From beginner to expert in 4 not-so-easy steps

Clearly, I still need to work on my starry-eyed self-aggrandizement. I was sure that video about editing would take off like a gasoline-fueled prairie fire, instantly spreading across the Internet and blogscape like the gospel of a new prophet. That would have been amazing, especially considering I've never done a video presentation of a writing concept before. (My Xtranormal video about getting on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" doesn't count, since that was just a script.)

Silly, I know, but whenever I try something new, there is a deep-rooted tendency to think that I'm gonna do it like it's never been done before. Were Wikipedia to have an entry for "happy, ignorant enthusiasm", I imagine my picture would be there, or there would at least be a link to my website as an archetypal example. Ridiculous.

based on Hersey & Blanchard, whoever the hell they are
Hang on, what's this?

Is this a dagger I see before me?

No! It's a wikipedia article about "happy, ignorant enthusiasm"! It doesn't have my picture, though, but it does have a very clear description of me and others like me.

It turns out, EVERYBODY starts out as happy, ignorant and enthusiastic, because they have no idea of the complexity of the thing they want to accomplish, be it writing great fiction, making really cool videos, sinking a free throw or anything else. On the chart to the right (click to zoom), that would be a D1 - high enthusiasm, low competence, and without a single fracking clue what they are letting themselves in for.

Of course, as soon as you start to do it (whatever "it" is), you have a better understanding of the process, and a much better understanding if you make a deliberate effort at studying how it's done. This can be self-guided study or as part of a formal degree program or course of instruction. Either way, it doesn't take long until you realize that, "hey, this thing I love and want to do a lot of? It's actually pretty damn difficult". Hence the stereotype of the bitter graduate student, a classic D2. You now understand the problem; you just lack the skills to solve them. "Enthusiasm? What's that? Oh, yeah, I remember being happy... once."

The next step is where things start to get better. You spend that first thousand hours practicing, you write your first million words, you finish your MFA program. The toolbox is getting filled and, more importantly, your soul is getting slowly filled with the record of accomplishments. Minor ones at first, then more important ones. The other favored analogy is that the scar tissue and calluses are getting thicker and thicker. One day, you think, "I can do this. I really can." It's still not automatic, nothing approaching the effortless grace and ability of the leaders of your field, but you can do it. This would be D3, where skills are high, confidence is good, enthusiasm is on the rise.

Nirvana awaits at D4. This is where you are the complete package. You not only have the skills to deliver the goods, you have confidence in your craft and your voice. The guys down at the D3 level want to be you. The guys at the D2 level fear they never will be, and come to you asking for advice. The guys down at the D1 level think they already are as good as you, and just haven't been discovered yet. Pity the poor D1s for their ignorance, but do not despise us. (Er, I mean, them.)

Then, just as you are a wonderfully competent and accomplished individual, you decide to undertake a new project. A D4 writer of short stories, you decide to write a novel. Guess what? You're back to D1 and you have to start the process all over again. Why?

Because writing a novel is different from writing short stories. Making a video is different, too. Some skills are transferable, but these are different tasks. Depending on the task and your innate proclivities, sometimes you can race through this cycle of learning & development, sometimes it's harder. For each new job, there's a whole new skill set you need to acquire, develop mastery in and develop confidence in.

As a novelist, I'm squarely in D2 at the moment. Sucks to be a D2.

== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Heh. I've been feeling the same way with my October Horror Spotlight series. I thought I'd get lots of responses and people plugging their work. Barely a peep.

  2. I don't know about anyone else but I have had no time at all, like none, zip, nada, for being online ... the odd little moment and that's about it. So that's my excuse! I think a lot of folks are busy on projects but, whatever the reason, the web is sure a quiet place.
    Regardless, I loved your video. Really sweet work. Hopefully more folks will see it.

  3. I teach that skill development model. Weird to see it here. All true though...

    I too have a D4 ego (It's massive and I don't need to think about it) but I'm very much at D1-D2 level writing. It sucks. I empathise with you.

  4. Tony,

    My flight instructor called that the, "Fat, dumb, and happy," stage. You don't yet know, what you don't know, and you're still happy with just about anything. I now have about 20 hits per story I write and I'm excited. More than 1 comment and I'm ecstatic. Scalzi can generate triple that in comments with a post that simply reads, "I have nothing to say." So if I compare myself to Scalzi, I'm going to be a bitter bundle of crushed dreams. But, and this is key, it's not a fair comparison.

    Keeping with the Scalzi thread, dude's been writing professionally for what, 25, 30 years? So it's not fair to yourself to compare your D2 location to a D4. But, it is very easy to fall into that as a trap.

    When I was taking flying lessons I would always leave discouraged. My instructor, who is also a friend from yon Middle School days, pointed out that I was holding myself to a standard that my skills couldn't match. I was comparing my flying to that of him and my friends at the airport. ALL of whom were professional pilots with thousands of hours of flight time to my dozens. It wasn't fair. Wasn't he made me see that, I was much happier with my flying and I had much more confidence in the skills I did have.

    Same with writing.

    So even though you are smack dab in D2 land, you need to compare yourself not to the D4's, but to the D2's. And, most importantly, you worked your way from D1 to D4 before, and on many different fronts, so you'll do it again.

    And, if it makes you feel better, I'm right there in D2 land with you. Just still a ways behind... :-)

  5. I'm at the stage of not starting any new projects - I wonder if thats D0 ^_^ I wonder if that's the lost one's enthusiasm stage..... Interesting read Tony.

  6. I'm not sure where I fall -- I have lots of ideas and neither the time nor the energy to see them through. Hopefully that will change soon.


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