The Dunning-Kruger effect – does it work for emotions too?

As part of my research into the latest novel, I stumbled upon this absolute gem of a study. It has seriously made my week. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of already knowing this, the paper they did is titled, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” (1999). Basically, if you’re really dumb, you will never realise it. In fact, you’ll honestly believe that you’re actually very smart and are exceptionally good at lots of things. You won’t doubt your own abilities or understanding of anything, because you’ll know better than everyone else.

It explains so much of the world. I’m sure everyone can think of people they’ve met who baffle you with their confident assertions of ridiculousness until you start doubting yourself. I have a particular person I know, who without naming names or identifying them in any way, leaves me almost speechless on a regular basis. Things so obviously false are said with such utter certainty that you have to stop and do an internal check and a quick summation of proof for your own interpretation of reality before you can respond. But part of the problem is also that if you’re unaware of your own stupidity, you’re unlikely to change. In a follow-up study, “Why the Unskilled are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-insight Among the Incompetent “(2008) they found that people who performed badly in testing did not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve. People who performed well though, did learn from feedback they were given on how to improve.

Though I enjoyed reading about it, relishing, finally, an explanation for that person in my life, it does start one down a rabbit hole of introspection. Basically, any time I’m not doubting myself could be a time when I’m being stupid.

On the other hand, all those times where I do doubt my own abilities, like when I wonder whether I should keep pursuing a career in writing because maybe I’m really crap at it and it’s only my friends telling me they like my writing to be nice, maybe I’m actually doing okay. It’s somewhat reassuring, but endless self-doubt is time consuming, as well as boring for other people. It can also stop you from doing the things you need to do, like marketing.

Then I though about relationships and whether the Dunning-Kruger effect could apply to emotional intelligence too. To give some context as to why I might wonder this, up until my late thirties, I thought I was rock solid and had escaped a not ideal childhood almost totally unscathed. It’s only been lately that I’ve been recognising that I have issues I’ve been oblivious to for years. As an example, I have trouble identifying my emotions. I have a few go-to responses for almost every situation, and sometimes they aren’t the most sensible. For instance, if someone does something that I find hurtful, I shut down completely. I don’t talk and I don’t explain, I just disappear. If I don’t see the person, I don’t have to think about what happened. It’s like an emotional magic show where I make the thing that wounded me vanish like it never happened. Which is stupid, obviously. It isn’t a rational response, and doesn’t help the situation, at all. I know this, so now I have to try to change this response, which isn’t easy.

But, now that I know that I’m emotionally stupid, does that mean that I’m not?

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Is Real Necessarily Better than Fake?

I was looking at one of those home sale websites (actually several, but that’s a separate issue) that fill up my inbox. Generally I ignore them, but we’re moving house so I’m all reinvigorated housefrau, hell bent on having a spotless & flawlessly decorated trophy house, at least until we’ve actually moved, then I revert to my usual token surface dusting slackness. Along with the usual handwoven rugs and ugly bedding sets, there was, on both sites I visited, sales on bogus plants.

They seem like a great idea – no watering or sudden death and they always look the same. No drooping gerberas to mess with the still going strong roses. On a side note, why can’t florists time it so everything goes south at around the same time? At least then I wouldn’t feel bad about chucking the lot. Instead I have to deal with some extra guilt in throwing away still living flowers (who might somehow be aware they’ve been thrown in with the lawn clippings) or spend time every day playing God in deciding on the fate of individual flowers. “You’re dead. You’re close enough,” I think, arbitrarily plucking them from the life sustaining water.

thMDATHANJIf I had fake flowers, I wouldn’t have to deal with this. I have enough guilt in my life with the kids, the dog, the state of the house, the state of my career, etc. It is an extension of the Christmas tree dilemma – which I solved years ago by getting a fake tree. The kids help assemble it and it’s become a nice tradition. It also means that I don’t have to deal with the remorse from killing a tree, watching in slowly droop, turn brown and die in the hot Australian summer, which is not the best time for pine trees. It doesn’t feel part of the Christmas spirit to watch the centrepiece of your celebration die. Sure a fake tree doesn’t smell as good, but I think the whole non-death thing far outweighs the cons.

Where am I going with this? Fake flowers are on par with fake people. It might seem a stretch, but bear with me. There’s been a lot of attention on Kim Kardashian and the nudes and whether or not the photo is recent and how all those people taking selfies are essentially faking it because it takes a hundred to get a good one and lots of time and effort went into taking a photo that looks like it was effortless and no one’s life is like it is on Facebook, Instagram, etc. I get that – my Instagram looks like I’m constantly writing, when instead I’m mostly wandering aimlessly around the house or looking at stock photos pretending I’m creating teasers for books I haven’t finished writing yet.

A fake plant might create the illusion at first glance that you are a whizz with plants, much like getting botox will make you, on superficial level, look 10 years younger (but then you move or talk and the illusion is broken). And that’s okay. The thing with fake plants and fake lives is that if everyone is only looking on a superficial level, then everyone can look great. And there is something really pleasant about that. Sometimes you don’t want to see the lines and effort and dust. You might need a break from all the reality to recharge mentally. It doesn’t mean that you want to only look at the surface all the time and if you care to look, it’s pretty obvious that most of the things we are seeing are not real.

So instead of blaming the person who’s putting a synthetic version of themselves out there and judging them harshly, maybe we should give them a break. Maybe their plants keep dying and they need a fake orchid in a pot plant with fake moss or the life equivalent of it. Not everyone is good with plants and houses and kids and work, all at the same time.

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Cover Reveal – is there any point?

It’s been a looong time between posts, mostly because I didn’t really have anything to say. To be honest, I’m not sure if I do now. But what I do have is a book cover. I really like it too. I’ve had it since last year because I had it done to try to inspire myself to write more quickly. Needless to say, it didn’t work. My writing just seems to come at the speed that it comes. I could no more write a book in three months than I could flap my arms really hard and fly.

It seems to be a part of the marketing process that you do a cover reveal. I’ve done it twice already, mostly because my publisher told me it was a thing, but I have to say it did seem rather pointless. So what if lots people can see the cover – even if they cared, they still can’t buy the book! Maybe it’s just me, but as a reader, when I see the cover of a book that’s not going to be out for over a month, I dismiss it instantly from my memory banks. I’m not particularly interested in a book if I can’t actually read it. I won’t store that information for weeks, because like the name of the neighbour down the road who I have no interaction with, if I need to know later, someone will tell me. Clearly, the plotlines of “Nashville” are far more important and take up the space otherwise allocated to such unnecessary things like books I can’t read and names.

So new book, new attempt at marketing. I’m not going to bother with a cover reveal, I’m just going to put it on my website. I hope you like it! “The Ragged People” should be out around April.

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Expectations – oh no!

I just finished reading a book that annoyed the hell out of me. Even a week after finishing it, I’m still bitter and twisted. The writing was great and the story was gripping right up until the last bit. By then the story was wrapping up in the usual way. I knew what was coming so starting skimming a bit, switching my brain off because I didn’t really need to concentrate. After all, once you know what’s coming, there’s no real need to focus. Except then the author threw in a curly one.

It was a romance so he was carrying around his grandmother’s ring to give to the love of his life, which of course was the other main character, because for 80,000 words we’ve been hearing that she was and it was just unfortunate circumstances that kept them apart. Except then… she wasn’t. Someone else was and he gave her the ring. Cue my WTF face:

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Now I get that there is a trend at the moment where we’re trying to show women and young girls in particular that the love of a man isn’t everything. That you can be happy and fulfilled with the love and support of your friends and family. The problem for me is that I think that’s great and support it wholeheartedly. I watched “Frozen” and loved the ending where true love is about sisterly love, rather than romantic love. Similarly, “Maleficent” was about the love of a mother figure, rather than Prince Charming. So you can imagine my horror when I found myself feeling deeply annoyed that the main character in the end behaved horribly to the original “love of his life” and decided that it was in fact his daughter who deserved his wholehearted devotion.

I should like that, right? The stressing of the importance of other types of love in our lives. But I didn’t. I actually hated it. But why? Was it because it was a man making the decision, rather than a woman, that her child was the most important thing in their life that I didn’t like? If the sexes were reversed, would I have been okay with it? As much as I hate to say it, maybe.

Quick disclaimer: I feel the need to stress that what I’m talking about is fictional works, not reality. What I want to read is completely different from what I want to happen in my actual life. I love books about stuff that I would never want to happen to me personally.

A big part of the problem is expectation: I want to be surprised, but clearly not too much. For me, there wasn’t enough of a set up for the resolution. My reaction was not the one the author was looking for.

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But then I put on my writer hat and I want to do all sorts of crazy things. There is a total disconnect between what I want to read and what I want to write. I want to write the twisty ending because that’s far more fun than just going with the obvious and I always think in my head that it’s great to surprise the reader and of course they’ll love it! This has been a great lesson for me. Readers don’t want to be surprised in the last chapter but something completely different. If you’ve stuck to a theme and known storyline, you can’t back out at the end. If you write a whole book about star-crossed lovers, then they have to be happily together at the end or there is no point to all the angst. And if you mess with that, you’ll just end up with cranky readers.

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Book Marketing – I love it!

thXEPP0EADYes, that was sarcastic. I’m in my yearly period of hell, otherwise know as “book marketing time”. It the time of year when I question why and dive into a vat of wine while eating my body weight in cake or chocolate and sometimes cake and chocolate . Given the rapid expansion of my waistline, it feels like I’m about to reach terminal velocity and literally explode, Monty Python style, from a mere wafer. My trainer just laughs at me now and makes me come for an extra session.

I’m feeling a distinct lack of sympathy for my angst.

I starting off this post writing a whinge on how I find marketing terrifying, but I’ve bored even myself. Instead, I’m going to put in two links: the first to win the amazing black pearl earrings from Stylerocks and secondly to the Goodreads giveaway of signed copies of “Superstition”. Enjoy!

Bed Porn and Failure

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Bed porn is the name I’m giving  for the bed equivalent of food porn. I’m not sure if it’s been named as such before because if I do a google search, I just get regular porn in beds (as opposed to the other, frankly less likely scenarios, that you see a lot of. Stairways? Seriously, they weren’t even carpeted. I can tell you that in reality, the person on the bottom is moving that one on fairly snappily for more hospitable surfaces). But I digress – what I was talking about was those lovely bedding pictures in homeware stores (I’m looking at you Pottery Barn) that lure you in with unrealistic bedroom outfits. I have tried, but even if I buy everything in the damn picture, my bed still doesn’t look like that. It gets close, I’ll give them that, but after one wash it is never the same. Like the haircut that looks completely different when you try to do it yourself, there is something the professionals do that is just different. A tilt of a cushion? The way the doona is just so fluffy it’s like cotton marshmallow? And no wrinkles, even on 100% cotton! In a fit of fury, I once even got out the garment steamer to go over the doona cover while it was on the bed, but still couldn’t get the crinkles out. Here’s some more pictures of what my bed does not look like just for fun:

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The reality in my house is that any more than two pillows and my husband looks confused. Once I put on European square ones and a couple of throws, it descends to looks of ridicule. I’ve accepted that he doesn’t share my love of linens, and living in a house of boys, I’m Robinson Crusoe. I only have to make the bed before it’s quickly unmade by a Pokémon battle waged by small writhing bodies. Small pillows are weapons of choice and quickly disbursed to the far corners of the house to be smeared with the nearest condiment in two seconds flat. Their enjoyment of projectile pillows is followed closely by an adoration of scissors and unfortunately in the past they’ve been combined. I, of course, get very cranky but the mulish expressions on their faces tell me that they don’t appreciate the aesthetic appeal of a well-made bed and don’t understand why I’m making such a fuss.

So why am I focussing on the ridiculous topic of bedding? Because I can tell myself that it’s not my fault that my bed is not picture perfect and it distracts me from the rejection emails currently pouring into my inbox. I’m assuming from the current trend that the latest novel probably will not find a traditional publisher so I’m busy scouring stock images for cover art. I think I’ve found the perfect image, which is a beautiful thing and puts the whole rejection process into perspective. If it doesn’t find a home, at least it will have the perfect cover, fitting the novel according to my imagining of it with no compromises for anyone else’s vision. It’s hard because I love this book, in a way I haven’t felt for any of my others. But every rejection gives a kernel of advice, some indication of the area where it is lacking. I’ve been forced to take a harsh look at my writing – too many similes, for example – and make it better.  Who knows, maybe in my future there’s a perfect bed and a perfect book. Until then, I’ll keep trying for both.

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Horrible People

Characters in a book are easy to make irredeemable, but you try not to, because you get criticized for making them one dimensional. You try to put a bit of good in with the bad to give them some texture because it makes them more realistic. But sometimes that’s not true to life. Some people you encounter really are just that awful.

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I hadn’t given it much thought until I encountered one recently. Generally, if someone is behaving badly you can write it off as a bad day, too much to drink, going through a difficult time in their lives, et cetera. From asking around, it seemed this man was genuinely what he appeared. He was loud, obnoxious and completely unattractive, both externally and internally. Literally there is no stage of drunk you could reach where he would be even tolerable. He appeared to have no knowledge of this though and regaled everyone in shouting distance of how fantastic he was. He was that stereotypical older privileged white male who travelled to third world countries a lot from the locations given for the anecdotes and you can only imagine what he got up to there. With the advent of political correctness and greater understanding of different cultures, I had thought that this type of man didn’t exist anymore. Racism and sexism are generally better hidden than in this throwback to the seventies. And I mean the 1770’s. I gained a new insight into how the atrocities towards the native inhabitants occurred when white people first arrived.

What it made me realise is that when it’s not in your face, you tend to forget stuff like this is still there. If someone isn’t drunkenly shouting absurd and increasingly vulgar statements at you, you can ignore it. A sly comment here or there, an attitude that is slightly offensive to another racial group or a patronising compliment that reinforces gender stereotypes are all easily glossed over. It is easier to ignore it than to confront someone and have your interpretation denied. In one way, it was reassuring that I wasn’t the only one disgusted by this man and that as a society we’ve come a long way. But in another, the fact that this person was still invited to social functions shows that he hasn’t had to change and is to a certain extent still tolerated.

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It has made me think about who and what I find entertaining. I often laugh at outrageous things and sometimes I’m the one trying to make people laugh by saying things I probably shouldn’t. But where is the line between funny and distasteful? Between being so careful that you become bland and just being pleasant by ensuring that you don’t offend anyone? I struggle sometimes when writing to not censor the words and actions of a character, in order to avoid potentially offending anyone. But sometimes that means that the writing doesn’t ring true, because that fictional person would have said the wrong thing. Of course not every character I write is me, though I realise by this stage in my writing career that people reading a book will generally attribute any attitude expressed to the author. Understanding what is acceptable and what isn’t is difficult with the increasing globalisation of publication, where your book is available in every country almost instantly with no regard for cultural differences.

I’m lucky that I write very commercial books that aren’t taken that seriously but it has to have an impact on people trying to write works of greater literary significance. With everyone chasing publicity, trying to get their name out there ahead of all the millions of other authors, there’s sure to be someone far more offensive in their writing than I could ever imagine being. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not. These characters might be descriptive of real people, and while they do unfortunately exist, don’t really need more air time. Though they do make excellent villains, as long as they get offed in the end because unfortunately some times, you can’t do that in real life.

When Authors Struggle – A Call to Arms

Even doing what you love, there are times when you have to question the sanity of it all. So few writers make it big, but like the majority of the actors, chefs, film makers and all gamblers out there, you mostly try not to think about it and keep going, hoping the next one will be the big one. Everyone faces rejection and disappointment, its part of being human, but there’s never a time when its easy.

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Giving away books for free doesn’t bother me much. I just hope people like it and are potentially interested in purchasing more from me. I see it in a similar way to the pirating sites that I appear on. At least they care enough to rip off one of my novels (but not the other one – what’s with that?) What doesn’t feel good is when you do a KDP promotion and while sometimes you get huge amounts of downloads, other times you only get a few. There is nothing worse that the feeling you can’t even give away work that took years of your life.

Publishers you expect to be quite impersonal in their rejections. We all know about it and have for years. The new development is that they now don’t even respond with a rejection. If you don’t hear anything, then the answer is no. This is the equivalent of calling someone to arrange a date and having them block your calls before you’ve even been for coffee.  You have not the first idea what you did wrong.

I’m not alone in wondering sometimes whether anyone wants to read my work and if I should still write. I struggled with this, on and off, until I read something written by the head of a large international literary agency. It got me so irate that I wanted to write just to spite them, if nothing else. The quote is “In all of this, only one thing is guaranteed: there are more and more people writing. I’d like to hope that this trend will be reversed sometime soon, and that only the very best and most talented people write, and the rest of us read, read and read some more!” I get that this was to publishers at a conference and that the speech was tailored to the audience, but what I took from this was basically that any writer who was self-published was rubbish and all those authors should go back to their day jobs and leave it to the agents and publishers to decide what we can read. Oh and that they should just buy lots of books in future to keep profits going, instead of making pitiful attempts at writing their own. It’s a few years on and now that same agency is all about assisting the self-publishing authors, for a fee of course.

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What this tells me is that neither publishers nor agents are in the business about caring for authors. But then again, neither is Amazon. Because they are businesses and their aim is to make money. So where does this leave the author, without whom none of this would happen? Do we give up and stop writing because all the social media requirements are driving us nuts? Or do we persevere, hoping that either we make it big or the situation improves? I think everyone walks the line, hoping that the difficulty of the publishing side is never so bad that it outweighs the joy you get from writing. No matter if you’re successful or …not so successful. And there’s usually someone out there who thinks you’re a genius, even if it’s just your Gran.

Embarrassment – the writer’s last frontier

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When you write a book, it’s pretty clear you write about the stuff that interests you. Why otherwise would you bother? It takes a long time, for no definite reward at the end. Most writers, unless you’re a Clive Cussler or James Patterson, aren’t doing it for the money. Even then it’s apparent that Mr Patterson isn’t doing the writing himself anymore. Why bother when whatever you put your name to will be a bestseller? That might sound bitter, and you’d be right. A fine example of this is the man publishing under the name Stephen King, but what most people don’t realise, because they don’t read the reviews first, is that it isn’t the Stephen King.

So I write about stuff that interests me. Unfortunately, I’m not really the sunshine and cups of tea sort of writer, such as Alexander McCall Smith, whose genius lies in making the everyday interesting. The things I write about can get a little embarrassing, particularly when close older relatives want to talk about your book that has some pretty full on sex scenes in it. My standard response is to stick my fingers in my ears and sing the theme song to The Muppets until they give up.  The downside to that is the song gets stuck in your head for days afterwards. I bet its in your head right now, going round and round because, like me, you can’t remember all the words.

I tried something new with my last book. It was clean – no sex or swearing, though still pretty dark, because that’s just the way I roll. I wanted at least one book in my career that I’d be okay with relatives and my kids reading at some stage. I am quite happy with it, and am now waiting, hoping that my agent agrees. So, whatever happens with this one, there is no font for embarrassment, on subject matter at least. The writing may be crap and the storyline line complete rubbish, but there’s no hanky panky or bad words. Because nobody knows about those. Right…

I’m going to admit something embarrassing here, because why else does one write a blog except to expose yourself: I get a ridiculous amount of enjoyment out of some pretty questionable reading material. I’ll read almost anything from space opera to historical bodice rippers, crime fiction to teen fiction. It doesn’t even have to be the best of its genre, sometimes its better when its not. And though I sometimes laugh at the ridiculous premises, I love a good hot alien capturing a human woman whose been done wrong by men all her life. Entertaining shenanigans ensue, because she’s feisty and he secretly loves it. Even though I know from the first page that they’re going to live happily ever after, I can skim the fluffy pages at the end, because that’s not what I read that sort of book for. I just like to know its there.

But what about the not so pleasant stuff? I just finished Tight by Alessandra Torre and though I’ve loved her other books, particularly Black Lies, the imprisoned and torture topic just doesn’t work for me. I realise it was a side line to the main part of the book, but interestingly she referenced the genre that’s out there and quite a lot of women like to read it. It’s one thing to like something in the privacy of your kindle, but the authors who write the stuff are the ones who are really deserve the bravery award. Some of them are hiding behind some pretty obvious nom de plumes, but some aren’t. Are they also having these awkward conversations with relatives? It makes my level of discomfort kindergarten stuff. So even though I don’t want to read about women being tied up and whipped or having sex with Big Foot, I applaud the writers like E. L. James who take their most secret thoughts and fantasies and put it out there.  It can’t be easy when there is a wild and windy plane of mortification to cross, knowing you may never reach the other side.

To self-publish or not to self-publish? That is the question…

It’s that time again, the early months of the year when I have a finished manuscript. This one took a bit longer for a number of reasons, the main one being the first time I thought I’d finished it and proudly handed it off to beta readers to peruse, the feedback was… underwhelming. In the brutally honest words of my husband, who has the dangerous and potentially life threatening dual roles of staunchest supporter and harshest critic, “it needs work”. Cue the arrow straight to the heart. After a year of harsh labour, someone called my baby ugly. Sobbing on the inside, drowning my pain with coffee and a surprisingly good Irish whiskey aptly called “Writer’s Tears”, I muscled up some internal fortitude and completely rewrote it.

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So now it’s done again and off to the beta readers. Feedback has been better, but I’m a bit scarred now. What if it’s really crap, even now? I think every writer has this fear, which makes attempting to market yourself and your work excruciating. We all know those people who are in complete denial about the level of their skills, whether it’s work, sport or ability to pick up in a bar. You don’t want to be that person, ever. That fear can be paralysing though, stopping you from doing anything in case someone, somewhere is laughing at you. Traditional publishing is great in that you can constantly reassure yourself that your book must be okay otherwise these people who don’t know you and aren’t your friends wouldn’t also like it and invest a whole lot of money in it.

 

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 Having been equally unsuccessful with both traditionally and self-published books, I think I have a sound working knowledge of the good and bad points of each. If you have success one way or the other, your perception would naturally be skewed in favour of the way that worked for you and accordingly less objective. Like the purchaser of a thermomix, you tell everyone how great it is, despite the fact there are not that many people willing and able to spend $2000 on a kitchen gadget. If it works for you, it will work for everyone, right?

So what to do with this one? I no longer have expectations of immediate critical and commercial success, which helps. One of the good things about self-publishing is the control, which people talk about a lot. It is probably the best thing about it and comes with good data about how much you’re selling and where, which helps with book promotion and knowing when you’re doing something right. The information is available quickly, so you can be responsive. The downside is that you don’t have professionals get your book polished and out there without major financial outlay and to reassure you when the doubts creep in. You pay for this though, by handing over control and the majority of sales revenue. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on the writer and the book and can only be decided in hindsight. There is no right or wrong answer, but the best thing you can have is options. If publishers are likely to be interested, it’s worth finding out even if you don’t end up taking that path. If it isn’t the sort of book they are looking for, then at least the decision on what to do becomes easier. Just strap on the chainmail before the sharpened arrows start heading in the direction of your heart. And put some make up on your book baby.

 

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