I’m not going to lie and say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. There are definitely stupid questions. “Where are my sunglasses?” when I’m wearing them is a stupid question I ask with more frequency than I’d like to admit. However, when it comes to writing there are fewer “stupid questions” than we’d think.
I’m in an awesome editors’ group on Facebook, and as of about half an hour ago someone asked the question of whether or not it’d be a good idea to have newbie editors create their own group (in addition to the main group) to support each other and not have to be afraid of asking silly questions. Just about all the editors in the group balked at the idea of relegating new editors to a corner, though it sparked an interesting discussion about the merit of “stupid questions” or “noob questions”.
What came out of the discussion didn’t surprise me, but it reinforced why I’m a member of the group: just ask the question. There’s this stigma around asking questions because we’re afraid of being viewed as less qualified or less intelligent because we have to ask other people for information. That’s an inaccurate belief structure and a damaging one.
As creatives, we (editors included) are prone to crippling self-doubt and impostor syndrome where we think we aren’t as good as we say we are and feel like we’re full of crap. While it’s good to have an ego check and consider that we aren’t all mega-geniuses who know everything, we aren’t complete morons, either. Asking questions pokes that little voice that says “you aren’t all that great” and sometimes turns it into a full-blown choir. However, the people reading those questions aren’t the ones singing that line. They’re usually thinking, “Oh, I’ve been there. Here’s how I dealt with it.”
As an editor, I act as a teacher for many of my clients. I’ve worked with many first-time authors who don’t quite know what the three-act structure is or exactly how to identify and slaughter passive voice. I’ve heard many questions, and I’ve asked even more. I have someone I consider my mentor, and I have guides who answer questions when I have them. That’s the secret: there’s always someone better than you to ask questions of. Your questions will change as you go along, but you’ll always have them, and it’s okay to ask.
To be honest, I think the only “wrong” question is the one unasked. There are definitely times when the answer is going to be “you’re not ready for that yet”, but asking the question isn’t a mark against you in some ethereal ledger where we keep our opinions of others. Even if the question is something we already know (or should know). I can’t count the number of times where I’ve been editing at 3am and just can’t decide where to put the damn comma. I’ve had to ask other writers or editors. Of course, that’s about the time I realize I need to put down the pen and go to bed (or have another cup of tea…).
In addition to you not crippling yourself by not asking questions, sometimes answering the question is a learning experience for another person. I’ve developed new understanding and ways of explaining things when I’ve taught people because I’ve had to. The act of teaching someone else does a great deal for one’s own learning, and that’s something you can take to the bank with you. When you begin teaching you immediately realize how little you know and start learning because, by gum, you aren’t going to leave your students in the lurch. By asking me tough questions (or even simple ones) my students are doing me a huge favor.
So, the real bones of the matter is, you aren’t an impostor for asking questions. You aren’t an idiot. You aren’t a moron. Anyone who treats you as lesser because you asked a question has an ego problem and isn’t probably a great teacher anyway. Just keep asking and learning. It’ll do you more good than it doesn’t. And ignore that chorus in the back of your head–you’ve got this. Keep at it.