Friday, October 13, 2017

Becoming an Expert (at Being an Expert)

Are any of us "experts" in the field of writing? I'm not referring to being a leading authority in a field you're writing a non-fiction book about, but rather an expert in the act of writing itself. I've given this question a lot of thought in the past few days because I've been feeling unusually inadequate lately. That could be attributed to the grandpappy of all head colds and my not being able to accomplish anything more daunting than brushing my teeth some time during ten-minute periods I was upright during the past ten days or so. Or it could be that I'm just feeling the stress of marketing a new book, editing a children's series for publication early next year, and working on two other manuscripts simultaneously.

In any event, it's a valid question.

Do any of us who write for a living (or for fun or as a mission) qualify as experts? Certainly there are those authors among us who are better than I am at many things in a writer's life--perhaps all things. It guess it comes down to how we define "expert" and what parameters we use to distinguish an unusually skilled writer from one who isn't.

While it might be a moot point because we can never really nail it down to bullet points, educational degrees, bestsellers under our belts (or number of pages written, for that matter, in which case I'd be the head poobah), it warrants our attention because one of the worst things we writers can do to is compare ourselves unfavorably to those we look up to. Yes, we should aspire to be better at what we do each time we do it. Every book, article, short story, poem, newspaper article, or whatever form in which we write will ideally be better than the last. Hopefully we learn something, whether consciously or not, from each foray into the printed word. But just as our target audiences, skills, experience, genre, voice, and everything else that goes into our work will always differ in some, or perhaps, many ways from other writers, so too will our personal takeaway from those works.

It would be easier if there were a reliable rating scale to which we could aspire. For instance, someone who has written twenty books might be considered an expert in the field of writing, yes? But what about those who have written one hundred? Does that make the 100-guy/gal more expert than the 20-guy/gal? What if 20-guy sold ten times the books that 100-gal sold? Does it even matter? We can't calculate the pleasure or information imparted to the readers, so figuring out if either one of them is more expert than the other is an exercise in futility.

Of course, there are many, many writers who excel at what they do, and oftentimes they stand head and shoulders above the rest of us. They have paid their dues, earned their keep, and produced time and time again. But even a gifted wordsmith might lack organizational skills or need a little help with dialogue or backstory or any one or more of a thousand different aspects that add up to a great writer.

What it boils down to, in my opinion, is how we feel about ourselves and whether or not we apply every single iota of skill, talent, perseverance, and wisdom into our work. No, I will never be the world's leading Christian humorist, but I'll make good and sure I'm the best I can be (with apologies to the United States Army for stealing their tagline), and get better each time I let one of my works out into the world. And while I will always feel there is someone (more than likely millions of someones) who are more expert at writing than I am, I will have the satisfaction of knowing I'm the most expert writer I can be. Some things are just out of our control.

What about you? What would it take to make you feel as though you're an expert at whatever it is you write, and how do you go about accomplishing that? You can, you know. You really, really can.
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