Learning Curves

I used to be impressed with people when they claimed to be particularly intelligent. Now I know that if someone is intelligent, they are unlikely to say so. The most intelligent people I’ve ever met are most likely to downplay it. There is a psychological phenomenon that in general, the people who are least competent are the most confident. This is also known as the “Dunning-Kruger effect.”

This took me a long time to realize, I think, because I was so isolated in my little world of homeschooled people. I remember precious few times in my childhood where I met another kid who wasn’t homeschooled, and the interaction was brief. Moreover, my parents were my primary source of information, education, and explanation. The reason I bring this up, though, is not because others in my life have been overconfident. It’s because I have been the overconfident one.

When learning something new – anything at all – we all go through a frustrating process. It may be felt to different degrees of severity, but the sense is that we don’t “get it.” This can even lead to a sense of hopelessness, like we’ll never “get it.” As we observe and experience what a learning curve is, we realize that we will “get it,” with practice and effort. This may be an obvious thing to say, but personally I find it difficult to trust the learning process when I’m in the middle of feeling frustrated with it.

The most confident writers have written many, many books. They write like it’s nothing at all. I, too, have written many things like they’re nothing at all in my hubris. What’s terrifying is that such authors have large followings, with thousands or millions of book sales. Confidence sells. Confidence produces quantitative over qualitative content. Many people are impressed with those who claim to be intelligent, or who act as if they know what they’re talking about.

Lots of people are writers. So many. It might be one of the most occupied fields of them all. Writing is often the job people do in addition to the job that pays their bills. I don’t want to be a published writer. I want to be a good writer. I don’t want to merely get a book published. I want to write a good book. These are completely different things.

I say all this because here’s the thing: I am at a point where I am learning how to write, when I have spent over a decade thinking I already knew how. Like, yes, I knew how to put words in front of each other. I knew how to be conversational and emotional. That is not, however, all it takes to be a good writer. In fact, not even everybody who writes about how to write necessarily knows what they’re talking about.

The good news is that I’m on break between school quarters. I finished my first quarter of high school (!!) and will resume in mid-April. While I’m on break I’ll try to blog a few times, but let it be known: my confidence is not what it used to be. That’s a good thing, but I am learning anew how to put words together without a sense that I know what I’m doing. I never did, but it was easier when I didn’t know that.