Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments
This 1999 article by Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University shows that people who are incompetent frequently over-estimate their own skills because they are too ignorant to judge whether they are good or not.
That couldn’t apply to writers, too, could it?
Yes. It’s difficult for even good writers to judge their own work, so where does that leave the bad ones? Well, pretty bad off, not to mention indignant that the publishing world is rigged against their genius.
Self-editing can only take you so far before all the words run together into meaningless mush.
Don’t get me wrong – some people work best toiling alone in isolated garrets. I always thought I was one of them, and wrote my first novel by myself, without readers or feedback until I was agented. My agent helped me take my novel so much farther than I thought I could go. She thought I could do better, and I did. My book didn't sell, but everything I learned is going into the next one.
And that includes my new belief in honest, quality feedback. As someone who wrote in isolation, I can attest to the value of a critique group like this one. I was nervous about sharing unpolished, incomplete work, but it helped that I didn’t know the rest of Operation Awesome before we started. They got to know me through my rough pages – me at my writing worst.
And if I improve, it’s in part because they pushed me into writing better and pulled me through the tough parts. Because the flipside of being Unskilled and Unaware is the writer’s other curse – believing every word is hopeless trash. And that’s the other value of critique partners – not just to tell you what’s wrong, although that’s important, but to tell you what’s good and how you can make it better.