Jul 25, 2012

Are You Competent?


First, I'm over at the Writer's Dojo today talking about owls and ninjas and silence.


When my husband first started golfing, he spent a great deal of time learning about learning and since I'm a teacher, we had some great discussions about learning. 

When someone is learning a new skill, no matter what that skill is, they go through four stages of learning.

First is the unconscious incompetent.  In this stage, a person doesn't know what they don't know.  Think about a child wanting to walk.  All around them, people are walking, but they are unaware of their inability to walk.  For a writer, this phase was when stories started with once upon a time, ended with they all lived happily ever after and probably switched tense and point of view dozens of times during, but we didn't know that it was a big deal.  If you have kids, you may experience these kinds of stories :)

Second is the conscious incompetent.  This person starts to be aware of what they don't know but this is a problem because they don't know enough to know how to fix it.  For instance, when I was trying to golf and the ball would go so far right that it was a 90 degree angle, I knew it wasn't going straight, but didn't have a clue how to fix it.  In writing, this may be the point where, when re-reading our writing we know something isn't right, that the story isn't like the stories we read, but we don't know why or how to fix it. 

The third step is conscious competent - this is the phase of greatest growth. This is the phase basketball players are in when they spend hours at the free throw line, practicing how deep they need to bend their knees, what position their hands need to be in, how much they need to flip their wrist, etc. Because we have taken the time to attend classes, read books on the craft, have immersed ourselves into developing our writing ability enough that when we are writing, we leave notes like "dialogue is flat", "character isn't developed enough", "is this the appropriate voice?", "have I developed a quality character arc", etc.  Or, if you are like me, I switch to the red font in Word, add the bolded text and write "blah, blah, blah.  This is crap.  Fix it!"  

The final and desired phase is unconscious competent. Think about it - when was the last time you stood up and thought about what it would take to walk.  Are you aware of your balance, pacing, footing, etc. every step you take?  No, because you have become so competent at walking that you no longer have to dedicate thoughts to it.  This is the point in writing where we know what needs to happen to make well developed characters, we know if we need to plot better or just put butt in chair and write.

And here's the really great thing about the path to competency.  Once we have hit the fourth level, once we have become so good at a part of writing that we no longer need to think about it (I've mastered the typing part - I know where all the letters are on the keyboard :)), we become aware of aspects where we were before unaware were weaknesses, and the path starts over again.  But each time we restart, we end up better than we knew we could be before.

Have you experienced the four stages of competency in your writing?  Where do you feel you are in terms of your writing as a whole?  Are there certain aspects of your writing that you truly feel you have mastered?

17 comments :

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think I'm in the third stage. Maybe.

S.P. Bowers said...

Blah, Blah, Blah, this is crap. Fix it.

LOL! I do that too.

I had a teacher that always used to say the more you learned the more you learned how much there was to learn. That learning was a continual process, never finished.

Kelley Lynn said...

Yeah, third stage sounds about right for some areas. Second for others that pop up because a few areas have moved on to fourth :) haha

Great post!

Cassie Mae said...

Ooh, I LOVE this post! I'm seriously using this as my go-to whenever I'm trying to learn something.

I'm trying to figure out if there's anything I have 'mastered' in my writing, lol. Um... people say I never have to worry about voice, but that seems to be what I worry about most! Lol. So, maybe I haven't mastered the ability to see what I'm mastered at. :)

J. A. Bennett said...

I'm still on stage 3, I think I'll be there for awhile :)

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

That was awesome. I think I am just peeking into number 3. There are still times that I think, this is garbage but I can't figure out why! But after all the conferences I've been to and the blogs and books I've read, I've got to be at least CLOSE to 3 :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Oh, I learned this at training for work one time. I keep hoping in my writing that I'll get beyond my clueless incompetent stage. ;)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think I'm in the third stage but sometimes I slip back and once in a great while I catch a glimpse of four.

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Huh, what an interesting way to think about learning. I definitely feel like the more I learn, the more I don't know...Hmm...haha!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Well, I hope I'm at stage three, as long as that includes the self-knowledge that all my early drafts are at stage two.

I've had to accept the incompetence of my early drafts in order to complete manuscripts that can later be improved with diligence and "conscious competence."

Imogen Elvis said...

Stage two for me. I haven't managed to reach competency in my writing yet. Stage four looks so far off!

elizabeth seckman said...

I hope it doesn't reflect my competence too poorly, but I still have to hunt and peck when I type!

kmckendry said...

Great post! I think I'm at stage 3. But maybe I'm only blissfully unaware of my unconscious incompetence.

David P. King said...

Definitely in the third stage. Somehow I think it will take an agent and editor to get to the fourth stage, but we'll see. Such an excellent post, Tasha! :)

Angela Cothran said...

I didn't even read the post...I'm just going to answer NO :)

Angela Cothran said...

Okay now I read it :) I'm totally at the 4th level with periods. I've pretty much mastered that!

Jeff Hargett said...

Excellent post! This was like an "aha! moment" for me. I taught curriculum and continuing ed classes in computer technology for years and witnessed all these stages in myself, my peers, and my students, but never knew enough to give the stages terms.

And I'm all over the board with these stages in my writing. It just depends on the topic in question.