Category Archives: Controversy

They Just Don’t Get It–The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Note: Keen readers of our blog will have noticed that Wednesday posts are often written as a response to the previous (Monday) post. I wish to make it perfectly clear that this time that is not the case. The reader is advised that the following article is in no way connected to Kevan Atteberry or to his charming introductory post and any effort to corellate the two should be regarded as an exercise in futility. Thank you. ~~CB 😛

OK, so this writer (whom I just made up) writes a story that is, he is convinced, quite good. Breakout novel, in fact. Bestseller, that sort of thing.


“I’m talented, ain’t I, Dad?” “Almost as talented as me, son, and that’s danged talented.”

At some point, he joins a critique group. He sizes up the other writers when he arrives. Hacks, he thinks, every last one of them. They’ll probably be gobsmacked when they hear my piece read aloud. They’ll probably applaud.

His turn comes. He reads. When he finishes, silence. Frowns.

Where’s my applause? Where are the gasps of amazement, the eager handshakes and pats on the back? What the heck is wrong with these people?

Then the questions come from the group. What is the reason for the loquat argument on page 3 …? Why does the main character shave her …? How will the disconsolate yeti help her to win the …?

The new writer gets defensive. After every remark, he impatiently explains why he wrote it the way he did. He’s like a goalie on a one-man team, blocking each shot. And inside, he’s thinking, These people are morons. Dilettantes! They don’t grasp my artistic vision!

Chances are, if you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve run across someone like this. I have, more than once. It’s the reason so many groups adopt the Author Is Silent Rule. These writers come to critique group ostensibly asking for feedback, but they never agree with any comments anyone makes and they never even seem willing to try the suggestions given. Well, almost never. They waste your time asking for feedback they will not even consider. And often, they rip your piece to shreds when it’s your turn.

So, what is with these types?

Most of them are relatively normal, just suffering from a little beginner’s arrogance. Be patient. They’ll come around after they go home and think over what’s been said. If not then, well, a few rejections should squeeze that arrogance out of them. (Or they’ll self-publish and forever sneer at you and the world of “traditional” publishing, but that’s another topic.)

But some of these writers, an unfortunate few out there, are under the influence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and these poor people will probably have a much harder time ever producing a publishable manuscript.

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence. — Psychology Today (link below)

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Funny thing, this Dunning-Kruger concept, how well it seems to fit so many incompetent people working in so many different occupations. It’s the computer programmer who believes that her code is superior to others’ but everyone else can see that her code is convoluted and full of bugs. It’s the restaurant chef who cooks up unpalatable dishes and blames the patron who rejects them, saying they just must not know how to eat. And it’s the writer who refuses to really stop and think about why the readers of her draft have questions about it. She simply cannot believe that others don’t recognize her genius. And others, quite likely, view her as an untalented writer.

How do I know I don’t have this? Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? I don’t know. If you have it, you’re unable to recognize it. But I figure I’m safe because, believe me, I question my ability often. I spend a lot of time feeling pretty sure I don’t really know what I’m doing and hoping no one finds out (the impostor syndrome).

How do you know if you’re Dunning-Kruger free? You’re D-K free if you’re always trying to improve, and you not only listen to advice from other writers, agents, and editors but you really consider what they’re saying. If you’re willing to try out their suggestions even when you’re pretty confident that it’s really not going to make your story any better, just because you know you’ll learn something by trying it, you’re probably Dunning-Kruger free.



Bottom line: Because we recognize our weaknesses and faults, we’re probably way more competent than that writer with the attitude at crit group who defends his manuscript on every point.

It’s comforting, isn’t it, to know that our insecurities about our writing ability may mean that we’re actually pretty good–or that we’re on our way there?


Filed under Advice, Colleagues, Controversy, Editing and Revising, jealousy

The Worry Monster Sinks its Teeth into the Very Unsuspecting Writer

Right smack in the middle of my debut journey, I began to worry. I can’t even tell you why, but I did. The worry seemed to fold over and over on itself like a thick blanket that got bigger every day. It became heavy to carry. And what were these concerns based on? Beats me. It was like I stood on solid ice but refused to believe it was frozen. Waiting to fall through. I began worrying about things that my head knew were not worrisome, but my heart refused to believe. And it was powerful and seemingly unshakeable.

At the time, I have to tell you, I was really confused by this person that I had become. Because, from the time I was able to walk, I have been a fighter. A scrapper. A disheveled kid who often had snarls the size of golfballs. Either bullied or ignored and, oddly enough, in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Teachers had no expectations of me. I mean none.

But, like a good book character, I had big dreams. And a fair amount of grit. I was much smarter than my teachers gave me credit for. I was observant, and I was a planner. I wanted more, and I swore I’d find a way to have it someday.

I don’t share this to garner sympathy. Honestly, I don’t. Because, in some very crucial ways, I was a beyond-fortunate child. I share this because it made this “new me” so much more of a puzzle. I was disgusted with myself, as it felt like I had been braver as an eight-year-old. As a soon-to-be-published author, I had become such an insufferable wuss. Worrying about success?! Honestly, I’m surprised that my pre-published writing friends didn’t chip in to have me…you know… disappeared.

Looking back on it, though, I think I understand. At the beginning of my writing journey, I chased publication as if I had nothing to lose; that’s because I didn’t. However, by the time the Worry Monster bared his teeth, I had more to lose than I’d thought possible:

I had a budding career as a children’s author, which would give me the opportunity to get out and talk to kids about writing and how it does get better and about making the choice to build a happy life no matter what hand you’re dealt; this means a great deal to me, as I know what it’s like to feel like the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit. I also know that the very things that make you feel so different as a kid can become your greatest gifts as an adult.

My editor of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS is far better than any idea of an editor I’d ever dreamed of. I have the fantastic Agent Erin who is helping me build a long-term career. And agent mates and writing colleagues that I cherish. I mean really cherish. Who make that kid in me feel like I am a part of something special. Finally.

Now this…is an awful lot to lose. I mean, I’ve always been a big dreamer, but all of this was more than I ever dared dream for, I think. Could that same eight year old grow up to become an author? I don’t think any of my early teachers would have taken that bet.

This Worry Monster sunk its teeth into me in late March. By August, I was just so weary. This is when I attended the fantastic Blueberry Fields Retreat in Maine where I spoke with Executive Editor, Mary Lee Donovan, from Candlewick. I had gotten to know her well at the SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat months earlier, so I already knew that I liked and respected her immensely. She complimented me on being, “a confident, successful woman—sure of herself, etc.”

My response came from my own mouth yet was a complete surprise to me. I replied, “But, I’m really not.” Immediately after those words fell from my lips, my scrappy eight-year-old self stomped her foot inside my head and asked me, “What the hell are you doing?”  I felt the shift within me. That’s right, I thought. What the hell am I doing anyway? 

Why did the shift occur then? Mary Lee is a talented, down-to-earth, giant in the industry. I respect and trust her opinion. But she’s not my novel’s editor, so I had no worries of disappointing her. I also learned some things when she discussed an editor’s expectations as part of her presentation. It made me consider what conclusions my own editor could be drawing re: my nervousness—and the messages I could unintentionally be sending her.

Okay. That was it. I came home, having had enough of this “not-improved me” and ready to claim all that I had accomplished. To focus on the things I had–the things I already held in my hands. I would not think about losing them. I refused to worry. I took action.

I’ve come to know that *action* is the Worry Monster’s kryptonite. In fact, anything worth having in life requires action to thrive, doesn’t it? So, decide on your own plan of action(s) to slay your Worry Monster (or any of its nasty cousins). Decide in a focused, stubborn, I-got-this-thing kind of way.

Get worked up. Scramble a little. Send out queries. Get feedback. Take chances. You’ll stand taller and your craft will benefit. There’s a lot of power in knowing that you are actively trying. Besides, the hurdles you are jumping now will make excellent, “How I made it” stories later. 😉 Believe it!

I am at peace these days, but it took me a while to get here. The worry monster makes its occasional appearances but never stays anymore. Never will again. Meanwhile, my scrappy eight-year-old self is never far away, reminding me what I’m capable of.

And I’m happy to have her back.


Filed under Colleagues, Controversy, Editor, Happiness, Publishers and Editors, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

The Green-eyed Monster Should Not Stay for Tea

Ah, the green-eyed monster.

Michelle’s post is correct in jealousy knowing no boundaries. It is felt at one time or another by the young and old, the fortunate and unfortunate, and everyone in between. As common as a cold and just as welcome.

We all feel jealousy sometimes. Why? Because it’s natural. Yet, have you noticed that it’s one of the emotions that people deny feeling the most? If a character in a book or movie accuses another of jealousy, the answer is invariably, “I am not!” This is usually followed by a gruff folding of the arms, which some would argue means that he/she is lying.

It’s one of those emotions we are told not to feel–like we have an off switch. Isn’t it better to acknowledge it, deal with it, and give it its walking papers? After all, if you keep it around and feed it, it gets bigger. Wants hot tea and a knitted sweater. Gets comfortable. Maybe invites its cousins over–Worry and Anger.

Important to note that there’s a big difference between the fleeting jealousies of your neighbor’s belly button lint collection versus something that involves our personal or creative lives– where our emotional investments run through our hearts like joists in a floor.

The standard monster does not have this emotional hold. It is simply of the I want to have it and also want you NOT to have it variety. The straight-forward “fear of loss” kind. This is seen, for example, in two toddlers that fight over a toy. Or, perhaps, a battle between a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan. Oh, wait…Baseball fans never feel such things.

The bigger, stronger green-eyed monster begins with a compare and contrast mindset, and is more personal. So, thinking in terms of writers and illustrators, I think creative types—who also tend to be deeply sensitive overthinkers—do compare themselves to each other. But when we talk about jealousy in these cases, I don’t think it’s in the traditional definition of jealousy. I think that most aren’t looking to strip someone else of their success. They just want to make a difference, too.

Knowing our creative lives are a defining attribute for so many of us, am I wrong to think that jealousy has much more to do with our perceptions of ourselves rather than the successes of others? It’s all really about perception, isn’t it? Jealousy is not how you stack up against someone else as much as how you perceive yourself as stacking up against someone else.

I keep jealousy in check by remembering that only I can write my books. And only others can write theirs. I couldn’t have pulled off FALLING FOR HAMLET in a publishable way—only in a My relatives think I’m talented kind of way. I would say the same about any of the Emusdebuts’ books. For example, the amount of research that Cynthia,   J. Andersen Coats  and Jeannie Mobley have done would make something green and sticky ooze out of my ears. Smelling faintly of ham.

And with Halloween so close, wouldn’t that make the neighbors jealous?


Filed under Colleagues, Controversy, Happiness, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

Green Eyed Literary Monster

I get jealous. I admit it. When I see a notice about someone’s book deal, I’m jealous. When someone wins a writing award, I’m jealous. When someone gets a good review, I’m jealous. When a book I hate sells really well and is getting all kids of press, I’m jealous. (Also annoyed.) And when someone gets a starred review from a publication that was mean about my work, I’m more than jealous. I’m sort of a crazed green-eyed literary monster.

But . . . why?

Why am I jealous? I have no right to be. None at all.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about “Dayainu” (Hebrew for “It would have been enough”) about how each step of my writing journey has been incredible and has surpassed expectations. I never expected to be published. Never expected to love my agent, to be so encouraged by my editor, to be supported by my publisher, to have friends celebrate whole-heartedly with me, for readers to ask what I’m working on next because they want to read more.

So how can I be jealous of others?

I could go with my I’m-a-flawed-human-being theory and be angry with myself. But I think it’s just plain human nature.

Years ago I read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, a magnificently funny, validating book about writing and writers. So much of it rang true, and it gave me the courage to try getting published again after I’d been rejected by yet another round of agents. And then I got to the last section of the book, which talked about writer jealousy. I didn’t get it. She talked about the secret glee at seeing another writer’s books be remaindered, the anxiety of one’s publishing experience, and about the fleeting nature of the joy of one’s own success. I thought to myself, “If I every get published, I will be joyful. I would never be petty. And I will never, never forget how lucky I am.”


Now listen, I know I’m lucky. And I am happy for other writers when they find success. And I read reviews to see what might be interesting to pick up next. And when I hit “like” on a Facebook announcement about a friend’s deal or positive review, I do it out of happiness and the desire to support. Seriously, I do.

So I will try to forgive myself for my all-too-human and really-unproductive-and-unearned-jealousy. I will try. And I will fail. But I will try again. Just like when I’m writing.


Filed under Celebrations, Controversy, Happiness, jealousy, Satisfaction, Writing and Life

Too Much Skin? (Or . . . Book Covers Gone Wild!)

Old skirt from the ARC. This is NOT the cover of my book!

My cover continues to make people talk. This is fantastic. And a little annoying. Fantastic because it sure does catch the eye. Annoying because most of the time, people who are upset by it are talking about the WRONG cover! In a previous entry, “Judging My Book By Its Cover,” I explained that when the ARC came out, some people were offended by the girl’s skirt length, so the skirt was altered. I don’t mind. I mean, I like it both ways, but if the new one will make people more likely to recommend the book, then longer is better. The annoying thing is that the old image continues to be used in blogs that chatter endlessly about how they couldn’t possibly read my book because of the skirt. Apparently, too much leg in a photo = a crappy book. Um, okay. But to reiterate, they’re looking at the wrong cover. Sigh.

New longer skirt. Still cute. Less upsetting?

I consider my cover intriguing and sexy and terrific. And bit of “buyers beware.” This ain’t your grandmother’s Hamlet. Innocent? Not my Ophelia. Prude? Nope. Coy? You must be kidding. It’s a clear message to anyone looking for a stodgy re-telling of Hamlet to move on. It’s also clear to parents that the content is for older kids. I’m glad about this. As a parent and a teacher, I like to know what a book might be offering up.

FALLING FOR HAMLET was reviewed by the New York Times. (I’m so excited by this that I had to fit it in . . . but my name dropping, “yay me” moment really does have a point.) The article talked in large part about girls, romance, and sex. It commended my frank approach to the subject. But the funny thing is, there’s not a lot of sex in my book. The body count vs. scenes of intimacy is tipped way on the side of blood and gore. Even funnier is that an entire paragraph of the Times article focuses on a scene about sex that my editor and I discussed dropping. Well, I asked about cutting it multiple times. I wrote it, but writing about something so real and intimate made me uncomfortable. See, I, like much of America, am more at ease with murder and trauma than sex. And yet, a girl is much more likely to have to negotiate a physical relationship with her boyfriend than deal with a boyfriend who’s possibly insane and definitely a murderer. Not once, however, did I ask my editor if the body count was too high or offer to change the plot based on there being too much violence. Sad, but true.

Even my blog-mates got in on the short skirt fun/controversy for my launch!

So back to the cover. Today on the street, I bet there were at least a couple of girls who had skirts shorter than Ophelia’s originalcover skirt. In real life, people probably didn’t point or gasp or try to cover her up. Tween and teen girls watch pop stars on TV who are nearly naked shaking their moneymakers, and we accept it. Why is a book so very different? Why do we accept in real life that which we do not in print? And why is book violence fine but a healthy sexual relationship is not? I don’t know.

What I do know is my cover has people talking. And I love that. So grab my book for the cover. Stay for the story.


Filed under Controversy, Editing and Revising, Editor, Reviews