Learning to Be the Other Person

This blog post is one I wrote for the SC Writer’s Association, Cola II chapter. It was originally published on the chapter’s website November 27, 2018.

At a recent signing event, another author said to me, “Selling books is hard.” When he walked away, I felt a bit overwhelmed. Would I ever master the marketing skills I need? And then I remembered saying to myself about five years ago, “Will I ever master the skills I need to write a book?”
If you are writer, you know there’s a long list of skills you must have, whether you’re producing a book, short story, or poem. Even if you know how to write a decent sentence, you must learn structure, pacing, and storytelling, to name a few. The list of required writing skills is long, but that isn’t all.

Sometime after my first book was published, I realized that I’m expected to be two, totally different people: an accomplished writer and a marketing genius. On top of that, the skills and behaviors needed to master each role are opposites in many ways. Yen and Yang. How could I become proficient at both?

To confront my being-two-people dilemma, I recalled Martin Broadwell’s four stages of learning I had used often in my consulting practice. When I began writing my first novel, I was at the level of “unconscious incompetence”: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. After writing that book for the next three years, I reached the next level of learning: “conscious incompetence.” I was beginning to realize what I didn’t know—and it was scary. As they say, “Ignorance is bliss.”

While writing the next two books, I honed my writing skills through continuous studying and feedback. Now, I’m able to write at the level of “conscious competence.” But while I have the skills, writing is still hard work and requires a lot of mental energy.

But what about becoming the “other” person I mentioned earlier? Could I also become a marketing genius? Even now, I’m still at the lowest level of learning for those skills: unconscious incompetence. Every day, I learn something I didn’t even realize I was supposed to know. Things like learning how to navigate through the behemoth Amazon maze seems like learning to fly a fighter jet. Slowly, I’m beginning to figure out what I don’t know when it comes to marketing books. While I might be approaching conscious incompetence, I’m nowhere near the final level: unconscious competence. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to achieve that level of mastery. I may not live long enough to see that day, but one can hope . . . and keep learning.

All of this is to say, yes, you can be two different people with different skills and behaviors. One role may be easier and more natural than the other. You’ll learn those skills quicker. But on a parallel learning track, it may take you a bit longer to acquire the skills and assume the behaviors you need to become the “other” person. That’s okay. Just remember, the learning process is the same: one level at a time.

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