Well it's 2012 and I've been resisting the urge to make resolutions. Instead I've been thinking about setting goals for the year, the main one being to keep my bum on the seat and fingers on the keyboard for longer. The only way to write better... is to write more.
Which made me think back to many years ago and a particularly good riding instructor I knew, who was trying her best to turn me into a dressage rider. From what I remember she was trying to teach me something relatively simple, like a shoulder-in. Now I know women are supposed to be able to multi-task, but when it came down to coordinating two arms, two legs and my body weight in a new way I was struggling. I knew 'what' I wanted to do, but the 'how' was something my brain (and muscles) couldn't cope with. And I think it's much the same with writing - we know what a story needs: a sassy heroine, a hunk of a hero, strong GMC - it's all in our heads but getting it down on paper can be difficult. So avoidance strategies take over.
My very wise riding instructor told me that to learn something new, so that it becomes automatic, can take thousands of repetitions. Not just the odd hour and twenty attempts, but day after day of trying until *click* one day you can do it without thinking. She also introduced me to the Four Stages of Learning (Maslow, Burch), which applied to my dressage training, but also applies to my journey as a writer.
The first stage is what I think of as blissful ignorance (Unconscious Incompetence) - when you don't know that you don't know how to do something. You love reading books, you are sure you can write one as good, or better, than the one you've just read. Its easy, yes? Well no, you've not even started to learn yet. (This could be a good place to stop!).
The second stage is when you realise you don't know how to do something (Conscious Incompetence). You've sped through the first two chapters (or paragraphs) of your WIP and grind to a halt. Which for many people is the point at which they recognise that this writing game is harder than it's cracked up to be and it's a good point to pack it in and learn pilates instead.
Now the third stage is where it gets interesting. You know how to do something (Conscious Competence)! It isn't easy and requires a lot of concentration. To actually write your story requires a lot of planning, a lot of thought, a lot of editing. But some of what you write is good and you have the knowledge and skills to get to 'The End'.
So what is stage four? That is the envious stage when it just comes naturally (Unconscious Competence). When the words flow and the story can take shape without conscious effort (not sure that is possible!), when you can achieve the daily word count that proficient writers need to and you can teach other people how to craft a story.
Learning new skills comes more easily to some people than others, but the starting point for everyone is to recognise what we don't yet know, what we need to learn, and then we have to practise over and over until one day everything drops into place and we can't remember why we couldn't do it in the first place.
And that shoulder-in? Yes, I got it... in the end!