Back to the Basics
In any professional field, there are experts. These talented people solve challenging problems, and the less knowledgeable learn from their wisdom. I have met many experts in my field and find that they all have one thing in common: their fundamental understanding. A person who has collected facts does not have the same foundation, and I will explain the difference. Let's think about a professional auto mechanic and a person who "knows about cars."
The mechanic went to automotive school, spent years repairing cars, and keeps up with the latest technology. Their education includes automotive history, a comprehensive series of classes on the topic, and seeing the result of their repairs. This long-term view is essential because they have learned from their mistakes and use this insight to avoid future problems.
The person who tinkers with cars made a few repairs, read a few articles, watched YouTube repair videos, successfully guessed, and had limited success. Their foundation is incomplete because they do not understand the car as a system. However, intelligence and enthusiasm are not contributing differences between these individuals.
We see the value of a solid foundation when both individuals encounter a non-starting car. The car tinker makes a great first step by checking the fuel gauge to see if the vehicle has enough fuel to run. This approach sounds excellent. The seasoned mechanic’s first step is to open the fuel cap, push the car, and listen for fuel sloshing. While this approach appears to be similar, there is a significant difference. The seasoned mechanic knows fuel gauges can fail. This subtle difference exemplifies their foundation, experience, and solid logic.
A true professional's mark is they apply the precise amount of effort to achieve a specific result. Their efforts rarely result in surprise, and they have confidence in their knowledge. An example of this skill can be easily observed by watching an expert Karate fighter. They deliver one punch at the exact right moment. They often use their opponent’s momentum to amplify injury instead of the armature who applies many unguided punches.
I have been on one side, the middle, and the other side of this foundation. In computer programming, I have a modest understanding of the fundamentals. I can read programs to get a good feel for what is going on. I have some program writing talent but often work myself into gigantic problems. When this occurs, any talented programmer can see my mistake and rapidly determine a solution. This knowledge base falls into the amateur category.
I know how to house paint, and the results are usually good. An extensive project does not scare me, and I have enough knowledge to get myself out of a jam. Yet, I see professional painters, and their results are much better. I consider my paint foundation to be middle ground.
In electronics, I "know my stuff." This phrase is how Electrical Engineers brag to each other. Yet, I know that electronics span a vast technology region, and my experience and education only cover a percentage of the total foundation.
Frequently, I have solved complex problems that stumped experts. How? Like the auto mechanic in the above example, I took a step back, looked at the essential elements, and eliminated potential problems. My approach was ruthlessly systematic, logical, and fueled by my understanding of how electronics must operate. It feels incredible to have this foundation and contribute. (Yes, I have had many humbling experiences which balance out my brilliant solutions.)
I knew this foundation concept applied to writing, but I naively thought that "book knowledge" centered on good grammar and spelling. "Good stories are good stories. The characters and foundation naturally work themselves out." Yeah … It turns out expert authors have a vast foundation of story structure, plot, flow, history, dialog, grammar, spelling, and other areas I have yet to blunder across.
As my writing knowledge base improved, I discovered the edges of this foundation. My biggest revelation is that every writing project begins with a well-explored outline.
A talented author (middle ground) can read a book (or part of one) and instantly see the issues. An expert author knows how to avoid and fix problems. An inexperienced author or light reader might miss a significant issue, or more likely, they know there is a problem but not the type.
The ultimate defining aspect of an expert author is that they can write something great the first time. All the elements come together without the need for editing by a third party. For me, the editing process takes at least ten times longer.
I know my writing foundation of knowledge and skill has holes. For example, character motivation continues to be an issue. However, understanding my limitation is the first step in becoming an expert because only then can I overcome my weaknesses.
I suppose that brings us back to the beginning. The first draft of this blog took about 30, and I have been editing it every evening for just under three weeks. Clearly, I have a long way to go before considering myself a writing expert.
You’re the best -Bill
April 14, 2021
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