I’m not sure about everyone else, but for me it’s easy to be pulled into investing in shiny new tools when learning a skill.
When I picked up running, I heard about all the gadgets: smart watches, GPS, pricey shoes, running shirts, running shorts, head bands, wrist bands, armbands for your phone, apps for your phone, app subscriptions, virtual running coaches, and many more. Where do you start?
I’ve found writing to be the same. There are computer programs to write your first draft and others for editing; there are spelling/grammar checkers and analyzers that give you metrics for the whole manuscript (overused words, redundancies, glue words, etc.). But don’t forget about the research, plotting, and planning stages, each having their own array of tools you can choose from.
Most skills, whether for professional development or leisure, have the same problem. I want to become a proficient writer/artist/tennis player/bowler. What do I actually need?
Here’s something I’ve learned from trial and error—start with the bare minimum, preferably with tools that cost you little to no financial resources.
How many stories are there of professional baseball players (especially in years gone by) who learned to swing a bat with a stick? Or mastered the throw from third base to first with a tattered and water-logged baseball? Of course talent is a factor, but learning to play is more an investment in time than tools. A person could buy the most expensive equipment and hire the best trainers, but if he doesn’t take the often grueling time to learn the basics, all of those monetary investments will be a waste.
I think the same goes for any skill, especially if you’re just getting started. Google Docs is probably fine if you want to write; it may not be as feature-rich as the tools designed for novel writing, but it will fit most of your needs. For running, an inexpensive pair of shoes from Walmart will get you started on your 5K journey. Thinking of a little home improvement project? That old drill your dad gave you will work just fine.
As you invest more time in your skill, you’ll know first-hand which tools you need to become better and also which ones are superfluous. I’ve found that Google Docs still works for writing my first draft, but in the first editing stages, I’ve used other tools to help me find overused words and phrases. Those Walmart shoes were great for running 5K’s and 10K’s, but for a trail run or a half-marathon, I found more specialized shoes on eBay. And there’s nothing like driving a screw with an impact driver instead of a standard drill.
Don’t be afraid of investing in tools, but don’t be hasty to purchase them either. Learn with the minimum first, then harness those skills to find the right tools for the job.