If you think you’re a terrible writer…

it may be a sign that you’re not.

I was discussing this with Mirien the other day, both of us observing that we’d known some really poor writers who were convinced they were geniuses, and some really wonderful writers who needed to be encouraged every step of the way, and were always on the verge of giving up, because they thought they were rubbish.

Nathan Bransford is discussing this phenomenon on his blog today: You tell me – why is it so hard to tell if our writing is good?  And one of the commenters there suggested something I’d never heard of before

The Dunning-Kruger effect

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes.[1] The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the perverse situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence: because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.

(Copied from Wikipedia)

I would have said that the unskilled don’t know what mistakes they’re making, and therefore think that they aren’t making any.  As a writer (or other craftsperson) becomes more knowledgeable, they begin to understand all the places where they could be getting it wrong, and to sense all the places where they could be getting it more right if only they were better writers than they currently are.  Therefore, it’s the people who know something about what they’re doing, who will be convinced that they’re doing it badly.

The only cure for this affliction, I guess, is to carry on doing it regardless, becoming more and more aware of how badly you’re failing to reach perfection, until eventually you give up (whatever artistic endeavor it is) altogether, kill yourself, or become resigned to creating (what you see as) substandard work. I don’t know whether there’s a happy ending to this one!

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14 years ago

I forget who exactly said it, but there’s a famous quote about how any work of art is never finished, only abandoned. I certainly feel like that about my own writing…

Clare London
14 years ago

My God. At last, a scientific name for it :).
But what an interesting – and, I suspect, very true – observation.

Not sure I like the idea of spiralling down into my own insecurities (though I can picture that happening, right now LOL) but like you say, not sure where the HEA is here.

Is this a prime example of Ignorance is Bliss?! 🙂

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