So, one day, for whatever reason, you fancy eating out. Going to a pub or a restaurant or a little cafe. Just going somewhere where you will not have to cook. So you order your food, you get your food, and there’s something obviously wrong with it. Maybe it’s not what you asked for, maybe it’s missing something, maybe it’s undercooked or burnt, or just generally disgusting.
So you say something. You complain. And you get a response. The response is: “Let’s see you do better”.
I’m hoping most people could see why that situation would be absurd. If someone has paid for a product, and the product is bad, then whether or not that person could have done a better job of it themselves is irrelevent. If you’re willing to take someone’s money, you should be willing to take their criticism. But it seems to be an uncomfortably common response when people’s writing is criticised.
Before I go any further, I actually do think there are occasions – very occasional occasions – where this response may be justified. I once thought there weren’t, but yes, there are some people who don’t seem willing to see any good in something unless every detail is as they would have done it. Even in the analogy up there, if you’re eating out you have to accept that the meal may not have been made to your exact preferences, and that you probably would have made it differently. I’m just acknowledging this here, because some people are unreasonable. But still, even if you do have such a person tearing into your work, it’s probably best to just ignore them. There are some people who are unpleasable, but they’re still entitled to their opinions, and coming out with a line like “You do better!” will achieve nothing good.
I wanted to get that out of the way. Most critics are not like that, but I don’t think it’s helpful to not acknowledge the existence of awkward people. But again, most critics aren’t awkward, unpleasable people. They’re just people who read your writing, and didn’t like it. Or maybe they did like it, but can also see the flaws in it. Some of my favourite books are absolutely riddled with problems. Someone not liking your writing doesn’t justify having a go at them to begin with, but you may well be lashing out at someone who did like it, but felt a need to be honest. You don’t know. You may well lose a fan.
And even if that’s not the case, if it is a person who was never going to give anything else you write a chance, you still achieve nothing good by having a go at them. You make youself look immature and unprofesional, and behaviour like this is more likely to lose potential readers than a bad review. And, to be honest, if you do behave this way, the likelyhood is you are immature and unprofessional, and you deserve to lose readers. Sorry. People not liking your work is the risk you run when you share it, and it can hurt, but it’s something you have to deal with. Especially if you’re taking money for your work. That’s the difference between an author and (most) reviewers; they’re not taking money for their work, so it doesn’t matter how good they can do, it doesn’t matter if it’s better or worse than the author.
Basically, this is not a good answer to criticism. It’s very, very rarely a valid response. If you use this as a comeback, then by the same logic, you cannot complain about or criticise anything ever again, unless you could indeed do better, and that’s not going to be the case with the majority of things. Critics may be able to do better than you, they may not, it doesn’t matter. If you charge people for something then you’ve basically said that’s worth paying for, and if someone thinks it isn’t, they have a right to say so. If you haven’t charged, you’re probably still looking for feedback if you’ve shared your work, and feedback is no good if you only listen to the stuff you agree with. And on the occasion ‘Let’s see you do better’ could maybe be somewhat valid, what is it going to achieve? Really, it’s just better all round to stay away from this response.