“Let’s see YOU do better!”

Alternative title: Why writers need to have a thick skin and common sense.

“Let’s see YOU do better!” is one of the most common cries among fans of a work, actor, athlete, whatever when the object of their adulation is receiving criticism. The implication is that if you don’t have the same experience as the person in that field, you really have very little room to be criticizing a bad job in that area, especially since that person is doing something that you are incapable of.

To a certain extent, I can see where people who make this argument are coming from. For instance, I play ice hockey, and while I expect professional ice hockey players to do a better job of their game since they’re getting paid for it, I also know that there’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes of a game that won’t necessarily show up on camera, especially in the case of injuries. So while I’ll call out a hockey player on a bad game, I don’t make the leap to saying that he’s a flop without a lot of evidence.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize bad hockey playing when I see it. Most people can.

The same thing applies to writing and storytelling- I think especially to writing and storytelling, especially since the “Let’s see you do better argument!” tends to get thrown around a LOT in writing circles. Just one priceless example- Stephen King got it thrown at him by fans of Stephenie Meyer for his comments here. The assumption there appears to be that someone who is interested in books shouldn’t throw stones at a book unless he or she can write one.

Here’s the problem: someone who’s not an author or aspiring writer can still recognize the difference between a good story and a bad one.

I was inspired to write this post after some tweets by Laurell K. Hamilton, whom I follow on Twitter mainly for the amusement. I wasn’t disappointed this time around, as she actually claimed that the people who were giving her negative reviews were jealous wannabe writers. Really. (She also claims that those who don’t like her work are all sexually frustrated, but that’s a topic for another time… a better write-up of her Twitter antics is here.)

This dismissal of negative feedback is ridiculous for a couple reasons. One, as said above, you don’t need to be a writer to distinguish good writing from bad writing. My mother, who has no literary aspirations whatsoever, was in fits of laughter when I read her some excerpts of LKH’s work. This is the same woman who introduced me to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Alexander McCall Smith. She can identify a good writer when she sees their work. My sister, who is set to graduate from culinary school this year and is a damn spectacular cook, is a very good judge of what makes for good literature and what doesn’t (incidentally, she wrote this piece for the blog earlier). They don’t need to be aspiring writers to identify something as poorly written. When you write anything at all, you’re hoping to reach out to people who aren’t writers, which is the majority of the population. It’s a given that not everything you write will be approved by them, and dismissing those who don’t like what you do as jealous smacks of insecurity. By decrying everyone who’s negatively reviewed her as jealous, Laurell K. Hamilton is trying to invalidate their points about her poor writing, and claim that because they’re aspiring writers, they have an axe to grind by decrying her work.

This leads me to the second point, which is that her claim is utterly bogus.  Most aspiring writers are far too busy trying to land an agent or pitch their work to actually launch a campaign to decry someone who is a very established author in her field. In fact, many of the negative reviews Hamilton is decrying all describe themselves as former fans who are wondering what happened to a series they enjoyed. Jealousy and disappointment are not the same thing, and it’s fairly obvious from what I’ve seen that most of her fans are disappointed. They don’t want to supplant her or take what she has- they instead want to see her go back to what she was writing before. That’s hardly jealousy. I don’t doubt that there are some writers who would like to have what she does- the ability to have a book go on the bestselling list when the majority of it is poorly written sex scenes.  But if that’s what they want, they’ll probably spend their time writing that way instead of spending their time trashing another person’s work.

The lesson here is this. You can’t control people’s reactions to work once you put it out there for public consumption. It may be tempting to fall into the “Let’s see you do better!” argument. But it’s completely unnecessary. For one thing, why encourage the potential competition? For another, it shouldn’t matter. Someone’s background and aspirations will not invalidate their opinions, or lessen the impact of their reactions. There’s nothing to be done about other people’s sentiments, but as a writer you can and should control your own, especially in the age of social media. If some people think your work is poorly written, then that’s ultimately their decision. Choosing to ignore that and keep writing what you like to write is a perfectly acceptable choice to make. Acting entitled and snotty because of what those people say is not.

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12 thoughts on ““Let’s see YOU do better!”

  1. Amen sister!
    I can see that it may be easier for authors to reject the bad feedback to help shield themselves from the disappointment that the hours they’ve slaved away at their book were wasted, but it’s so important to take on critisism. Author’s should want to better their writing and appeal to their fans, and well, if the fans aren’t happy she should listen and do something about it!
    I wholeheartedly agree with you, people don’t need a literary career to know bad writing when they see it, they may not know WHY exactly it’s bad, only that it is. Intuition and etc.

    • What gets me so annoyed isn’t that she’s choosing to ignore all criticism- though that is something that tells me a lot about how committed a writer is to improving- but that she’s refusing to acknowledge that anyone might have a legitimate reason to dislike her work. According to LKH, they’re either jealous of her professional success- or yeah, sexually frustrated. Personally I think she has sex too much on the brain, from what I know of her work. But what would I know? I’m obviously just a jealous wannabe writer. 😉

      • Hahaa totally. I didn’t have a clue who she was until you mentioned her, but from her Tweets and etc I’m in no way interested in picking up any of her works!

        • It says a lot about this woman that I first found about her from the fact that she tends to throw online temper tantrums rather than through her books. That said, I did check them out of sheer bile fascination, and the first one so far isn’t actually that bad. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a decent enough beach read, and I can see why people would enjoy it. But what makes it rather depressing is that I know the series takes a nosedive before it gets very far. She became a best-seller on the strength of her earlier books, from what I understand, and ever since she made the series into nothing but a sex-fest, she’s been losing readers at a pretty steady clip.

          • It certainly does!
            Yeah it’s a real shame when that happens to a series. I have the first Wheel of Time on my shelf and I want to get A Game of Thrones but I’ve been largely put off by complaints that the series goes really downhill.
            Do you think you will continue to read her series to see how bad it gets? Haha.

            • Game of Thrones is definitely worth reading for the first 3 books, I’d say- it was the fourth where I sort of lost it. But I still plan to go back- just not for a while, probably not till this summer or so. Wheel of Time- yeah, I think you read my thoughts on that…
              I’m pretty tempted, actually. Some of the excerpts I’ve come across sound so hilariously bad that I want to read them just to see how out of whack they can get. Though I am doing that for The DaVinci Code right now, and that has more than its fair share of unintentionally hilarious writing 😀

              • Ahh right cool, maybe I will give them a go then! 🙂
                Yeah I did read your post, but since I’d bought the first book by that point my fate was already sealed I’m afraid 😛 Who knows, maybe because I have such low expectations I will actually end up enjoying it :s
                Haha, I’ve got the Da Vinci Code to read too, I’ll be looking forward to that! 🙂

                • Hopefully you will! And I’ll be looking forward to your thoughts on DaVinci Code. I’m finding it really amusing, and don’t think that was what the author had in mind…

  2. I wish I had seen this post earlier – by and large I completely agree with what you are saying. Authors need to pull their head’s out of their arses when it comes to this sort of thing.

    I fully admit that when someone points out something negative about my stuff – no matter how polite, friendly, constructive, etc. they are about it – I will have a mini-tantrum in my head and get a bit miffed. I will then go and make a cup of tea, wait ten minutes, and re-read it all again with a calmer head.

    It’s childish and it’s irrational but, well, no-one likes being told they have an ugly baby I guess. But if someone has taken the time to read my work, no doubt spending their own money in the process, then they are entitled to say how they felt about it.

    If an author goes down the path of arguing the toss over something in a review then they are digging themselves a hole that they might not be able to get out of. An author will obviously view their work as being very personal, but a reviewer/blogger will also see their reviews/blogs as a personal thing as well.

    To be honest if I wrote a review on my blog and the author got upset about it, I would laugh at them and troll them endlessly until they went away. In fact I would probably edit their comments as well just for an even bigger laugh.

    • Definitely it smarts whenever your writing gets negative feedback- I can relate that, as it’s happened to me multiple times. But to me the writing and the baby comparison don’t quite match up- because sometimes when the defects in the writing are pointed out, they can be mended and improved. And sometimes tastes just differ and there’s not a whole lot that can be said for it.
      In this case, this woman is just responding really childishly. Reviews aren’t something you have very much control over, and attacking the people who write them won’t do any good. It hurts a lot to be told that the characters aren’t doing anything for your readers, but arguing on that point won’t alter their opinion. So I can relate to being a bit hurt by it, but responding the way she has really makes her look like she’s pitching a fit.

      If that ever happens on your blog, please let me know. I’d love to see that unfold 😀

  3. Pingback: Thoughts on ‘Guilty Pleasures’ | I Could Be Arguing In My Spare Time

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