Writing Tips

Go Forth and Edit: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Critique Circle

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Today, I want to share some tips for getting the most out of your Critique Circle experience and some etiquette (AKA mostly my own CC pet peeves).

If you are not familiar, Critique Circle (CC) is a free platform where writers post stories and receive critiques. You start out by critiquing a handful of stories and earning points, which you then use to post your own story. Generally, you’ll post 5,000 words or less at a time, and longer submissions require more points. You also may need to wait a few days before your story goes live. When you start out, your story will be posted in the “Newbie Queue” for new members, and you will also critique stories in this queue. Newbie Queue stories get up to five critiques, but my last story received 7(!) for some reason. There are also paid subscription plans if you would like to get going faster.

I’ve been to different in-person critique groups and exchanged stories with friends. I’m not trying to discount the value of those experiences, but I’ve realized that platforms like CC have an advantage that traditional critiquing just can’t match. And that is this: nobody knows who you are! Other CCers are looking at your story in almost the most objective way possible, and they have only the context that you provide. Maybe that sounds lame and impersonal, but experience has taught me the value of this. It’s great to have a place to go where your work is not judged through the lens of your own gender, ethnicity, race, age, socioeconomic status, or persona. Obviously, those things don’t go away, but at least you can choose what you want to share about yourself on CC.

When I first started using CC, I felt a bit of a disconnect with my readers. I didn’t feel like they were really getting my story. It’s probably because I didn’t give them any context for it. I was just kinda like, “here ya go, thanks for reading.” And my story was weird and trippy too, so you can imagine how disorienting that was.

So you can benefit from my own CC mistakes and follies, I’ve compiled this little checklist so you can know what to expect from CC and crush it!

When Critiquing

  1. The Newbie Queue is not genre-specific, so be prepared to critique work from different genres. I think that critiquing outside of your genre can be helpful for all parties involved. Sometimes, I like it when people who aren’t my target readers critique my story — that way, I can see what kinds of things are working/not working for audiences at large.
  2. Let the author know what you liked about the story. It can be hard to put your stuff out there. Even if you have thick skin, you never know who you’re critiquing. They may be just starting out. So try to be welcoming and encouraging.
  3. The other side of the coin is: be honest. If you’re worried about being a douche, you can try this: instead of saying something like, “I didn’t like X,” you can say, “I would have liked to see Y.” Or, “Z would have made more sense to me.
  4. I encourage in-line critiques. “In-line” critiques on CC allow you to make little notes for each paragraph of the story. You can also insert comments at the beginning and end. “Classic” critiques just give you a place to make general comments. I like in-line because I can make cute little comments throughout the story and quickly point out any spelling or grammar mistakes without having to be like, “well, in the third paragraph, tenth sentence…”
  5. Just Google it! Ok, I’m going to rant for a sec. Sometimes, people will read your story and complain if you mention a celebrity or idea that they’ve never heard of. It is the author’s job to explain things, but not every little thing. And do you really want to live in a world where you only read things you’ve read about before? If you see a word or name in a story, and you don’t know what it is, just Google it! And then, you won’t have to complain in your critique.

When Posting and Reviewing Critiques

  1. Provide a short description. If you’re posting a chapter of a novel, briefly explain what the novel is about in the opening comments section. Introduce characters as necessary, important plot points, and little idiosyncrasies that the reader won’t understand if they haven’t read the rest of your work. If you’re posting a short story, do something similar, but less context will be required.
  2. It’s OK to be confident. I’ll go out on a limb and say that many writers are introverts. Maybe, like me, you’ve been conditioned to be unsure of yourself.  Well, that’s ok! CCer’s are all just trying to be better writers. There’s no need to be self-deprecating. You don’t need to put something like, “Well, this was just kind of something I threw together and it probably sucks” in your opening comments. Even if that stuff gets you brownie points in real life, it may not on CC. You may just get less views and less critiques. Why not be confident? What harm could it do you? This isn’t some horrible job interview where you have to demonstrate just the right balance of humility-machismo/alphafemale-ness to mesh with the office culture. Just get to the point.
  3. Pre-Critique. I am more receptive to stories that the author clearly proofread and self-critiqued before posting. Not to say that it needs to be perfect. Before hitting submit, I find it helpful to read my comments together with the text of my story on the browser window to see how it looks. It’s also nice to get out of your own word-processing groove. Seeing the naked text may help you notice things about your writing that you didn’t notice before. Strange, but true. Also, you may need to make some tweaks because certain formatting things like italics will not transfer over from Microsoft Word.
  4. After Receiving Critiques, Let Your CC Friends Know You Appreciate Them. Send personalized thank-you messages and let CCer’s know what you liked about their critiques. I’m a sucker for validation, so I like these. Even if you didn’t think the critique was that helpful or astute, it doesn’t hurt to be gracious. The person still took time out of their day to read your story.
  5. Critique Back! Return the favor by critiquing your critiquers when they have stories in review. If they don’t have a story in review, you can always check back later.

If you’re looking to make real-life writer friends, maybe CC isn’t right for you. It’s not region-specific, so you may do better finding a read and critique group in your area. But if you need to get some quick feedback on your story or you’re worried about being judged by friends and coworkers, CC is the way to go.