apparently says that if you have talent, you don’t need practice to be good at something. I’ve only encountered the reality of talent, which is that talent allows your practice to be more effective.

Now, how much is talent genetic and how much is early experience? We may never know, because the factors that determine it are probably incredibly complex and intertwined. So much so that it’s far too large for a blog post, so I’m not going to go into that here. I am, though, going to show you ways to improve the talents you have.

“Improving your talent” is actually something that will help you in a broad range of things, not just the thing you’re practicing.

My father was a Jack-of-all Trades. I won’t say, “Master of none”, because as far as I could tell, he was a master carpenter, even if he didn’t have a piece of paper saying so. He could have been quite wealthy, had he gone into business for himself and been able to bring himself to charging a reasonable rate for his work (which latter part is why he wasn’t building houses with his friend, because they couldn’t bring themselves to charge enough to make a living). Instead, he retired in 1989, after 25 years working for the YMCA, and when he retired, he was making $6.99/hr. Needless to say, when I learned that last, I was a very unhappy person on his behalf.

But living with my father was an educational experience. He was, as I said, a Master Carpenter in all but certification – he could decide on a project, start pulling out tools and supplies, and setting up workspace, and then, in an astoundingly short time, produce a quality piece of work. He may not have been a Master Plumber, but he could do general plumbing and do a quality job. He wasn’t really an electrician, but he could wire your house, and it would pass an electrician’s inspection.

But more than that, dad could look at something and figure out how to do it. My brother recently told me that dad once tore down and rebuilt a friend’s manual transmission because the friend couldn’t afford to replace it. Dad could also pack things into a smaller space than you would believe. I joke that he could pack a two-bedroom house into a pickup truck and a hatchback. So one of the things I decided early on was that I would become as good at doing things as dad was (I never really hit that mark, but I did better than average).

And on my journey, I came up with things that help. I’ll tell you up front that they work a lot better when you’re young and your body and mind are more elastic, but they’ll still help the old farts in the audience.

Much of this, I figured out on my own, but I also cribbed from several other sources, even including one little tidbit from Dune, though I suspect that it was originally from some Eastern martial arts practice.

This article is for physical talent. That is, the kinds of things that will help you learn to do physical labor, or sports, or things like martial arts or dancing. Not all of these will be for everyone, but most of them will be useful as standalone improvements. And these are by no means an exhaustive catalog. I’m sure there are tons of other ways to improve.

Let’s start with the bottom of the pyramid. I know I said they can all help separately, but they definitely work together, and this one will help the others the most:

FEEL YOUR BODY. (Sigh. No, stop that. I didn’t mean… Hey, you in the third row from the back! I DEFINITELY didn’t mean THAT! Ow, my eyes! OK, let’s start over.)

You can do this standing, sitting, or lying down, or you can move from one to the other. I don’t care. First, close your eyes. No, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but for me, it makes it easier to concentrate. Now, starting with your toes, try to move each one individually. Now, for most people, this is hard, so don’t expect to do it immediately.

Here’s the important part – As you try to move your toes, concentrate on feeling your muscles as they move. Some people find this difficult, but it gets easier over time.

After you’ve tried that a few times, try to curl your foot under as much as you can, then uncurl it and extend your toes to the sky. Next, move to your ankle. Move it up and down, tilt it in and out, and roll it around. Do all this slowly, and focus on the muscles that are moving as you do it.

Work your way through your muscle groups like this. Slowly, focusing on the muscles as you go. It’s not necessary to turn this into a stretching exercise, but you certainly can. The point, though, Is not to push yourself to increase your flexibility (it will help, but you can work on pushing it later), but to learn how to pay attention to your body as you learn other things.

Once you have learned how to feel your body, you will be able to tell better how you are progressing as you learn physical things, and will be better able to tell what you are doing wrong when you make mistakes, which will help you figure out how to correct the problem.

Next, at the beginning of learning, if you have the opportunity, MOVE LIKE A ROBOT. (Hey, third row from the back – are you trying to get me to fling a carp at you? I did NOT say, “Do the Robot”. Sheesh.)

Moving on – what do I mean by “move like a robot”? Just this: Once you learn what movements are needed, you go through the motions slowly, deliberately, and as absolutely precisely and accurately as you possibly can. It’s possible that you may not be able to do this if you’re learning a new job, but often you can get the basics down and then do the intense part later.

To begin, push away all the distractions you possibly can from your mind (don’t push away things that would affect your safety, you need all the fingers and toes you still have to stay attached). Next, go through the motions in your mind, thinking about how to make them. Finally, go through the actual motions, making certain that you are doing all of them as nearly perfect as you can.

The previous exercise is very helpful, because you can feel when you are making mistakes, or if you don’t realize you’re making a mistake until later, you can tell how to modify what you’re doing to make it right. It also helps when you’re doing it right, because you can remember how it feels so that later, you can even tell if you made a mistake when you’re not paying as much attention.

Slowly speed this up as you go along, but for the first couple of hundred repetitions, do your best to focus on the job, and nothing else. Once you have programmed your muscles, you can loosen up and start paying less direct attention to what you are doing, because a) you will be doing it automatically, and b) your muscles will tell you if something is wrong – you won’t have to watch so closely any more.

I have used this technique to learn, in a single day, jobs that I saw other people take more than a week to learn, and some never did really learn to do them correctly.

Note: This technique can also be helpful later on, if you find yourself in need of hurrying. The absolute focus, the attention to prefect motions, perfectly repeatable, can bring you to a pace you would previously have found incredible.

Next, PRACTICE EVERYWHERE. (No, no, no! Man, you’re really starting to get on my nerves. It means to practice wherever you happen to be. It does NOT mean to practice on someone else’s person! You’re lucky you only got slapped.)

Some people. Anyway, this means to find ways to practice the components of what you want to do when you’re not in the environment where you NEED to do it. Now, this is one that many children do anyway. How often have you seen a child prancing around as if they are still at dance class? And many times, their parents tell them to stop.

But it’s a REALLY good thing to do! Most of you probably already know this, but studies have indicated that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice in order to become competent in a field of work or study. To put that in perspective, a standard full-time work year is 2080 hours (40 hours/wk, 52 weeks/year). So that’s just about 5 YEARS as full time, just to get COMPETENT (I’m talking about something that encompasses the full complexities of a professional job, not the packing job I said I learned in one day above).

So, how do you get better faster? You find ways to practice when you’re not practicing. This increases the number of hours you actually get practice in, overall.

Now, at home, you can probably at least practice the movements just as you would if you were doing the real thing, but in public that might be problematic, what with the pointing, and the laughing. More on that in the next section.

When you’re practicing at home, do your movements slowly, and perfectly, unless what you are practicing is timing the movements to something else, and then of course, you have to keep in time. I often will practice the two (movement and timing) separately for a time (that is, when practicing timing, paying very close attention to that and not so much to getting the movements perfect in placement), before combining the two.

One of the good things about practicing at home is that you don’t need to do it in a dedicated fashion. You can work it in while you’re fixing supper, while you’re watching TV, while you’re in the shower (maybe), or whatever else you’re doing, as long as what else you’re doing doesn’t take a lot of concentration. It may not give quite as much benefit as dedicated practice would, but it’s still better than not practicing.

Finally (and you’ve probably seen versions of this from self-professed self-help gurus numerous times): TURN PRACTICE INTO A GAME. (What, you again? Somebody load the carp launcher. I’ll show you a GAME, pal!)

Sigh. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Make it a game. This one is a very free-floating suggestion, really, because there are many ways to make games out of practice.

As an example: One of the things that I struggle with, and have since I was little, is controlling the force and speed of my movements. I can do gentle, or I can do nearly my full force (likewise for speed – either very slow or very fast), but I have a hard time moderating in between the extremes. So, one of the things I make a game out of is shutting doors. Yep, shutting doors. Here’s how: When I shut a door, I give it a single push, and attempt to gauge the force I use to make it shut perfectly. That is, it should completely shut and fasten, but with an absolute minimum of striking against the frame. This is particularly difficult with microwave ovens.

But, you say, what if I pack light bulbs for a living (something I’ve done)? Well, that IS a rather specialized motion, but you can still improve your ability to do it by setting yourself to do things precisely – when you’re at home, set an empty can that had vegetables in it, or maybe baked beans (soup cans will be too small), and set your drink in it. You may have to pick a particular glass or something so that you can easily pick it up and set it down. Then make a game of setting your glass into the exact center of the can every time. When you can do it without really thinking about it, you’ll find that the job that requires exact placement will be significantly easier and you can do it much faster.

The secret is finding things that are similar to things that you would do in whatever you’re practicing for. My baseball coach recommended that his players practice batting by taking a tobacco stick (a hardwood board approximately 1 inch square, and pointed at both ends), and some bottle caps (if you don’t know any beer drinkers, you might need to use pebbles, or maybe just wad up some paper balls), throw a cap into the air, and hit it with the stick on the way down. Why? Well, the tobacco stick is much thinner than a bat, and the bottle cap much smaller than a baseball, so if you can almost always hit the cap, you can surely hit a ball.

Now, the title of the article was how to improve your talent. How does this improve your talent? Well, to begin with, the first part, about learning to move your body more effectively, and to feel how you’re doing it, is the most effective part of improving your talent, because those exercises will feed into making it far easier to learn new physical activities from the bottom up. The others go towards learning techniques to add practice when you’re not formally practicing.  And turning it into a game makes it more fun, which makes it easier to motivate yourself to do the practice.

So there you go. Four basic components:


Follow these principles, and you’ll find that your activities become easier, more precise, less awkward, and more useful. And you can learn new skills faster and easier.



193 thoughts on “How to improve your talent – by Wayne Blackburn

        1. While gravity can be relentless, I usually appreciate the fact that as a result both I and the atmosphere are inclined to remain together on the surface of the earth.

  1. How do I apply these to thinking tasks?

    Look at/feel study how you are thinking? Do practice thinking tasks similar to the ones you want to get really good at?

    1. There are definitely thinking skills you can deliberately exercise and develop.  See, for example, Dr. Edward de Bono and his lateral thinking courses.

    2. There is a thinking post in the works, but I’m not sure I can do it justice and keep it from being too long.

      The gist of it is: Learn a broad variety of subjects; find questions and problems, and try to be aware of how you solve the problems or answer the questions (what steps do you use to come to your conclusion); try to see how information and methods from various fields can apply to problems outside them; and analyze others’ answers to questions and problems to both see how they solved them and determine if their process was correct.

      1. There are a variety of puzzles you can do which work the head muscle. Even certain solitaire games or Minefield or Mahjong. Solo bridge on your computer really works those memory cells, and Cribbage boosts quick calculations of probabilities.

      1. As Wayne noted, though, you probably want to do that in private. Running through most of my dialogues out loud would not have people pointing and laughing, but very carefully edging away from my vicinity. (Or, when I’m trying to work out a full Kratman/Correia type scene, calling 911…)

    3. Anything built, is built in the mind first…

      Muscle memory starts in the mind.

      “Thinking tasks”? Same shit, different place. Keep it in Vegas

      Great article! Made me realize playing music, night shooting, and carpentry are different facets of the same crystal.

  2. You can work it in while you’re fixing supper …

    Carefully.  Very carefully.  Between sharp edges and hot surfaces there are dangers in the kitchen that need to be respected.  When I read your advise that one should be aware enough of one’s surroundings that one keeps all appendages intact I understood it well.  I carry a few scars to remind me when I have become too inattentive and less than deliberate in the kitchen. 

    1. Fixing supper?

      Sure, the smart money was on the meatloaf to win and nobody thought the mashed potatoes would even show, but after I arranged for the beef to take a dive and took steps (if you know what I mean) to put the green beans out of the running, the only challenge left was the apple sauce, and I had a plan for that

      1. It seems to keep breaking on its own, and you have to keep fixing it again. Over and over and over. And no warranty coverage, so you can’t call your insurance to replace it.

        1. It also seems yet another task people are increasingly eager to hire professionals to perform for them rather than maintaining the skills to do it oneself.

  3. Good advice and I think it’s been something I have been doing for ages. One time, I would practice typing on a flat surface. Just going through the motions. Nowadays I am very decent touch typist. Keyboards and computers are very helpful at least. Typing out a school project with minimal whiteout was a skill that has gone by the wayside since there’s a lovely thing called “backspace” and autocorrupt….

    1. In High School we all were advised to take the typing elective.  At the time anyone who could type well (i.e., with speed and accuracy) would be able to find ‘clean’ work.  Even those who were going to college took the course.  We were told that we would have to type papers for college and we could pick up money typing other people’s papers.  This was true — if we had a typewriter.  If we didn’t, well we were the ones who paid.

      So there we would sit in class at our typewriters attempting to produce even strokes on the keys with strange combinations of letters, silly sentences and working on various kinds of formatting over and over and over — because ‘practice makes perfect’.

      Bless Bette Nesmith Graham, the founder of liquid paper, but our teacher wouldn’t let us use it during class.  She argued that it was more efficient to be able to type it correctly in the first place.

      1. Did you also practice short combinations of letters that may go together, yet be somewhat awkward to transition from one to the other? My mother gave me basic typing instruction, and one of the things she had me do was three-letter sequences where you used the same finger to move from one row to another, as quickly as possible.

        1. As an example, I have noticed that when I type the -ion combination I frequently seem to strike -ioin. I have learned to visually review such combinations but cannot train my fingers to restrict themselves to the correct formation or construction regardless of my dedication to the exertion.

          Annoying, as it would save much typo-review.

          1. It’s a recent thing, but I’ve noticed that “of the” or “on the” turn into “oft he” or “ont he” unless I deliberately slow down the left hand. Or is it that the left brain is slowing down more than the right brain? Interesting…

            “Oft he” is the more annoying one, as it cannot be picked up by an automatic spell checker. I could delete “oft” from the dictionary, I suppose, but then I would have problems when I get around to the sword and sorcery books…

            1. Merlin? Aye, well I knew him, lad. Oft he exclaimed, “Damn this spell checker! Forsooth, an I wanted eye of newt, ’twas eye of newt I would have written. Yet this confounded knave, who would have me believe he can check my grimoire for errors, e’er maintains that I cannot have meant to write “ides of night” and insists that I must be in error. No, thou fool, this spell must take effect at the midpoint of the night, the ides of the night. Shouldst thou add eye of newt instead, thou shalt not like the results one iota.”

        2. Just retrieved my copy of Learn Touch Typing in 4 easy Lessons with 2 speed typing courses from the drawer where is lives, and glanced through it . Oh my, the memories. Sure it was broken into ‘4 Lessons’, but we spent a good deal of time on each one as the teacher kept us doing the drills over and over until it was second nature. Then we moved on to the speed drills and the various kinds of formatting. The woman insisted that if it were possible we would all become entirely proficient.

          1. I had the two flip books, passed down from my sisters. Still around here somewhere.

            When my kids learned that they could not take typing in high school when they were not on the “trades” track (and how stupid is that, I ask?), I bought Mavis Beacon. All three of them touch type now. Even on laptop keyboards, where I never really got the knack down.

      2. I took it seeing the way things were going at the start of the personal PC (i.e. Vic 20 C64) era and took typing. The next year they changed the name to “Keyboarding”. I think I was one of two guys in an all girl class. Best idea I had ever. Then there were the variety of typewriters I used from electric to manual, to uber manual (Classic Underwood with cast iron frame….)

        1. One thing that still bugs me some is that if there are any “home row” bumps, they are on the F and J keys. Alright standard… BUT.. the most used keyboard for me, for a while, was the Apple 2 series… with bumps on the D and K keys. So everything feels misaligned now, if only very subtly.

          1. All part of Apple’s Master Plan to keep you from using others’ products by making them feel ever so slightly wrong.

            While have several old typewriters stowed about the house I cannot lay hands on any to confirm my recollection that the F & J bumps are the standard from before words got digitally processed.

            1. My Logitech keyboard has bumps on F and J. My first typewriter was a 1913 Patent Royal, which had been my grandfather’s.

              1. My Strix Tactics Pro has ’em too, and I only now just realized what they’re for. They were also on my Cereberus, but for some reason I really find typing rapidly on the Strix sooooooo much easier. I don’t type as fast as the housemate unfortunately (or, fortunately?) but …

                Hm. I haven’t done a typing test in a long while.

            2. While have several old typewriters stowed about the house …
              Is this a First Amendment version of burying guns in your backyard?

                1. I’m glad to be shed of carbon paper. Had to type DOT forms in triplicate, the quadruplicate for a long time. Finally got a portable Smith Corona that allowed me to scroll type to a tiny LCD screen, then print to the paper. Saved a lot of aggravation.

                  Now we do that same form online – but I think the application process is even more aggravation. Maybe it’s some sort of law.

              1. I wore out all but my last typewriter. We had that many term papers. Typed one paper on a borrowed typewriter that would be about a century old now. All but the last typewriter were manuals.

                In those days, erasable bond was your friend. Got very good writing in Courier in making last minute corrections.

                My last typewriter is at my parents. It was an electric with spell check and correction. To the best of my knowledge, they never used it.

            3. IBM Selectric was definitely the F/J – that is where I learned typing, on my mother’s Selectric II. Spoiled I was, yes; although I’d get cranky if I had to go back to one now and break the fingernails on getting those balls in and out.

              1. My mother had a Selectric which I could use for papers and the iike. Wonderful machines. Better to break your fingernails than break your balls.

                (I think I’ve been waiting decades to type that out.)

        2. Best idea because you learned to type, or best idea because you had all those girls in your class to socialize with?

      3. My mother (frequently a secretary) insisted I take typing one summer (mid 1960s). I hated it, but managed to learn touch typing, though my speed was abysmally slow (11 WPM, if memory serves). Summer school machines were electric Royals, while Mom had an extra wide manual in Elite font, and we had a 1910 Underwood around the house. Pica font and a sticking E key.

        I did a little typing for school, and when boy met computer (an NCR Century 200, programmed via punch cards), I got a fair amount of practice. My college Olivetti tried to each me a smooth touch, mostly by throwing in a space if I got out of rhythm. Arggh.

        By the mid-late 70s, I was doing test programming for a living, and typing fairly well. I must admit, I still hate typewriters–the CLACK CLACK distracts the hell out of me.

        Not sure when I got liquid paper; I used the round eraser with brush for quite some time.

        In the early days of email, one of my fellow engineers poo-poohed the idea of typing our own messages; the secretaries typed faster. We did a speed test, and as I recall, even the two-fingered typists were faster than writing it out and letting the secretaries type it. (In my case, it required decoding; my handwriting is bad enough that I have a hard time reading it.)

        1. I wanted to write. My thoughts were pages ahead of my writing. I typed 20 wpm not touch. I got mad. (This is a normal Sarah process, btw.) I found Dan’s highschool typewriter. I spent the first summer after we were married, all three months, getting up in the morning and practicing through all the exercises, getting to the end, starting at the beginning again. When I’m flying I hit 200 wpm. normal is around 260. Yep, touch.

          1. The Daughter suffered from dysgraphia. Her handwriting was so bad it became a family joke that we knew what career path she was going to choose. (Later she did become interested in medicine — but that was because SCIENCE!)

            In third grade her teacher arranged to have her issued a computer for school work, much to the great relief of the both of them. The problem was that she mastered it so quickly that it was taken away from her because her performance had risen to ‘above grade level.’ The teacher went on the warpath.

            The Daughter is so fast on the keyboard that when she gets going all you hear is a steady strum. She could not use the initial touch screen keyboards as the processors had trouble with her speed.

            1. “her performance had risen to ‘above grade level.’”
              Any school administrator, board member, teacher or parent that does not rejoice, reaffirm, and reinforce such an outcome in any of their students needs to be dragged out and horsewhipped to an inch of their life.

  4. Actually, the 10 years/10,000 hour rule is really valid more for the amount “of practice to reach the top of ultracompetitive, easily ranked performance fields, like professional golf, music performance, or chess”, or Olympic sports for that matter.

    Otherwise, it only takes about 20 hours to learn a new skill well enough to begin actually using it. That’s the reason why you can start doing yoga, fencing, curling, skating, or skiing well enough to do them on your own after a few weeks of lessons. As you say, if you have a related skillset already, then the time is greatly decreased. (Think martial arts + skiing for leg strength, balance, and quick thinking.)

    And yeah, I recognized the little toe exercise from the Dune series. IIRC that was from “Children of Dune.” That one I can do. The visual perception hand exercise reminds me of some of the Rosicrucian’s exercises and several of those I still haven’t been able to get.

    I suspect in the realm of writing that most of us aspiring to be good written story tellers; if we paid attention to writing, grammar, sentence structure, etc. in school, actually did well in English classes, and have done well in all other writing assignments during high school, college, and various jobs, are already at least halfway there.

    One other point to bring up. My old Tae Kwon Do instructors always used to say that practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Or as my last fencing instructor said, you practice the wrong way, it takes 3 times longer to break the bad habits before you can start doing it right (and even longer for adults.)

    1. My old Tae Kwon Do instructors always used to say that practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

      This is a good point, and one I missed including. You have to know where your errors are, and sometimes you can’t tell, so you need someone outside to tell you.

      The 10,000 rule is to reach mastery, where, in a professional setting, you would be considered a skilled professional. Reaching the top requires more.

    2. My old Tae Kwon Do instructors
      Should have read the comments before opening my big yap tippet-tapping my fat fingers. Beat me to it by a long shot.

      1. I forgive you.
        Besides, we’re apparently thinking along the same lines.
        As long as we’re not in complete mental sync and communicating telepathically, the NSA won’t be concerned with either of us spilling secrets.

              1. Well, it does give me a first hand perspective to use for writing when the LAW confronts the protagonist, or the good guy in uniform confronts evil doers.

    3. “As you say, if you have a related skillset already, then the time is greatly decreased. (Think martial arts + skiing for leg strength, balance, and quick thinking.)”
      Back in the recent Dark Ages, I took a ballet class for exercise (no talent, no skill, but it beat jazzercise music IMO). One day, a young man showed up for class: he had 3 or 4 or more black belts in martial arts and was looking for something to improve his balance and flexibility.
      A year later he had moved to another city to join their ballet corps.

  5. Sounds a lot like training advice from Jerry Miculek.
    Watch him do a few fake draws and shots on three targets, then put on a blindfold, draw for real and hit the small targets, two shots each, faster and more accurate than most people could do without the blindfold.

        1. seems like we all are, though some is our brain relying on spell check and we re-read the post with the correct words in place, even when they are not on the screen.
          “Oh, look, A full paragraph with no red underlines! Cool!”
          hits enter
          Our brains hate us

  6. I am currently in the process of learning machine stenography (because it pays well, and is always in demand…if one is good at it). Because I’m poor, though, I’m doing the ‘self-taught’ approach.

    I realized early in (I started back in September, and it’s slow going, what with full time job, changing jobs, and a daily hour commute to and from) that years of piano and flute, as well as a certain natural bent towards languages have definitely given me an advantage in the muscle memory/learning the steno “language” department…but I’m running into the exact same issue I had as a piano player: namely, my easily-shattered focus.

    Just playing the piano, I was always fine. The minute someone started to sing along, however…and I was suddenly a tense, nervous wreck likely to screw up the playing. (My brief stint as my congregation’s accompanist was pure torture, and when they tried to offer it to me again a few years after as a calling, it was one of the few callings I have ever flat out said “NO” to.)

    I’m discovering the same issue with steno: the minute the audio starts, I’m ten times more likely to screw it up.

    But it’s like you said, Wayne: practice, practice, practice. And for the first time I have a compelling reason to overcome that particular weakness. But dang, is it hard. And I’m still breaking into a figurative sweat of panic at the idea of trying to do it, realtime, with someone speaking at full speed and with all the little foibles and hems and haws and ums that people stick into their speech. It’s gonna be worse than singers.

    But…practice. And maybe I’ll master it, and maybe I won’t.

    (I do worry about the bad habits, but…well, I can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for someone else to teach me their bad habits, heh.)

    1. Yeah, this kind of thing is one where you need to reach the point where you don’t think of the work itself AT ALL while you’re doing it. You need to get the fingers trained so well that the sentences just flow from them as you use your brain as a filter to determine what should go through and what can be ignored. Sounds like a long road. But I think that depending on the individuals, you can get some forgiveness for the need to ask for repeats once in a while.

      1. I spent a lot of years waiting for my fingers to get out of the way of the music. Shouldn’t have used DEX as my dump stat.

                1. Please be advised that, contrary to web advisory sites, sup ans /sup do not result in enclosed text appearing in superscript.

                  1. Sigh.

                    Make that “sup” ansd “/sup” and be aware that doing it in uppercase characters proves no more effective.

            1. Converted to skill points.

              Skill: Incoherent Rage (no buffs to damage or attack). Skill user gains -4/-4 Int and Wis, stacks with Ignore Reality; character begins to rant incoherently, frothing at the mouth. Characters without positive ranks in SJW will ignore you, point and laugh, or ask the authorities to remove you from the premises. Does not stack with “Speak in Tongues” skill from the Cultist class. Ex.: Trigglypuff.

              Skill: Ignore Reality (+2 synergy bonus to “Create Offense”). Skill user is impervious to skills in the Logic and Math trees. Reputation with Cultists improves, reputation with most other factions and classes decreases (see table). Ex.: talking plants (nonmagical).

              Skill: Create Offense (minor) (+2 synergy bonus to “Ignore Reality.”). Skill user can become offended by anything. Reputation with SJW factions (variable) may increase, or decrease, based on use. See: BLTGWTFBBQ internacine conflict. Offense may spread (Wis. difficulty: 5/10/20) to other allied/neutral/opposing SJW faction members. Cha bonus +2 effectively to successful checks, -4 to failed checks.

              Skill: Lie. Skill user tells a falsehood (Wis. difficulty based on faction chart (see table)). If the first lie is discovered, a second lie may be attempted at higher difficulty to cover up the first. High levels in this skill can win elections and topple governments.

              I could go on…

            1. Better name is WOK, perhaps.

              Just when I am trying to get off of the LitRPG kick I’ve been in lately. “Just one more novel, really! Oh. Well, there’s only ten books in that series…”

      2. Yeah, I’ve got a long way to go before I’m even ready to take the tests to qualify. 🙂

        I’m hoping, once I have some more knowledge of how to make more words/phrases/etc, to practice while watching tv. Police and/or legal procedurals would probably be best, but I figure anything will do.

      3. That’s like the difference between :”racing drivers” and “drivers of racing cars.” A racing driver doesn’t pay any conscious attention to braking points, apexes, shifting, or how the car feels; he’s watching ahead for passing points and behind to cut off overtaking traffic. The lizard brain does all the “driving the car” part.

  7. My dad always told me “They say practice makes perfect. But practice just makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

    Of course, “perfect” is hyperbole. But practicing the same wrong/poor techniques over and over just makes you more grounded in doing it wrong/poorly.

    1. Of course, “perfect” is hyperbole. But practicing the same wrong/poor techniques over and over just makes you more grounded in doing it wrong/poorly.

      This is why there are so many references to “unlearning bad habits” in a lot of places.

    2. ‘Cuz you are building pathways in your brain just the same as you are training physical muscles to operate in a certain sequence. Like addiction, brain pathways are tougher to “fix” because, like water in a river, it makes “ruts” where it’s easier to flow. Habits, in other words.

      Got to be careful with those. Habits grow. Can become tradition over time. What’s that they say about tradition? It’s stronger than law. Set good habits, and keep them, you’re golden. Set bad ones, and lady luck won’t find you so easily next time.

  8. After you’ve tried that a few times, try to curl your foot under as much as you can …

    Owwwww! Cramp! Cramp! Cramp! Cramp!!!!!

    Dude, I am at that age and stage of physical condition when it takes several hours every morning to NOT feel my body. Sinuses won’t pass air, neck is stiff, quads are tying themselves in knots and I’m not outta bed yet! I think I pulled an oblique reaching for the alarm and it feels like I dislocated my thumb turning it off.

    If it weren’t for the bladder I’d not get up. Climbing out of bed and to my feet is an exercise in cataloging which ankles and knees are starting the day with broken glass. And I think I’ve pulled a muscle in my groin.

    Oh well, at least the gout hasn’t retur … owwwwwwwwwww.

      1. I do get some looks of puzzlement when I, at times, make the claim that life or consciousness can be described as the ability to sense pain.

        Hoof curling? And no, that is not a bizarre winter sport. At least I hope not.

      2. For various values of working, yes. Signal strength in some areas needs to be dialed down to background and some balancing of systems need adjustment so that progress is not characterized by the lurch.

    1. “I am at that age and stage of physical condition when it takes several hours every morning to NOT feel my body.”

      I know. First wake up. Nothing hurts, until I move. So, before moving it is little movements of each muscle to see what might cooperate if stretched enough to allow me to move … oh the joys of getting older. Oh well, the alternative is less fun. For you youngsters. Getting old ain’t for sissies.

    2. Similar pains, mostly different joints. Osteoarthritis can do a damned good job masquerading as gout. My warfarin dosing assumes 2 tabs of ibuprofen daily. My sympathies, O Wallaby.

      1. Appreciated, but as you are aware it is generally better to feel the pain than to be beyond it. It is amazing what levels of pain to which we can become accustomed. I lived with back spasms for over a decade and when my chiropractor finally got me straightened out I was amazed at the amount of pain I’d relegated to “background.” With what I know of warfarin’s dietary restrictions I would hate to have to take that cure.

        I’ve experienced migraines, as well, and well understand why neolithic man was willing to let a shaman bore a hole through his skull. Gout was a reason to not keep gun nor knife bedside as there were times the weight of sheet on toe would have mandated immediate forceful removal and refection on alternate action later. Happily, my doctor has not only gotten me onto sufficiently different diet as to render revisiting old friend Gout unlikely but claims to know of prescriptions less drastic that amputation.

        I know I am assured a perfected body in the next life but I am not promised I can take my unfinished reading along so I am trying to catch up before I go.

        1. The AFIB is getting to the point where something will have to be done. It’s stress-triggered, and while my eyes appreciate the work (part of which is to ensure the retinas don’t detach), they don’t help the AFIB.

          AFIB is fixable with an ablation procedure. Sounds gruesome; the catheter goes in at the leg to the relevant portions of the heart (there’s an open-heart version, but no thanks), and they’ll zap the pathways that are causing the fibrillation.

          As usual for our rural county, the specialists are limited in what they can do, so the AFIB specialist is over the Cascades. I have to research the stuff better, but it looks like another few-day’s stay at the hotel will let me go there, recover, and come back.

          The good news is that if the AFIB is gone, I don’t need the warfarin. I’d hope. I miss my spinach, but having to eat it every day would drive me crazy.

          The arthritic toe pain had pretty much the same symptoms as gout, including the sheet issues. The doctor tried the definitive tests for gout, and came up dry for crystals. X-ray told the story. Not much I can do for repair, but If I watch my salt and minimize my beef intake, it’s manageable with the ibuprofen. My hands are somewhat less affected, but the potter’s wheel I built is now in pieces, to be repurposed as other things. I’ve seen what arthritis can do to a potter’s hands. Yikes!

  9. Ah, so that’s where my missing students from last week turned up! Shoo them back my way, please.

    Learning where my body was made airplane repair easier – if you are working bent over, or twisted so you can fit into a tiny nook in the dark inside of the tail-cone of an airplane, you have to keep in mind 1) what you are doing 2) where the parts are 3) where the things to avoid are and 4) which way “out” is. And “up” may be “down” relative to the usual position of the plane (if in parts, or you are twisted around enough).

    1. And it’s kind of alarming if something happens to confuse your sense of place/position/orientation. Twice I have taken tumbles that left me not able to immediately see anything identifiable, scrambled my semicircular canals, and put me into a body jumble that was hard to sort out. Didn’t get hurt (first time was because at the age I was then, I was limber as a cat, and second time was in gym class and the fall was onto very thick cushions), but boy was I confused, especially the first time, when i finally realized that even though I was laying on the back of my shoulders, my knees were touching the ground next to my head.

    2. Reminds me of a passage in Stephanie Osborn’s Division One Book Five: Trojan Horse only Echo was doing it with a banged up shoulder and busted legs.

      (I have noticed that the author has managed to put her Echo and Omega both through the fire and in some uncomfortably tight spots … all in the interest of some excellent story tell I might add.)

    3. FWIW, in working in tight can’t-see-it places, I have to visualize by feel. Learned it working on cultivators. Will sometimes close my eyes to help “see” the part, my fingers, and where other parts are.

      1. That reminds me – I have occasionally wondered if the physical act of closing one’s eyes makes it easier to visualize, or if it is merely the reduction in external stimulation that does it, but I swear it seems to me that it’s easier for me after closing my eyes even when it’s completely dark.

  10. I guess I could practice my writing skills by commenting on blogs, or something. That counts, right?

    1. I hadn’t thought Tor was in the talent business.

      To paraphrase Erich Segal, “Being politically correct means never having to say you’ve talent.”

  11. Considering the underlying subject of this discussion, the “myth of talent” and the relative effects of talent and skill, it seems to me that talent, while innate, is subject to development and that skills are an acquired characteristic.

    The simplest expression of their interaction is that skill is a force multiplier of talent. One can be successful with great talent and a little skill — which is why there are authors who are one-hit wonders or (commonly in SF/F) whose brilliant ideas overcome their pedestrian writing. There are, similarly, authors who churn out well-crafted book after book with consummate readability and zero substance. These tend to be reliable bestsellers who wholly disappear within a generation (e.g., Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Suzanne.)

    Looking over a writer’s career one can often graph their development, watching them refine skills while their ideas become increasingly jejune or predictable. Success has a way of locking an artist into patterns which, over time, become ever more skillfully produced while ever more artistically replicative.

    Some artists, of course, possess talent and skill in abundance, and can even begin with great craft and persist in finding new things to say and more entertaining ways of saying them. Such writers may not be recognized until generations after they’ve died — almost every “classic” writer recognized today as great went through a period of neglect. As well, some writers may craft their works with such extreme skill that their effort is transparent, their skill invisible to all but the most perceptive of readers.

    Talent can be developed, informed, refined but rarely is it increased. But its presence can facilitate the development of skill, of craft, of command which is to the glittering stone of talent as the diamond cutter’s effort.

  12. My neighbour, who is in his sixties and works four day week as truck driver, built his own home last year between March and November. Built two bedroom bungalow by himself with assistance from two son in laws when needed, he hired electrician, someone to pour concrete foundation and someone to do aluminum siding, other than that he did it all by himself. I couldn’t believe it, his dad built homes and when my neighbour was teenager he helped a lot so he remembered basics and watched YouTube videos if he needed help with something.

    1. Siding can be easier than people think. Like most things, it’s all in preparation. If you make a simple jig that spaces the next run up from the previous, it becomes much simpler. Takes pains in setting that first run, and the rest goes pretty smooth.

      OTOH, I’ve poured concrete, and I’d pay for someone else to do it, too.

      1. I kicked my self with Cheop’s Pumphouse. Built the stud walls in the barn, braced them, then moved to platform and raised. Put up siding, then remembered to check plumb and square. Oops.

        One of the things I learned from Tage Frid’s woodworking books; if you screw up and can”t redo it, there are ways to do a work around. Screwed up,. worked around. It’s done, solid, and not plumb or square, but not to the point where it affects anything. I don’t know if Grandpa Pete would be pissed or proud. I suspect he’d understand, though.

  13. Okay. I’m taking your bit about practice to heart. Thing is, I’m not ready to solo this plane yet; so I’m going to sandbox my writing in other people’s existing worlds. Yep, that means I’m going to practice by trying to write fan fiction. They provide the background setting, I provide the immediate local, situation, and unique characters. We’ll see if I can hold myself to 20 minutes of writing each night for a week (or more if this takes off with an idea.)

  14. Interesting. Star Wars mysticism is fictional crap, but I found myself remembering “There is no try; only do” (and the joke about two members of Yoda’s species discussing a boss to told them this and surmised “@!!$%*& he is”). But, as someone who was never highly coordinated, there is some truth to this. What made the biggest difference was glasses. I used to be able to switch hands digging (minor coordination), and, after getting glasses, drive nails with either hand (very handy in tight spots, but out of practice). Efforts to write with either hand is another story, but this is likely due to muscle memory.

    I cannot emphasize enough the change simply being able to see properly had. From that, focusing vision-wise on what I was doing helped tremendously. Bent nails become rare when you learn to focus your eyes on the nail of the head. Even using an ax becomes much simpler if you learn to look precisely where you wish to strike it (and if you keep a sharp blade).

    The point this uncoordinated individual is trying to make is that it’s possible to overthink something. Mentally rehearsing what you intend to do , particularly if have a clear visualization of it, is like a virtual tailgate session where you plan the job (and can occasionally reveal flaws in your original intent). But there comes a point were you must put it in action. In other words, you must do.

    The rest I pretty much agree with. Speed comes with experience. Concentrate on getting the job done right, and speed will come. When you learn muscle memory, tasks will become simpler, almost second nature. But, in the end, you must do.

          1. “Deliciously Flat Chest” – basically an appreciation for women that don’t have a huge rack and instead have a more modest decolletage. Some people like to associate it with lolicon, but it’s generally accepted that it encapsulates small to modest cup sizes (A-B, the smaller Cs maybe). Other attributes include being able to dress up as male and reasonably pass (which I’ve done a few times when I was younger, for safety reasons like traveling late at night.)

            For some amusement, look at the study mentioned here.

            Interestingly enough, the argument has spilled over to RL, where there have been bans on models who don’t have cleavage, because despite their actual age, are perceived as ‘underage’.

            1. Yes, I gathered that was the meaning you intended. So, the definition definitely does not include cosplayer Ivy Doomkitty. 🙂

              As for the modeling, I am divided. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s right to prevent someone from making an honest living, but on the other hand, I don’t think we want to encourage pedophiles.

              1. I don’t think that someone with a B cup is really ‘flat’. Or this model:

                Some women need to bear children first before they fill out. (See: Ce’Nedra from The Belgariad) Certainly, I can relate; though I am grateful that my breasts did not inflate the way some women’s seem to once childbearing begins. My genetics have saved me from a lifetime of back pain, it seems…

                1. That Victoria Secret model could have chosen any size she wanted. Hers have been enhanced. Silicon; it isn’t just for window sealant any more.

            2. In the USA the law is “innocent until proven guilty.” Unless it’s an accusation about impropriety with a minor, where it is now de facto “guilty until proven innocent.”

              1. *dry* Apparently, Rhys’ coworkers didn’t believe I am older than he is, when he showed them a photo to prove I existed. “Her passport lies. Also, I hate you.”

                Then to my endless amusement, if girls flirted with him instead (since he’d usually come along to be designated driver), those same blokes would howl “HE HAS A MISSUS, HE’S OFF LIMITS!”

                Girl: Really?

                “HE HAS CHILDREN TOO.”

                Girl: aw.

                1. “HE HAS A MISSUS, HE’S OFF LIMITS!”

                  You are undoubtedly aware that for a certain breed of female this constitutes irresistible bait: a male who somebody else has already made the effort to housebreak.

                  The presence of children — the peril of being a stepmother — will sometimes scare them off, especially if he seems to be of an income level for which child support would cause a material impairment in the material he can provide them.

                  1. Oh, I am well aware. Rhys is also aware, having seen a few of his coworkers’ marriages fall apart that way. But since he is the sort that looked forward to the day to day mundanity of a marriage and fatherhood, the ‘excitement’ holds no appeal. (He calls such women ‘landmines.’)

            3. I’ve long been of the opinion that the “package” doesn’t matter nearly as much as the personality contained within and their willingness to let me unwrap and play with presents.

              Whether you look like George or Amal, if you’re carrying their political baggage I would lose interest quickly. Life is more than sexual combustibility.

            1. I think a lot of us, if not a majority, did? I think that I give more clicks to the Urban Dictionary than I do to Oxford English…

              BTW, I knew a DFC in college. Girlfriend of my roommate, not mine. Hypoglycemia (non-diabetic) may have had something to do with that. Pretty much, as soon as sugar hit her system, it got converted straight to energy, she had a very hard time gaining weight anywhere no matter what she tried. Which may have caused me to think of Distinguished Flying Cross at first – my very large, very fit farm boy roommate could hardly keep up with her.

              1. That was my thing too, until I took antidepressants – the ‘mildest’ ones. They really messed with my endocrine system. Until then, I never had to diet or work hard to lose baby weight. I think I inherited that from my Dad actually, who was something of a workaholic…

              2. Hypoglycemia (non-diabetic) may have had something to do with that.

                I dunno. My wife had hypoglycemia due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, and she was very well-endowed.

                Which was odd, because i tended to prefer Brunette’s with small-to-medium breasts and wound up marrying a big-breasted blonde.

                1. Strange – that’s my story. Weird how that works sometimes; what men (and women, too, from what I’ve heard) end up making commitments to those who aren’t their “ideal” of beauty. (For some reason, the particular big-breasted blonde is still the most beautiful woman I’ve seen, though.)

                  My friend’s girlfriend, though, it was apparently genetic – she’d been diagnosed as hypoglycemic since she was eight, not after hormones started working.

                    1. So far as I know (and I’m not that old yet), I have not had the pleasure of meeting the estimable Mr. Daniel Hoyt, who persuaded a good Portuguese girl to cross the waters and become an official American – and then to pursue a writing career for his encore. Someday…

                      Okay, I know the convincing to move probably didn’t take all that much effort – but I’m still grateful.

                    2. I’ve long adored the Fiat Spyder …

                      … but for navigating through life’s curves, storm and snow I rely upon a different set of criteria.

                    3. You’d have liked one of my friends from high school. Tall, thin, fairly handsome, freckled red-head. Alas, the curse of the older Irish got him. He’s totally grey now.

                2. “Hypoglycemia (non-diabetic) may have had something to do with that.”

                  I have Reactive Hypoglycemia. Now when younger, when I thought I was over weight & wasn’t (5’4″ 125 ~ 132), & less endowed, might have agreed with you. Condition hasn’t changed, one kid latter, much older, definitely overweight (5’4″ still, & 265 @ highest) down to 205 ~ 214, breaking that stupid 200# mark is being a pain in the tush (figurative & actual). That I sat at a desk writing software for 35 years without regular exercise during the week didn’t help (if I wasn’t working, I lost weight, otherwise, just gained it back). Active on Vacations & involved with Scouting monthly outings, but regular during the week, no. As for the “girls”. I tell hubby I figure he’s got 2 choices: I can be heavy & have them or skinny, healthy & won’t. He wants me healthy, bless his heart. FYI. I blame the hard to loose weight on the pioneering ancestors, they stored it away for a less harvest time. I swear the less I eat the more I gain.

  15. Here’s a stupid human trick for your pistol practice (I got it from a gun-nut LEO):

    Use your trigger finger to manipulate the button on the end of a click-pen. Apparently this helps you develop… something related to trigger pull and trigger reset (maybe? It’s been a while since I’ve thought of or tried this one)

    1. That would help train your finger to do the motion automatically, rather than having to think about it. The best way to make that help, though, would be to deliberately curl your finger into the position it would be in on the trigger, and pull it the exact same way. Otherwise, you can train the wrong muscles and wind up pulling the trigger in an unfamiliar way, causing you to feel like something is wrong.

    2. Wonder if that is why I never had the trigger jerk problem to deal with when learning pistol. I used to do that in elementary school when totally bored (meaning most of the day). Then, when finally yelled at, getting it to just before it would click.

      Totally different break points, of course – but the “smooth motion” habit maybe carried over.

  16. I taught myself to touch-type Russian that way – one row at a time. Tap out the keys on my leg as I walked around doing other things. фывап got very boring, but I can still do it. The right hand, top row is gone, though.

    1. At one time I could pick my way through (very simple) Japanese, and was making an effort toward at least recognizing characters in Mandarin.

      I bounced off Russian more than once. Transliterated into Roman characters it’s messy. But in Cyrillic it’s simply hateful. Something in by brain simply rejects Russian.

  17. I got rather good at touch typing Koine Greek when I was studying it, on of the advantage of computers — you can install alternate alphabets.

  18. Good advice. It’s very close to what I learned from many instructors when learning to play the bagpipes, and learning the different embellishments (lookin at you taorluath)
    Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
    Perfect practice makes perfect.
    One bad practice takes 10 perfect ones to erase.
    and yes, I could practice my finger wiggles on #2 pencils, some pens, steering wheels..
    Several thousand correct wiggles allows you to produce the right wiggle at the right time. Couple hundred thousand and you can play at speed.

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