That's what I find, at least. A few years back, I mentioned that in studying for my dissertation defense, I sat down and reread the entire thing cover-to-cover (taking notes, making an outline, constructing handouts, etc). I said that I could see clear differences between the chapters that I'd written first and the ones I'd written last. I said, "the change in quality of writing, argument, and general sophistication between the first chapter I wrote and the last was astonishing to me; I am a much better philosopher now than I was when I started writing."
I feel the same way about the stuff I'm writing now in comparison with the stuff I was writing back then. The work I'm producing now is much more clearly written, the arguments are better, the general sophistication is higher. I am a much better producer of written philosophical work now than I was just two or three years ago. At least, that's how it seems to me.
The thing that's sort of weird about it—and, I don't know, maybe this isn't really all that weird—is that although I would say that I have gotten better at doing this, I would not say that it feels like I've gotten better, and I wouldn't say that it has gotten any easier to do it. If anything, I would say that it has gotten much more difficult. I find more and more that I wrestle with almost every sentence, and from there I wrestle with the arrangement of sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into sections, and sections into a coherent, complete paper. I struggle to formulate and organize and express the ideas and views and arguments that I'm trying to develop or defend, as well as those that appear in the literature that I'm trying to engage with.
I'm inclined to chalk it up to my being more sensitive to various nuances and subtleties and stuff, but maybe not proportionately better at expressing those nuances and subtleties, but I'm not sure. I don't know. I just made that up. It's probably wrong.
And now that I think of it, I'm not really sure why this seems surprising. I guess I was thinking of proficiency at philosophy on the model of proficiency at a musical instrument. When you first start learning an instrument, it's extremely difficult. You can't get it to do the things you want it to do; you can't make it play the sounds you want it to play. You can't play at tempo and you get tired quickly. But as you get better, it gets easier. You can make the instrument do what you want; you can play at tempo and for longer. A piece that gave you trouble or was unplayable two or three years ago comes easily now; a piece that would have been beyond impossible two or three years ago is merely difficult now. You can see and feel your improvement. And so I guess I figured that as I got better at philosophy, things that I found to be difficult would come to me more easily. (I'm not sure I ever really experienced this, but I think I thought that maybe I would if I got good enough.)
But now that I think of it, I don't think that's quite the right way to think of it. Now that I think of it—if you'll bear with me while I take this metaphor and torture it to death—I think that it would be more accurate to say that I've been playing a succession of pieces, each of which is right at the limit of my abilities. It doesn't seem like it's getting easier because improvements in my abilities make it possible for me to conceive of more difficult things (nuances, subtleties, etc) which I then immediately attempt. And so the work gets better, but not in a way that generates a literal awareness of improvement or feelings of ease.
So, anyways, that's what I've been thinking about as I decide whether to grade these exams or revise this paper.