Henry James famously advised writers to "Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost." Alas, plenty of things sail right past me. I can claim, however, that I make immense use of the little that I notice. Let me pay serious attention to something and I'll chew at it until it looks like something the rats have been at.
All that by way of talking about my ankle yet again. (And about writing. Just bear with me a second here.) I'm walking around again, with the occasional wince, and I'm finding that I don't quite remember how I went about it all these years.
About 15 years ago, I returned from overseas with something that progressed into a nasty bout of encephalitis, and I temporarily forgot how to do pretty much everything--speak distinctly, walk, pick things up. At one point I found myself sitting on the toilet, pants down around my ankles, without the slightest idea in the world how I had usually stood up from that position. I knew I had always somehow grabbed my pants and pulled them up in the process of rising--but how? I don't recall when I learned to do this, and don't clearly recall a time when I couldn't, but for a very long moment I sat there trying to work it out.
Performing this action was a struggle for a couple of months. Now it's safely reinstated as an automatic piece of my wetware, and I'm once more not sure how I go about it. Some acts--like tightrope-walking--aren't improved by thinking about mechanics during the execution.
Writing is one of those sorts of activities. Thinking too hard about how the writing is crafted while writing results in all kinds of hesitations and stumbles. We're all happiest when it flows.
Many writers I meet are reluctant to think about issues of craft. In some cases, I'm guessing they like to think of the process as magical and don't want reason intruding on it. But I believe many of the others are fearful that if they think about the process--even when they aren't at the desk--they'll make themselves stumble and even fall.
There's something to be said for the theory that improving your practice can result in a major setback, at least initially. I'd certainly be able to type faster if I used all ten fingers, for example (I do most of this with my the index and middle finger on my right hand and my index finger and thumb on my left). But I've tried to learn real typing, and I'd have to slow w-a-a-a-y-y-y down before learning the new technique could make me faster. I hear this principle applies to many sports activities, such as swinging a golf club--if you learned to do it in a suboptimum way originally, you may have to suffer a decline in performance before you can learn new, better habits.
Now, I don't claim there's an exact analogy between physical coordination skills and writing, but I've sometimes discovered that there are, if not better ways of attacking a writing, at least many alternative ways of coming at a problem. When we start out, I think most of us are simply doing our best to do what we can do to tell the story. Later, when we acquire more skills, we begin to worry more about the optimum way to tell the story--and the more experienced you become, the more possible approaches you can see.
Trouble is, of course, if I drop my tried-and-true approach (I mistyped that as 'tired-and-true' the first time, which would be equally applicable) for something I haven't attempted before, I can find myself in the position of learning to walk all over again. Some people's resistance to thinking about craft may be nothing more than that: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
But most scribblers are also voracious readers, and the more we write, the more we are prone to notice how other writers tackle a problem--say, their approach to exposition, or how they deal with the passage of time, or shifts in POV. Not only do we all tend to admire precisely those techniques we haven't already mastered, but some of them look damn handy...
But it's often like starting all over again.
I seem to do that a lot. Do you?