The Meltdown Heard ‘Round the World

I know the setup on this is gonna be long, but if you hang in there, I actually have something to add on all this foofarah.

A little earlier this week, on March 28th, I read a Tweet by @Piratenami that went as follows;

This is a fabulous train wreck, and a lesson for writers on how NOT to respond to negative reviews.

It was followed by one of those short links, which I have added to the text line as the actual link for those who are cautious about where they’re clicking to. I always get nervous clicking on some random jumble of letters, myself.

I read that teaser, and of course I ignored it, because I’m above gawking at that kind of thing, right?

Heck no, off I scurried!

That teaser really got my attention on two fronts.

First, I fancy myself as being a writing enthusiast, which is my new euphemism for “I’d like to be called a writer but I know I’m not as skilled as REAL writers”.

Second, as an occasional theorycrafter, writer of guides about playing a video game, and blunt Bear about town, I’ve had my share of criticism and negative reviews… and trolling, and threats to my family, and so on. 

I know how I’ve handled criticism in the past, which is to ignore it elsewhere, and to moderate it on my own website for language, threats, and extreme soapboxing.

Protip; if you don’t like something I said, hit your bullet points, quoting where I got it wrong, and end it short and sweet. If you write three posts of massive walls of text in the comments one right after the other counting over 4000 words each, longer than even my original Bearwall… that’s just silly. At that point, start your own blog, willya? Sheesh.

So, a train wreck involving a published writer commenting on negative reviews? Omigod! This I have to see.

Oh. Oh, wow. Oh, that’s simply amazing.

You don’t have to go far to find the author’s replies in the comments to that review… Jacqueline Howett, the author in question, was the very first commenter to the review. Kinda pounced on it. Which is great for our short attention span little minds, it helps us get to the good bits fast.

After my long exposure to Trade Chat in World of Warcraft, I have to say my first thought to Jacqueline’s comments was “Boy, for someone that works with words, she sure did resort to the two simplest words for a rebuttal in record time. What a stunning lack of imagination.”

I’ll give you this one, very small, directly copied sampling of one of her comments so you get a tease of the beginning of her descent. This is from before she really loses it. No, really.

Look AL, I’m not in the mood for playing snake with you, what I read above has no flaws. My writing is fine. You were told to download a new copy for format problems the very next day while they were free at Smashwords, so you could choose any format you wanted to read it in and if their were any spelling mistakes they were corrected. Simply remove this review as it is in error with you not downloading the fresh copy i insisted. Why review my book after being told to do this, and more annoying why have you never ever responded to any of my e-mails?

So, ummm… that’s just the start? Train wreck is such an appropriate description.

I’ve gone about my business since, and thought nothing more of it except to reaffirm my stance that once I say something, it’s out there. If people don’t like it, hey. I need to get a helmet and move on.

Then I woke up this morning to check my Tweet feed before work, and found this little snippet from Neil Gaiman himself;

That poor author meltdown over criticism of her bad grammar & spelling is pure Dunning-Kruger Effect. See transcript at website link.

I read that, and the very first thing that popped into my head when seeing the words “author meltdown” were the comments by Jacqueline. But surely that’s not what…

Yes, yes that was what he was referring to. Holy c^%!

You know, I can only pray that if I’m ever linked to or talked about by someone whose work I respect as highly as Neil bloody Gaiman, it wouldn’t be in reference to something like that.

I’m getting to a point, I swear.

The transcript Neil Gaiman linked to was a discussion about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

To quote snippets of the transcript;

…It’s the idea that the worse you are at something the more likely you’ll hold an inflated view of your own performance…

…across every test, the students at the bottom end of the bell curve held inflated opinions of their own talents, hugely inflated. In one test of logical reasoning, the lowest quartile of students estimated that their skills would put them above more than 60% of their peers when in fact they had beaten out just 12%…

…on the other end of the bell curve the talented students consistently underestimated their performance. Again to the test of logic; those topping the class felt that they were only just beating out three-quarters of their classmates, whereas in reality they had out-performed almost 90% of them…

The verdict was in; idiots get confident while the smart get modest, an idea that was around long before Dunning and Kruger’s day. Bertrand Russell once said, ‘In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.’ From his essay ‘The Triumph of Stupidity’, published in 1933.

Go read the entire transcript here. I enjoyed the way they presented their points and the examples they gave. The ‘juice’ example was my favorite. 🙂

Here is the reason I’m bringing all this up, and no, it’s not just because I like a good popcorn train wreck.

Well, maybe a little.

The suggestion that Dunning-Kruger Effect could help explain the apparent inability of Jacqueline to see anything wrong with her writing could just as easily apply to darn near anything we do.

But it doesn’t REALLY help anything.

Take my own writing, as an example. I’ve said before, I always publish my posts feeling that they’re, if not actual rubbish, close enough for government work.

Now, since I don’t think my own writing is very good, does that mean, by the results of Dunning-Kruger, that it’s actually very good?

No, no it does not. What it means is that I am too deeply involved with my own writing to be able to get an outside perspective on how other people would view it.

My writing may be good, bad or just middling, but being the writer, I’m not really able to have a clear, objective impression on what you as the reader are going to think of it.

I can give you another example from my own life. I have long thought of myself as a damn good Bear tank. I was confident enough in my skills at that class and role that I had the effrontery to write guides and tips and suggestions about how to do it as well as you can.

Does Dunning-Kruger mean that I’m actually completely delusional and actually suck at it?

Well, actually maybe it does. 🙂 But I have no real way of knowing, because with some PUG groups we may go insanely smooth, and other groups we might have massive fail, and on the groups that went well I might have just been carried to victory by a great healer. 

I can’t really KNOW. But being the kind of person that I am, I now have a wonderful new level of self-doubt to explore. If I am confident that I’m good at something, am I really bad and don’t know it? Omigod!

What I love about the idea of Dunning-Kruger, though, is what else it might apply to.

Say… social skills.

The people you meet in World of Warcraft, for example.

Are you talking to people in Trade chat, or in PUGs, or just over vent who are so incredibly bad at social skills and how to interact with other living, breathing people that they really think that the way they talk to people is great?

Did that guy who told you to “l2p, noob” when you asked for a second’s pause to drink to regain Healer mana actually think that you appreciated his taking the time to guide you on your priorities? Did he think you left the experience looking forward to playing with him again in the future?

It boggles the mind. It really does.

The very idea that the people who drive us batshit crazy might be that deluded is fascinating.

And I might be one of them!

The whole idea has added an entirely new level of surrealism to my already weird life. And I’m loving it.

It’s like tap dancing on a mudslide.

Geez, next thing you know I’m going to get into some kind of existentialist BS about “Am I really real”, and somebody’s gonna have to slap me.

Ah well. I hope that I have at the least amused you as much today as this entire thing has amused and educated ME.

32 thoughts on “The Meltdown Heard ‘Round the World

  1. Pingback: A Suitable Tale of Woe | Preposterous Pretentious Prattle

  2. Dear BBB,

    One of the old “fill in the blank” adages goes “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal” (or DMs, or teachers, or… you get the point) So to prove DEFINITIVELY that I’m a great writer (and no one hat better say otherwise – (see the joke there?)), let me make a point about your bearwalls by stealing another’s line. I know I first read it in the Coda at the end of the anniversary copy of Fahrenheit 451 (speaking of flame wars), but I believe Mr. Bradbury was quoting others.

    So, to get to my own point: “Digression is the soul of wit.”

    Digress, sir, and never question it (though any sane person would, of course).



  3. Thanks for the link to the train wreck! It completely made my otherwise lousy day.

    I even went to look at the Amazon reviews (always good for a laugh). It appears that the single non-sarcastic review of the book came from the author’s sister. It was so funny, I felt a little sad.


  4. Want really feakin’ funny?

    Author’s response on 3/28 @ 9:37

    And I quote:

    “As to annoymous

    Al was given the option of a free copy from smashwords the following day to download in any format he preffered.”

    Anyone else think Al had a valid point?


  5. I read the first paragraph of the description and was like “oooookay… I’m so NOT going to read this book.” Seriously… look at the plot. Regular seaman takes his wife on cargoship? Fact checking? ZERO. Of course, the chick is a “modern author”.

    This, however, is my favorite part: “She carried her stocky build carefully back down the stairs.” What is that character? A horse?

    The girl sounds like a former RPer, who wrote those lengthy, horribly annoying posts, which go to such great length and detail, that half way any normal RPer will either fall asleep or say “fuck it” and leave (I know such people, they annoy me, I hate those “wall of text hits you for 3,000 critical damage, you are dead” posts), had some friends in her RP clique who said those were great (it’s one of the issues I have with RPing these days, it’s like bloody high school all over again with all the cliques), then she started to self publish.

    Also love how she goes postal “Fuck off!” Very professional.

    Now, where is the mailman with my copy of “1Q84”. Murakami, now that is a writer. She could learn one or two… thousand things from him.


  6. The D-K paper is quite interesting – especially for me, originally being from a different culture (Germany) and migrated to NC when I was ~30. I always wondered how people here (in the US) could exaggerate their resumes nearly to the point of lying, and instead of getting fired, get promoted to management positions.

    BBB, don’t fall for logic traps. Things that work in one direction don’t always work in the other 😉

    “Every Lady is a woman, but not every woman is a Lady”…


  7. Once she replied to the bad review she became troll bait. It was actually kind of funny until the trolls started carrying on among themselves. One thing for sure about us trolls our opinion is by far the wisest and most highly regarded on the whole Internets!
    I read what I like. I like what I read here. Thanks and keep writing.


  8. This Train Wreck you linked is certainly that but to those of us who are jaded by the communities we interact with ourselves (such as say some of the Travel Industry for me or the Official WoW Forum Community) it is a bit of a bleak reminder that there are alot of people put there who are only there to berate or belittle others. From what I can see the blog was well written, and while the Authors response was bad, the response from the general community was incredibly terrible, which is a little disheartening.

    If this makes you wonder about what people are thinking of your writing though .. I would think that here at the BBB you’d know after all this time that people coming here like what they see .. otherwise they wouldn’t have been returning after how many years? The way you write has its own rythm and flow, which I like, others may not but hey that happens, and as long as you enjoy doing it I say keep doing it.


  9. I have heard this before and find it quite amusing, but I think it may have more to do with cultural norms than anything else. Our culture despises below average people despite the obvious that half of us will always be there! So people who know they suck just don’t want to admit it and those that know they do not are not sure by how much and are not bothered about it. I always assume I suck because I have a bus pass from the grave yard!


  10. Hmm…Good bad or Mediorce BB, you are without a doubt far more entertaining than I lol. Anyways, what I enjoyed about this particular Bear Wall was that you tied something from the outside to the inside and made your readers (to include myself up front) THINK! Now that is writing.


  11. I choose to believe that you are a super fantastically awesome bear tank selling himself short by thinking he is merely “damn good!

    …and I love your writing.


  12. As for self evaluation, look at what others say. I feel like I’m pretty good as a Bear tank, but I have substantiating evidence. Namely, I have a pocket healer that I like to run with, and he clearly sees the difference when he runs with another tank. Don’t you run with Cassie?

    Anyway, there are arguments about basing your sense of self on other people’s opinions, but certainly it should be part of the equation.


  13. Funny thing is, the review mentions that the author was educated in London… I don’t mind the location, but the suggestion of education surely doesn’t come up to me when I read her replies 😀

    Thanks for a good laugh yet again, I always have a hard imagining those things actually happen, but they do I guess. Can you believe those people have voting rights as well? 😉

    I liked Nyctefs “if you can *conceive* the fact that Dunning-Kruger might apply to you, then it probably doesn’t :P”
    You will be fine Big Bear!

    And even if you’re not going to be fine, as long we keep reading your blog, who cares? You’re in my bookmarks for sure 😀


  14. Oh my…thank you for the giggle today!

    I peeked at the comments…she could have simply emailed the guy and said — by chance can you tell me what copy you used for your review? So not hard…


    But /giggle also 🙂

    As a writer, you take the good with the bad…and quite honestly it’s only the grammar/spelling mentioned. Her story appears to be pretty good/decent.

    Although the title just…sigh. Of all the titles to pick…


  15. Being aware of Dunning-Kruger actually does help, because it’s a starting point for finding ways to overcome it.

    First and foremost: finding ways to get objective feedback from others as to your level of competence.

    Here on your blog, you have plenty of repeat readers coming back time after time, quite a few of whom regularly contribute in the comments. You might even have stats as to how many hits your RSS feed gets. So while it isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, you’re clearly doing something right to collect and keep an audience for your writing (and, in case it isn’t completely obvious, if I didn’t like the way you write, your blog wouldn’t have a place in my RSS reader!).

    As far as tanking goes… even though you don’t theorycraft on the blog any more, it seems clear that you still do your research about feral tanking techniques and are constantly questioning yourself to see if there are things you can do better. Since the major symptom of D-K (oh, the synchronicity of that acronym) is a blasé assurance that you’re already competent, self-doubt and a search for external ways to validate your self-assessment actually is a pretty good sign that you aren’t suffering from it.

    In the commercial writing world… that feedback comes from editors and publishers. A good writer welcomes constructive criticism that is based in fact, a bad one will deny that there is anything wrong. Richard Morgan (author of Altered Carbon, among other things) tells a great story about his early attempts to submit the AC manuscript for publication. What was happening was that his first few sample chapters were effective in garnering requests for the whole manuscript, but the manuscript itself kept getting rejected. Eventually he sat down and reread the whole thing himself and realised the people rejecting it had a point – because he tended to periodically go back and polish the manuscript from the beginning, the early chapters had been tightened up to the point where they were of an extremely high quality, but the standard steadily dropped off as you progressed through the manuscript towards the later chapters that hadn’t received anything like the same level of review. So he took the time to bring the whole things up to the standard of the early chapters, and the rest is history (i.e. he sold plenty of copies of Altered Carbon and has since published numerous other books).


  16. BBB, don’t doubt yourself! I really enjoy your style of writing, never mind the level of polish or length of bearwalls. You make me laugh, you make me think, you even managed to make me miss WoW with your last post. Not enough to re-up but close ;-).


  17. Thanks for sharing this, BBB, freakin hillarious. I am easily amused by the rantings of stupid people, which is probably why I ended up becoming an attorney:) I started following your blog a couple of years ago for druid advice and I’ve been an avid subscriber ever since, regardless of the topic. I’m glad to hear you were able to find the shinyness in WoW again as well. I recently transferred to a different server with two close friends for a fresh start and I’ve had more fun just randoming and leveling up with them in the last few months than I had with all my raiding and alts in the previous 3 years. Btw, I started reading the Sword of Shannara series. First book was a little stereotypical at points but good overall, and each subsequent book has gotten better and better. Just one more series to add to your list if you haven’t already read them.


  18. This whole thing is fascinating. I’d like to join you in a shudder to imagine that the day Neil Gaiman notices me is because I have made a colossal ass out of myself in front of the ENTIRE WORLD.

    The D-K effect is something I had never heard of! I think if you’re interested in that, here’s another article you might like:

    I actually read the book they’re talking about in the article, but this gives a nice overview. I think you’d enjoy the book as well! It has a whole section where they talk about this from the point of view of parents raising their kids. (Not applicable to me, but very interesting!)


  19. Are you talking to people in Trade chat, or in PUGs, or just over vent who are so incredibly bad at social skills and how to interact with other living, breathing people that they really think that the way they talk to people is great?

    Just last night, someone I was in Vent with was complaining that his grandmother said he needed to get more social skills. His reasoning was, “I play this game with millions of people every day, how could I possibly need more social skills.” I was totally dumbfounded for at least a minute.


  20. Train wreck was, and is, a very apt description. I didn’t even read all the reviews. I couldn’t. The train wreck is only morbidly fascinating until I see blood or bodies and then I have to look away. I was embarrassed for Ms. Howett. I know, odd, right? She wasn’t embarrassed, which was part of what makes it all so terrible. I can’t help but wonder if her book sales will go up because of all the hype. Y’know, people curious about just how bad the book really is (as if the examples quoted weren’t enough). If they do, she’ll take it as a vindication that she really is great. The universe truly works in mysterious ways. Existentialism indeed!

    Oh, and you rock, BBB. Don’t tie yourself in knots over the D-K effect. One of the benefits of being a blogger is the feedback and your readers aren’t shy. We’ll let you know if you ever fall off the deep end. 😉


  21. omigod…

    It’s a little late in the day for someone who uses the internet for their professional life not to realize that one bad moment in a life can become a lifetime of viral misery. That was just…

    …I’m speechless. Someone should note the date and time on THAT.

    BBB…your writing is awesome, and something I look forward to every day. A good part of that love comes from the fact that you don’t put yourself out there as any sort of “resident expert”. You have good tips, you give them…you make mistakes, you talk about them. You acknowledge your imperfection, and make us all feel a part of the evolution of your thoughts. And you do so with humor, modesty and the ability to laugh at yourself, and with us.

    Thank you. Just that.


  22. I saw this yesterday through writer blogs and such. Ya know it’s bad when it cascades through other blog-spheres.

    Anywho. I think a lot of writers in the beginning phases of writing, especially, forget that the point of writing is to be read. I’m a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing, because he makes writing all about the reader. It’s really not about the writing. Your stories are full of people, they are full of story.

    From that standpoint, I enjoy your blogs. Your writing is personal, timely, and sparked with humor. I have never once felt, even in Bear Walls, that you were talking to hear yourself speak or just typing out clever phrases. You’re always writing to your reader.

    To apply the DK effect to WoW, though… How many hours would one have to play to get the scope of mastery? I don’t mean to attain mastery, but to actually get a sense for how high the bar is set at the top? I think the harder it is to see the difference between the top and the bottom, the easier it is for the ones on the bottom to delude themselves. Hence, writer meltdown.

    It sounds like you might enjoy the book The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The second half the book goes into the illusions of potential and skill. Fascinating stuff, the way that people think about what they can do and what they can’t, what we remember and what we forget, etc, and in a similar vein to your post.


  23. I like the poster that was in my middle school choir room, oh…. longer ago than I care to think about.

    “Half if being smart is knowing what you’re stupid at.”

    Maybe it’s not the best motivational poster by today’s standards, but I got the message. Know your weaknesses. Acknowledge them, or ignore them and make a fool of yourself.

    Too bad this author wasn’t in the same choir.


  24. A few things, first writers write. You do that, therefore you are a writer. It isn’t practicing medicine, dentistry, or law, so there is nothing more required than that.

    Me I am a lawyer, but when I don’t want to be entangled by people’s fears and misconceptions, (or worse their desire to ask about their cousin’s sister’s friend’s former roommate’s legal issue), I say I am a writer. And it is true. People ask if I am published, (because as we all know “real” writers are published the rest are a bunch of posers.);P “Yes I am, I was published in several periodicals,” (ABA student journals and other legal magazines, but published is published. And aren’t all my pleadings published, and free to the public. You tell a client’s story to the judge, so yeah.) I have my blog, so I also publish that way.

    I love my blog because it can be messy and I don’t feel like it has to be polished, like a magazine or journal article does. I explore concepts and ideas that don’t need to be fully thought through, and won’t work in a book. Punctuation and grammar can be off and who cares? All of about half a dozen people admit to reading my stuff anyway, so what does it matter?

    It can be messy, but does it tell the story? Writing, like sex, is a messy thing in reality. This isn’t the movies, and I say if people read your stuff, which clearly they do, you are published. (And by people I don’t mean your mom. We all love mom, but she lies to us, because she loves us.) Ergo I think you are a real writer. (Sorry sometimes the legal analysis takes time.)

    Next to my point above, the RP blog I wrote with a partner and am trying to rework into a publishable novel, was a mess. But it doesn’t matter, I am sure the first draft of “The Hobbit” was messy. I can’t speak about Tolkein, but I read some of C.S. Lewis’ unpublished works. The kernal of awesome was there, but the actual factual words on the page were atrocious. And that’s fine, they gave me some great ideas about, “ooh that looks good, where could I go with that?” Good writing inspires, and I see any post that gets trolled as inspired. After all they had to tell you how wrong you are. They took time out of their day. They used emotional energy to be so angry they wrote something in response. I think my first novel will be crap, and that’s okay. Because as I said above writer’s write. I am not writing to get it published, (although I probably will just for fun if no one else wants it.) I write because I love it. If other people like it, great. If not well it was an amazing process, and gets me going on other ideas for new works.

    That is not to say every moron who plays the a nal this and that game in trade chat is a writer, but I think you qualify BBB. Welcome to the club, and watch out for the sharks. XD

    P.S. I think your stuff is good, and I am not your mom, so take that for what it is worth.


  25. I’ve had that experience… although, I think, to use more D&D like terms, instead of intelligence, the scale is really reflecting Wisdom. The wiser one is, the more likely they are to undervalue their own abilities. The less wise tend to puff up their own importance. (I also happen to think that wisdom is very undervalued in comparison to intelligence…)

    For what it’s worth, as a part time proofreader, your writing is quite good – and where it might falter, you cleverly disguise it with humor, which anneals many flaws.

    Heck, you’re the only true blog I check every day. That’s saying something… but maybe that’s only important to me. Meh.

    Keep writing, I’ll keep reading 🙂


  26. Obligatory:

    Talking about the Dunning-Kruger effect, though, I think you can put it the other way round. So people who are able to asses their own efforts (or at least know that they cannot objectively do so, and seek outside help) are people who end up being smarter for it — people who can’t think like that end up dumber.

    Or to put it another way .. if you can *conceive* the fact that Dunning-Kruger might apply to you, then it probably doesn’t 😛


  27. Loved the post..

    I always wondered if the confident idiots/modest smart people was related to the more you know.. the more you realise you don’t know.

    Ah well, *Deluded and proud* 😀


  28. Your writing’s fine. It’s readable, even the bearwalls get to the point eventually, right? 🙂 Anyway I like it. So continue on with your bad self and keep writing.

    “The verdict was in; idiots get confident while the smart get modest.” Indeed.


  29. What’s the old joke? “One in four people are certifiably insane. Check your three best friends; if they are OK… it’s you.”

    Perception, especially self-perception, is a funny thing. Heaven help us with those who keep “failing upwards” and actually have power to do something with their deep imcompetence cleverly disguised as confidence.


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