Monday, May 5, 2014
Somewhere in the mid-1970s, after having spent my first few years as an editor, I noticed an odd pattern: Some of the weakest writers I worked with thought they were strong writers, and some of the strongest writers thought they were just average writers.
Roughly 40 years later – a few weeks ago – I was surprised to learn that psychologists have a name for the pattern: “Dunning-Kruger effect.” In short, the effect is that some low-skilled people have a mental bias that blinds them to the inferiority of their skill; some high-skilled people, because their skill seems to come easily to them, assume (wrongly) that that skill comes easily to most people.
Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Takeaway: Of course, Messrs. Dunning and Kruger could be wrong. All I am saying here is that I have observed something like Dunning-Kruger effect in the world of writing. I am not a psychologist but I am a veteran editor and as such* I give you this advice: If you are (or would like to become) a professional writer, just keep in mind that you may be substantially overestimating or underestimating your skill. Seek the judgements of experienced writers and editors and take those judgements into consideration.
*I’m not showing off, but I just want to point out that this is an example of a correct use of the phrase as such. Most of the time you hear or read this phrase, the speaker or writer is using it incorrectly. For more information, go here.