Friday, September 6, 2013

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

From the Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.[1]

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."

Speaking in any reasonable or objective terms, I'm doing better as a writer in the last twelve months or so than I had in years previous- sales, contests, personal rejections, the like- but I don't think I've ever felt less confident about it. I'm aware of why this is- in short, I used to be more stupid than I am now.
The first year of this blog has the temerity to be full of writing advice. When I had sold one story. It's not even bad advice, really, I just feel silly for having given it.

I'm getting better at editing. Not actually good, but better. I'm looking back over the old things, and banging some of them slowly into a more pleasing shape. There's nothing like getting down into the grit of sentence-level craft for seven thousand words to make one feel like a clueless hack. And sometimes a little exhausted. I've sent off things I knew weren't as good as they could be, because I was very tired and I couldn't figure out how to make them better.

In some ways I have the frustrating feeling of being on the edge of some obscure sort of "leveling up"- that there's an insight that's going to seem painfully obvious in retrospect crouched just outside my vision, and if I can just catch it, pin it down, everything will click into place. I know that's silly. But I feel sometimes like a mediocre juggler who's been given twice as many balls as they're capable of keeping in the air.

I've been reading Nick Mamatas's Starve Better, which is excellent and comes with my thorough recommendations. I also picked up and thumbed through the Artist's Way, which keeps being obliquely recommended to me, and appears to be full of everything I don't believe about writing.

Which is why I'm going to do it.

I took an ink painting class once. At the time, what I really wanted to draw was comic book and animation style stuff- human figures in action poses and the like. Instead I spent four months doing bamboo and chrysanthemums, and my ability to draw human figures in action poses has never improved more swiftly than it did in those months. There are insights that are not within my field of vision. It would be silly of me not to look elsewhere. (I don't expect my opinions about art and craft to have changed by the end of this, but I do intend to give it an honest go.)

I want to be good at what I'm trying to do here, and I don't feel like I am- not the way I want to be. I know that I feel farther away because the journey this far has left me better able to judge the distances, and I'm painfully aware how much I probably still don't know.

But here's to trying, right?

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