12 September 2011

The More You Know...

So, I was catching up on my blog reading the other day and came across this post by Natalie Whipple - Have You Seen My Confidence Lately? It Ran Off. I read it, and went - wow, have I been there. The last year-and-a-bit has been one big long episode of I-have-no-confidence. Other than the fact that I was sick for at least 3/4 of last year, which seriously screwed with my mental abilities, for some reason, finishing Sanctuary was like holding up a metal rod to the Electrical Storm of Doubt.

Which is stupid, because Sanctuary was the easiest book I've ever written - less than 3 months, start to finish, which for me is pretty jolly awesome. Especially since I had a sisterous wedding and started working full time in the middle of that.

But for some bizarre reason, that's kind of WHY I started freaking out over writing. After writing a book that was so easy, all of a sudden everything else I tried to write seemed hard. Yeah, okay, I was spiralling into health-induced depression too, but it was more than that. It was like I developed this fear that if something was hard to write, it must be awful - and since everything was hard to write, clearly everything I was writing was awful.

So I didn't. And then what with dealing with the health issues and whatnot, by the time I had *brain* again to start writing, I felt like I was back at the very beginning again, trying to convince myself that I really truly could write a first draft, and that no, it didn't matter if it was terrible (only it did, because by now, I'd totally failed at my first attempt to revise Jesscapades too, which added to everything else the lingering suspicion that I'd never actually be able to fix any of my drafts).

Slowly, slooooooowly, I got back into the swing of things, and started rewriting Jesscapades. And then I went and decided to grow a parasitical minion inside my own body, which sapped all my available brainpower :P

But the other day, I came across this awesome wiki article. I can't remember how I stumbled on it, but it really hit the spot, and although it's an appeal to the logic circuits rather than the emotional centre, I found it really quite comforting. It's about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which in essence boils down to that lovely pithy truism, "The more you know, the more you know you don't know." I.e., the more proficient you become at something, the more likely you are to think you suck, because you assume EVERYONE has that base level of proficiency, and you can see full well just how far you fall short of perfect.

How is that comforting? Well, it means that if I'm doubting my ability, I'm objectively speaking more likely to actually be competent in that area. If I'm sailing along thinking everything is fantastic and that I am amazing, it's most likely that I simply don't realise just how crap I am. So doubt is awesome, because it means we're on the right track. As long as we don't let it overcome us, of course.

And you know what? I think I actually have improved. I picked up Jesscapades again last night, because I'm determined to fix the thing by hook or by crook... And, yes, there's stuff that still doesn't work - but there are things that do. I haven't fixed all the problems - but I've fixed some.

So next time you start feeling dismal about your own work - remember to take a break, and read about the Dunning-Kruger effect *grin*


Mirja said...

Arrg, that is so relevant to my life at large!

I was talking with a friend (more like breaking down with a friend over lunch) about the difference between 'knowing' something and 'feeling' something. For example, I 'know' that it's good/strong to talk about emotions and stuff, but I 'feel' that it's bad/weak. The thing is, it makes a difference. That difference changes the way you describe things. I was talking to someone else today about being a study mentor (insert long back story) at uni, I 'know' that I'd be good at it and could give a lot to the position, but I don't 'feel' that way, so am currently in the mindset of not applying. The point I'm trying to make here, is that 'knowing' you can write well, or do anything well, isn't the same as 'feeling' that you can.

As for the thinking that everyone has the same knowledge base part, I find that super frustrating. Eurgh.

Botanist said...

That thought resonates with me too. Some critique comments make me doubt whether I am doing anything right at all, and sometimes writing is hard work.

I just keep reminding myself that, simply in completing a (draft of) a novel, I've achieved something that most of the world population never will.

Amy Laurens said...

Mirja - Totally hearing you. What you know and what you feel/believe are so hard to reconcile sometimes. If you figure out an easy strategy for this, let me know o.0 :D

Botanist - Exactly. Sometimes you just have to shove the doubts aside and pour logic all over them and set them on fire >:) Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist deals with that concept a bit; "You can't trust your heart", I think it says, heart being the feeling/believing bit.

*encouragement and confidence cookies* for us all, methinks :D

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