That's right children, we are going to take my bachelors degree in psychology and put it to good use (and it's about damn time!).
I'm probably not the first person to make this connection from psychology to writing. (Okay, okay, I'm DEFINITELY not the first person to make this connection).
In the 1970's, a gentleman named Noel Burch came up with a model of learning that involved four separate stages that one had to pass through in order to learn a skill. And holy cow, was he dead on. If I hadn't endeavored to become a writer, I might not have ever had the opportunity to recognize and experience these levels on such an intimate level, and I'm sure all of you writers out there can appreciate the different stages and recognize which one you are in, or have just moved out of.
Here they are (from the Wikipedia page)
- Unconscious Incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill.
Sound familiar? I know you've all read about how I thought it was just going to be a breeze to write a novel and get published in my what the eff is a meme post. I was sadly disillusioned, but luckily, with the help of critique partners such as the lovely and brilliant Mary Baader Kaley I quickly moved from this stage to the next.
- Conscious Incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
Yes! This is a great stage (even though it can majorly suck. I realize I just contradicted myself, and I make no apologies). The realization that, "Hey, I'm not brilliant!" is both humbling and eye opening. And important! Even though you suddenly hit rock bottom (which is brutal from the prior stage of *thinking* you're at the top in terms of competence) remember, the bottom is often the best place to be. The only direction you can move is up.
3. 3. Conscious Competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
Another great, although brutal stage. At this point, you can write well. You know you can write well. And a bonus: You aren't incompetent! You've probably taken some classes, bonded with crit groups or made some crit partners/beta readers, attended a conference or two, or written one (or more) novels. But even so, to create something readable or saleable, you have to work for it.You have to write more than one draft and incorporate some serious editing and revising.
- Unconscious Competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
Where we want to be. Where we should be striving to be. Forget finding an agent, getting published, making millions, or meeting Ryan Gosling at the movie premiere for my novel and having him fall desperately in love with me (*cough* where on Earth did THAT come from?!).
Focus on this: writing a great story. Because truly great stories are *almost always* written by writers at this level. Of course, there's always the exception. The writer who hits it out of the ballpark on the first - or second - shot, the Babe Ruth's, the Mozart's, the Stephen King's, the truly brilliant. The ones who worked and reworked and reworked AGAIN the story they had to tell. And then there's the rest of us. The ones who have to really work for it. And that's okay, because it's a great ride and a great lesson that you can pass onto your children, friends, family, coworkers, etc. The most challenging things in your life are the same things that are the most satisfying.
I think I am somewhere in between Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence.
How about you? What level do you think you're at? Any stories or tips from those who have reached a competent level? Share!
And good luck on your journey :)