During an in-class activity for my AP Lang class, each student did a cold read of a piece they chose, then all the students provided critique out loud and written on their own copy of the author's piece. I read a poem about my life, which mainly focused on my struggles with mental illness and sexuality. Most critique was fine and constructive, but one paper that I got back really made a negative impression on me; the anonymous student responded to my piece that I should have a "more positive mindset", and that my piece was bad solely because it focused on my depression/anxiety and, generally, the darker aspects of my life and what I have been through.

This bit of feedback has stuck with me, and I don't know whether or not to call it a critique. From my perspective, as someone who is very sensitive and protective of my writing, the anonymous student's feedback made me feel bad and nervous to share with strangers and acquaintances in the future.

I've had similar experiences like this, where people tell me what they dislike about my piece, but do not provide advice to fix it or any explanation of why they dislike certain portions. Is this critique, or is this nitpicking and a putdown? Can this be helpful in any way, or is it just destructive? Was I and am I being too sensitive?

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    Be sure to add this (and any other questions that qualify) to the contest list! writing.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1810/…
    – Cyn
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 18:02
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    Keep in mind that especially BECAUSE you are depressed and anxious, the one negative response about your writing will stand out, even with the other responses not mentioning this. Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 4:13
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    This type of group critique, even if mostly positive, is a highly effective way to destroy artists. If you care about your writing, seek elsewhere.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 4:26
  • Did you want the poem to express a positive mindset?
    – JMac
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 13:31
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    I'd put this one down as "not the critic's cup of tea" i.e. it's a reflection on them, not you, but really it's like recommending they take the "Dark Side" out of Star Wars because it's too dark and evil...
    – komodosp
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 14:16

4 Answers 4


Ignore It.

The anonymous person in question didn't understand the task. The objective is to criticize your writing, not to psychoanalyze you and recommend a therapy.

It doesn't make a difference if your piece is dark, light, or gray, funny or somber. It makes no difference what sexual orientation you express, or political orientation, or anything else your piece might reveal or be about.

The job of critique is to improve the writing for clarity and consistency. To help get the point across regardless of what the point is. To point out confusions, contradictions, or bland writing, problems in sentence formation, a lack of variety in sentence length, clichés, unnecessary repetitiveness, an overuse of adjectives, pacing problems.

Critique is about the writing, not the topic. Ignore the idiots, friend, they out-number us 3 to 1 and pretty much run the world, it's pointless to fight them.

Ignore people that don't understand the job or know how to do it. And, don't be afraid to ask for critique of your writing, though you might explain the above to anybody that might not know what "critique" means.

Valid critique (like from an agent or publisher or editor) can be legitimately brutal (notes like "cut all this, it is boring," "far too long", "confused and ineffective", etc), but that is not about your personal life, that is about crafting beautiful writing that works, it is about craft, and it can be taken in the spirit of tough love to help you improve.


Say you wrote a piece that was about something wonderful that had happened to you. A piece that exuded happiness and contentment.

Someone—probably the very same person you discuss in your question—is going to comment, "How can you be so happy all the time? What is wrong with you? Don't you know people are suffering in the world?"

It's not critique vs nitpicking. Nitpicking would be "I didn't like your piece because you had the character get cherry vanilla ice cream from the cafeteria but we all know that the only fruit flavor there is strawberry."

This is critique vs criticism. Critique is supposed to be useful (not always helpful, though it often is). Criticism is not for the author, it's for the person saying it (or it's part of a review meant for potential readers/customers/etc).

There is always going to be someone who doesn't like your work. And that's okay.

You're not writing for them.

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    Neat, that was the whole point. As an author one should learn to accept critiques humbly and hand-wave away criticism.
    – Liquid
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 9:43

I think that the biggest problem here is that this was not critique. It was unconstructive criticism. That reader didn't enjoy the mood you set in your piece. That is fine. There are styles of writing I don't enjoy. There are times I don't want to read certain moods. But I don't criticize them for existing in a way that doesn't speak to me. That's not how art works.

On the other hand I would say that I appreciate nitpicking as long as it is constructive. But in this case I would consider nitpicking as bringing up minor issues. Not unconstructive ones. Nitpicking should never be unsolicited though.

I will also add that this person may not be skilled at giving constructive feedback. To that end you could bring it up to them in an effort to help them learn. Just remember to do it constructively, and in a tone that they may be receptive to.


You are being too sensitive.

Most critique was fine and constructive, but one paper that I got back really made a negative impression on me

The only objective truth is the number which were constructive verses the number which were negative.

1 is a statistical anomaly. There is no way to determine if this source is reliable, distracted, attempting to "normalize" the unfamiliar, or just didn't agree with your choices.

The biggest problem with being too sensitive, is finding a way to determine the objective truth. In your case a simple formula is to count the two types of feedback and compare the number as a ratio. 15 positive and 1 negative is a 15:1 ratio.

You can't prevent these incidents from standing out in your mind unfortunately, so you will need to de-sensitize yourself to what you perceive as negativity. If you still have the feedback paper, try extracting each sentence and looking for ambiguous ways each could be read. Imagine the feedback is said in neutral, flat tone, then imagine they are actually talking about their own work and something you wrote reminded them of their own writing issues. Lastly, try to imagine it in a voice that is (neutrally) letting you know what most stories have (balance) that yours does not, in case you missed it and want to address it.

There's a difference in giving "balance" feedback – mentioning what your story lacks that most readers expect; verses saying "Hey! You are writing wrong!"

I suspect (based on the other feedback being positive) that you might be able to work through your feelings about the "negative" feedback, if you try to be calm and critical about what they wrote. Did they miss the point? Are they trying to be mean? Are they the type who always sees the glass as half-empty? Do they think all stories should go a certain way?

Maybe it is them, and they wrote bad comments for everyone. Let this be practice, how to take criticism with a grain of salt, and then come back and see if there is anything useful to what they say, or if they are saying something very obvious because they don't know what they are suppose to feel.

"Your story is dark."
"Duh, it is about depression."

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