Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Acquiring competence

Both truepenny and matociquala have been making interesting observations about writing recently. (Well, to be honest, they do it most of the time, but these two posts caught my eye because they fitted with stuff I've been thinking about recently.)

In this post to Storytellers Unplugged, truepenny says:

Theories of expertise talk about moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence. But my problem is that I seem to have gotten two of the steps reversed.

To be honest, I don't think that sequence ever works for something as complex as writing. If you're talking about a particular skill, such as mastering a tennis serve, I expect it works fine. At first you just have a go, throw up the ball and hit it any old how. Sometimes it'll go over the net and end up where it should, sometimes it won't. Then someone gives you some coaching and you try to practice what you've been taught, but though you now know what you should be doing, the body hasn't taken it into muscle memory, so though you know what you're doing, the results are hardly any better. Next, you reach the, "By George, she's got it!" stage, but you're still having to think and then, finally, you realise that you can just do it without noticing exactly how.

But for writing?

Certainly in my case the progress was much more erratic. It went something like: unconscious incompetence with occasional flashes of promise (juvinilia); mostly unconscious incompetence intermingled with occasional unconscious competence (first sales); conscious incompetence all mixed up with unconscious competence and the occasional total failure achieved by a mixture of methods and...

Well, that's the stage I'm at really and I expect that's where I'll stay, though the proportion of successes to failures might shift in favour of there being more good stories and fewer stinkers.[*]

I actually doubt whether it's really possible to write a story completely consciously. When creating the characters, inventing cool background details and devising the plot, at least some of it will surely end up just turning up on the page without conscious thought? And even if all those things are consciously constructed, the actual sentences have to flow without consciously thinking about every word or the whole thing would take far too long to be enjoyable or profitable.

Which brings me to matociquala's post, also at Storytellers Unplugged about Think about what you're doing, not about how you're doing it.

She says: Lately, I’ve been struggling with how to stop thinking in detail about my writing, and just let it happen.

I need to get back to that stage too. I've done enough reflecting and now I need to just write. I'll have to hope that my Unconscious Writer Brain has internalised everything I've been chewing over during these past months, but more reflecting is not going to make me a better writer.

I've been glancing over some of the stuff I wrote last year during my stint in novel_in_90 when I was just writing flat out, achieving 750 words on 5 or 6 days a week, and you know what, it isn't too bad at all and I wasn't thinking about how I was writing, there wasn't time.

To write well, you have to stop worrying about writing well and just do it.

[*] Interestingly, the photography has followed a very similar pattern. I took some really good shots as a teenager, mostly intuitively. I still take awful ones now, but thankfully I can delete them! But the percentage of good (rather than merely OK) photos is increasing.
Tags: writing, writing reflection

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