Thursday, January 26, 2012
The blind leading the blind by Terry Burns
I used to have the time to be very active in our local writing group, to the point that I was a two time President of the organization. Unfortunately these days I nearly always have a place to be working conferences and events when their meetings occur. But that’s beside the point.
I sat in so many classes and crit groups and talked constantly with other writers and amassed a level of knowledge that I was so confident in that I began to teach in the group. The information that I handed out was eagerly received.
Then came the fateful day that we had a bestselling author there to present. He also sat in on my session for beginners. After it was over he quietly said, “You don’t really believe all that garbage you were handing out, do you?”
Well, yeah . . . I did.
I was stunned. I took him out to eat that evening and we talked for a long time. I came to understand two things, first that I had ceased to learn and started to teach, and second that I was getting all of my input from writers who didn’t know any more about it than I did. We shared opinions with each other until we came to accept it as truth. I gave up teaching until I could reach the point where I could be sure of my subject matter and have a strong level of confidence that I could believe what I was saying was accurate.
Nobody has a handle on exactly how things work in this business. Every time I tell a group that in my experience something works a certain way, someone is sure to point out that some highly successful person did it just the opposite with phenomenal results. Absolutely, there is always the exception that proves the rule.
I’m not a gambler, but I understand playing the odds. If most of the time certain actions are going to produce certain results, I feel no need to try and buck the trend and do the opposite hoping that I can be successful where others are not.
Everyone has something to teach, and I try to be open minded to it all. But am I more likely to learn from someone who has had significant success, or someone who has studied and possesses a lot of information but has not been able to prove that information with results? That was me, I knew a lot, but much of it turned out to be a collection of opinions rather than someone sharing what had proven successful for them.
I was the blind leading the blind.
I teach again now, with many years of experience under my belt, but I don’t JUST teach, I try to constantly learn. I try to learn because teaching without learning means I am soon passing on stagnant information as fast as this business changes. And I constantly tell people in classes and workshops that while I am confident information I pass on is accurate, there is always another way to do everything.
We have to learn to filter and assign weight to people we are learning from based on how likely they are to know the truth of what they are saying, I know these days I sure try to do that.