About 10 years ago, I was sitting in a creative writing workshop listening to my fellow students critique my story. Many of them were not interested in genre fiction, and so I dismissed some of the comments as not quite getting what I was trying to do. Above all the things I wish I had done differently, this is number 1 for my writing career (or lack there of).

Believing that other people don’t get your work because they are interested in something else is a brutally clear indication that that individual is an amateur. This isn’t a sign of amateur skill or talent, but an amateur mind. This same mind is the one that a year later decided to take a year off from school (maybe permanently) to write a novel. Without income to support that year, might I add.

Yet, here is the reason an amateur mind like that can happen in the first place. In all my artistic and creative classes, I had been fed a slow drip of, “This person was a genius before their time. People didn’t understand what they were trying to do.” And being more than slightly arrogant, that message seeps in quite deep. I believed like the other “genius” artists that I too was somehow ahead of my peers.

I wasn’t, and here is why. Those people that I heard about understood everything their contemporaries were trying to do. They understood the basics and the elements of style (pun intended). They knew what created good work by the standards of their day, and they believed that it could be different. And so they bucked criticism against their work and pushed on.

That mind was not me 10 years ago.

There is a well known and often cited phenomena called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Let me be another citation. Those without competency believe they are more competent then they are, and those with more competency underrate their true knowledge. One of the reasons for this is that skilled people know what they don’t know. They see the gaps in their own knowledge and see the edges of their knowledge. Unskilled people are infants walking near a cliff, blissfully unaware of the sheer drop steps away.

I believe like many that this effect is something we are all susceptible to. No one is immune. This may explain the proliferation of amateur vloggers and bloggers trying to tell you their “Top 10 reasons why…”. Give everyone a smart-phone and we are all highly competent because of Google.

The truth is, I was not very skilled in my writing class, and neither are many of the vloggers and bloggers. I mean, look at me now. I am trying to do the same thing I have done half a dozen times before. Talking about mastering artistic expression I have yet to learn the skills for. And 10 years on, I am still desperately trying to make “it” as a creative.

So often the process goes like this. I pick up a topic that has some appeal to me, say photography. I go on a relatively short dive through YouTube to find out if this could be something I want to try. Everything looks good. The basics are there and I like taking pictures. I mention this to a friend, he lets me borrow a camera and some lenses, and off I go to learn the new skill. Sometimes I have to buy the equipment myself, and this is often not cheap since I want to have good tools to produce good art.

Then, after running up against some walls too tall for me to hurtle easily, I reflect on what I actually know and where I actually am in the journey toward mastery. Not far at all. I have basically just completed the tutorial levels for all the crafts I want to master. I don’t possess any knowledge deeper than a cursory Google search and deep dive into Wikipedia. And then I pivot.

This website has been many things since I started it in 2020. Hunting blog, writing blog, video game company page, and the list goes on a bit more, but I don’t remember them all. It isn’t even a photography blog at this point, but a catch all to allow me some sort of revenue off of the things I enjoy trying.

But as I learned oh so long ago (3 years), people don’t want to watch an amateur screw around. They want to see skilled craftsman working effortlessly to produce the end result. This effortless vision allows them the delusion that they too can be X and do X. It looks so easy.

I saw a social media post not long ago (unfortunately I am diving into that trash bin a lot lately) about the cost of mastery to the consumer.

An engineer is called in to fix an engine. The ships captain has tried everything to fix it but just can’t get it to work. The engineer walks over to the motor, taps it with a hammer, and the engine purrs to life. The captain is relieved that he doesn’t have to buy a new motor. The engineer hands the captain a bill for a few thousand dollars, much cheaper than a motor, but the captain is furious. “What is this nonsense? How could five minutes and a hammer strike cost this much?” The engineer looks at the captain and the bill in the captain’s hand. “The five minutes and a hammer strike cost a hundred dollars. The decades of learning I needed to be able to do that cost the rest.”

I am sure I butchered that, but the point is made I think. Mastery costs a lot of time, and that is what people pay for. When a photographer sells a print for a few hundred dollars or more, the skills needed to produce that are what is for sale, not necessarily the image by itself.

Many people at my work have hobbies that they have mastery over. Or at least hobbies that they can speak about with some degree of above average proficiency. I usually feel as though I lack this mastery over all my hobbies. Time and time again I want to be at that level of competency with my own hobbies. But I feel devoid of this. I feel somehow less than all my peers.

Occasionally I need to remind myself that they spent years doing those hobbies and I have only recently gotten to an income level capable of supporting extra-curriculars. If I can manage to stop jumping around and focus on just a hobby or two, I might get to that same level of proficiency.

So what does mastery really take? Time. Time and effort. Practice doing the skill and reflection upon the results of productive labor. All of that mastery I yearn for takes time.

…but I want it now.

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