April 12, 2015 - In the beginning, there are letters. They are shapes, and those shapes represent sounds, and those shapes and sounds represent two methods of communication.
We spend a lot of time in the beginning learning these letters — often without any larger picture. We know that these shapes help us spell, but we don’t dive into what it means to spell. We just do it.
The letters are tools. They are tools that help us create words. D-O-G. R-U-N. Good job. Here’s something else to spell.
But soon, words allow us to form sentences. And sentences allow us to take part in a language — a shared understanding of what things are and what they mean. We learn how to use words by using all of them we know — we write and we write and we end up with too many words, probably, because that’s what early writing is. Using everything at our disposal as if we’re playing gin, our score lessened by the cards we never used.
This is how we learn. We get the tools. We figure out how to use them.
As a content strategist, I spent a lot of time in the beginning learning about content audits and style guides. I defined the landscape around me by reading everything I could, creating a gigantic document, and putting my new knowledge to work. I wanted definition to shape my expectations. I struggled to find the edges of the industry.
Once we’ve found those edges, though? That’s when things get dangerous. We know all of the tools, but we haven’t quite learned how they interact. We know the terms, but we don’t know how to adapt them on the fly.
We know what we can do, but we don’t know what we should do.
There are two or three jumps we make as professionals within our field, where the learning curve veers sharply. There’s the initial ramp up of knowledge, and there’s the point when knowledge no longer helps — where we know all we can know. We have no more words to write. It’s time to edit.
I find that over the past decade, tools I thought would become standard pieces of my repertoire are nothing more than vestigial organs, their use superseded by either a streamlined process or a better tool.
Kill your darlings, they say. So I do just that.
This is how we learn. We figure out how to use the tools. And then we learn how to let them go.