I guess that title sounds very abstract and "meta." But it points to a real issue that has interfered with my desire to get published and paid as a writer.
For background, I have been a writer in various senses of the term, on and off, for many years. The feedback I've gotten from many quarters suggests that my writing skills are at least good--maybe excellent. But subject matter expertise, that's another thing. I'm interested in--and know a little bit about--a great many things. And occasionally I am pleasantly surprised to find that others consider me an expert on one or another thing, but my own feeling is that I don't have much in-depth knowledge of anything in particular.
But that's okay, because if you're a writer, and you don't know enough about the topic, you do research, right?
However, you need to know when research (or more research) is required. And that's where I seem to have a problem.
About ten years ago--the last time I made a serious attempt to get started as a professional writer--there was an incident that really shook my confidence. I had written a chapter for a web development textbook, and then I got assignments from a well-known online technical journal to report on a couple of open source development projects. My first article was very well-received; the second, not so much. I don't think anyone thought it was a terrible piece, but I heard from readers that it was rather superficial and maybe insufficiently objective. If I remember right, the editor agreed that the article was weak, but didn't consider it a major issue (i.e. he would have been happy at that point to accept more work from me).
The reason I got cold feet after that was not simply that I had made a mistake, but that I felt that it could easily have been prevented--if I had just known that I needed to do more homework. And yet, prior to getting the feedback from readers, I had no clue. There was no little voice inside saying "wait, are you sure?" As far as I could tell at the time I submitted it, the unsuccessful article was just as good as the successful one.
What that experience (and some other similar incidents) tells me is that I have a huge blind spot regarding my own understanding of things, which could easily trip me up again any time I try to write on a new topic. And I feel that if I want to get published and keep getting published, I can't afford that.
So: has anyone else encountered this problem? If so, have you learned how to deal with it? Is there a specific method you follow to check your understanding of a topic? Are there any warning signs you have learned to look for?