What Makes an Expert?

I have a question for you. And it is this: What Makes Someone An Expert in Something?

The reason I ask is because, a couple of days ago, someone called me an expert on the short story. It was a strange thing to hear. Flattering, of course, but it has got me thinking, mostly, because I don’t think I am.

I mean, I know how to write short stories (I think), I know how to judge them and I know how to teach others to get better at writing them. But does that make me an expert? I’m not so sure. Competent, yes. Good, probably. In love with writing and reading them, and sharing them, without doubt. Experienced, yup.

Pretty much everything I’ve learned about writing has been achieved through reading, through trial and error and, to a lesser extent, through online work-shopping. It’s all been done on my own and it’s been hard work and pretty much completely unstructured.

I’ve never been to a workshop (except from when running them!), I’ve never used a literary consultancy (despite running one), I don’t have a degree in literature or creative writing – let alone an MA.

Does that mean I’m not qualified? Or less qualified? When you work in the arts – what does make you qualified?

I suspect part of this could be my natural shyness coming out. You know, it’s only recently I’ve been comfortable calling myself an ‘author’ (despite my first book being released over four years ago).

Whatever it is, I do think it’s a very interesting question.

So, folks, over to you. What do you think makes an expert?


In other news…

I thoroughly enjoyed the event I did with Caroline Smailes and Jon Mayhew at Heswall Library on Friday. Thanks to all who came and who asked such interesting questions. I’m just sorry I was a little late and that the event went on far longer than planned AND that we didn’t get to answer everyone’s questions. We tried!

17 Comments on “What Makes an Expert?

  1.  by  angel

    intersting question. I think you're an expert,but it's good to question it. I don't consider myself an expert of anything. yeah been doing it years, MA, all that stuff, but no. I think some writers would probably say they are learning all the time, trying things, still being surprised- so maybe never feel that cosy considering themselves experts.It's probably a good attitude to have, stops you being complacent,a good thing if you want to get better all the time 🙂

  2.  by  Anna-Marie

    This post made me laugh a bit Nik (sorry, I know its not intentionally funny). It reminded me of a Monty Python Sketch – What have the Romans ever done for us? i'e you can write short stories, judge them, teach others to write them, run workshops and a literary consultancy but does that make me an expert? I'd say yes. What you seem to need more of is self assurance. Being an expert is not about knowing all there is to know about it and working infallibly. It just means having a depth of understanding far beyond a general interest.

  3.  by  Jacqueline Christodoulou

    I asked this question of myself once when I was asked to be an 'expert witness'. I did a bit of research and the general consensus – from a business perspective at least – was that the benchmark for expert lies at 10,000 hours of doing something that is 'specialist focused' in a particular field.Also, it seems that 'expert' is different to 'competent' in that competency is measured by commonly held levels of qualifications and expertise more by experience in the field.

  4.  by  Miriam

    Hmm. Someone called me an expert technical editor, because I gave a talk on the subject and probably sounded more knowledgeable than I am. Someone else called me an expert in Scrabble because I beat her nearly every game, although I'm sure there are many who are better than I am. Maybe expertise is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.I think you're an expert.

  5.  by  Alex

    Hey Nik,Maybe it is like a video game. You have the levels of difficulty: Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert. You have these hurdles, missions and big bosses at every stage. In the expert game you are required to think of, write, edit and publish a book of short stories that people think is great and tell all their friends about. I which case, I'd say you were in the expert category.: )

  6.  by  Jo

    Great post and question Nik.I get the same when people comment on me being a marketing expert and sometimes I just think it is about common sense and I don't understand why some things are not obvious to others as they are to me.I think the key is passion and a love for what you do, which makes it flow more naturally than it does for others. I would say you are an expert…. (of Worzel!) x

  7.  by  Nik Perring

    Hi Angel!I think your point's an excellent one – I know I'm very much always learning and I'd hate to get complacent or arrogant (some may argue with me on that last word!). 🙂

  8.  by  Nik Perring

    Hi Anna-MarieHa! Thanks! That made me chuckle. I think the thing is that I never set out, or think about, being an expert (which was probably why I was surprised to be called one). I just want to do what I do well, and so long as I'm respected and my work's enjoyed and my editing's helpful then that's plenty for me!

  9.  by  Nik Perring

    Hey MiriamI wonder whether you are an expert without realising it then… Perhaps you know more than you think!But yeah, maybe it is in the eye of the beholder! (And thank you, you're very kind!)

  10.  by  Nik Perring

    Hey Alex – yeah, good thinking. I like that. Maybe it's just different when it's not something we aim for. Or something. (And you're very kind too!) Btw – do I owe you an email…? Eep!

  11.  by  Nik Perring

    Hiya Jo. Ha! Oh I'm a Worzel expert all right. I'll be bum-swizzled! :)I think you're right – maybe it's just knowledge and stuff that comes with experience…X

  12.  by  miss-neat

    '…it is not necessary to have a professional or academic qualification to be accepted as an expert. 50 years of experience tending flocks would be widely recognized as having complete expertise in the use and training of sheep dogs and the care of sheep.' That's what Wikipedia says. But never mind sheep and sheep dogs. Or your years of experience. I'll still say what I thought when I first saw your post this morning (after laughing a bit, like Anna-Marie): being called an expert makes you one.

  13.  by  Lane

    I think when we see, say the expert in … oh I don't know Nagorno-Karabakh politics on the TV we expect them to know all the ins and outs of the subject and pass some of it on to us.They've done the hard work and they're helping the rest of us learn too. Which is what you're doing.

  14.  by  Mollie

    When I was a lecturer, every morning I passed a sign on a colleague's door which read 'An expert is someone who is still wrong, but for better reasons.'It always made me smile!

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