Over a year ago, Jodi Meadows shared the following with me: (She doesn't take credit for it, but also doesn't remember where she learned it. If you know the original author, please share.)
In our pursuits, we move through four distinct levels of competence:
LEVEL 1: Unconscious incompetence (Our work sucks and we have no idea that our work sucks)
Most (if not all) first-time novelists fall into this category. It's why they dissolve in tears or explode in anger if anyone points out the tiniest fault in the Masterpiece.
LEVEL 2: Conscious incompetence (Our work sucks and we know it sucks)
A wonderful transformation occurs when we REALIZE our work sucks, because then we can start working to make it NOT SUCK. Miss Snark's legendary critique of my first page is what propelled me into Level 2.
LEVEL 3: Conscious competence (Our work is good, but it takes a conscious effort to make it good)
In other words, we know what we're doing now, but we still have to think about it.
LEVEL 4: Unconscious competence (Our work is good and we don't have to think about it to make it happen)
The level of "arrival." Seriously. I'm pretty sure people like Marian McPartland (jazz pianist) and Yo Yo Ma (cellist) fit into this category.
I'm at Level 3. Sometimes I DESPAIR of the anguish of clean plotting and the hair-pulling tedium of worldbuilding. WHY can't this come easily for me? WHY do I adore writing when it brings me so much PAIN during the process?
All the same, I'm thankful to be here. Things happen--especially while I'm editing or revising--that remind me I know what I'm doing. I'll spot an extraneous prepositional phrase and strike it out before it has a chance to protest. I notice a dialogue beat at the end of a line of dialogue and quickly move it to the front. (Okay. When this happens, I actually hear Holly Bodger scolding me in my subconscious.) And sometimes I'll read a passage or scene or chapter and actually get swept up by the story. Makes me feel sort of dorky, but there you have it.
Also? Just this morning, I found a small Jodi-ism in my novel. Which is proof that you'd better surround yourself by, get critiqued by, and READ good writers. Because despite the fact that you've got your own voice and style, you WILL be influenced by what you read.
So. What's your level of competence? If you're not sure, ask a trusted critique partner. I think this blog is high on the "Level 3" meter, for sure. And I don't think any of you are Level 1, or you wouldn't be here trying to improve your writing!
Fascinating stuff. And now, back to finishing the draft o'love (which goes out to my readers next week!).