Critique Circle: The Benefits and Drawbacks

Critique Circle is a website that gives writers an opportunity to get critiques on their work in exchange for giving other writers critiques on their work. It is free to use, but it also has a premium option that you can pay for in order to unlock special features.

How does it work? In a nutshell, you earn credits by giving critiques of short pieces that have been submitted for review. The number of credits you earn depends on the length of the piece. You can then spend credits in order to submit one of your own pieces for review by others. If you submit a piece, it will be added to a waiting list, and you will have to wait until pieces that were submitted before yours are given their chance to receive critiques first. In my experience, this is typically a few weeks at most.

I think the largest benefit of this system is that it incentivizes its users to give critiques to one another. In other aspects of my life, it has been far too many times that I have taken time to read and edit or give suggestions to a writer friend or an acquaintance, only to struggle to find anyone at all who is willing to do the same when I am looking for a bit of feedback. In general, I do enjoy helping other people with their writing, especially when I feel as though I’ve been able to contribute some high quality insights, but of course it is difficult to improve as a writer if you never receive any feedback on your own work. When I submitted pieces to Critique Circle, I got five or six critiques for each of them, most of them quite detailed and a few that definitely helped me see areas in need of improvement.

The largest drawback is that you never know who is going to be reading and critiquing for you. You could get advice from one of the most helpful and experienced users or you could get it from someone who is a complete amateur. Similarly, you can get critiques that are written in a very positive and friendly way and critiques that are written in a very critical way. This can be difficult to handle if you have thin skin, and it can be frustrating if you feel as though you’ve received a piece of advice that is unhelpful or even wrong.

This leads into the second of the drawbacks that I have personally experienced: when attempting to get feedback on a novel using the free version, you are more than likely to get critiques on your second chapter from users who haven’t read your first. I tried to alleviate this problem by providing a summary of all the events of the first chapter that were directly relevant to the second, but I was frustrated to find critiques from people who complained that they were confused about something that had, in fact, been explained in the summary. To be fair, this may be a larger problem with books that involve a large amount of world building, as opposed to genres that would theoretically be easier to pick up from the middle. I also found that I experienced the problem of people not reading the summary much less once I started getting critiques from more experienced members more often, but it was a large frustration for me in the beginning.

If you become a premium member, though, you can solve this problem by recruiting members to join a group that will focus on your novel specifically. The premium member also has the ability to determine who can join the group, which solves the first problem as well. Premium membership also gives you the ability to give and receive critiques on an entire manuscript rather than on short chunks at a time. The downside to this, of course, is that it costs a monthly fee.

I used the free version for a long time before trying the paid version, and I think both have benefits and drawbacks. The question of whether to pay for it or not comes down to the individual writer and what they are looking to get out of the site. Personally, I would recommend starting with the free version to get a feel for things and also to build relationships with other users. Even if a private queue appeals to you, you’ll have to know who to invite into it. Unless you joined the site with a group of writer friends, how else will you know who gives good critiques except by receiving some in the public queues?

On top of that, there are some features that are friendly to new members, enabling your work to receive critiques more quickly than members who have been around for longer, and I’ve found that really understanding how the system works is a good way to get the most out of it.

My biggest tip to those who plan to use the site? Strive to give good quality critiques to others. Many people will return the favor when it comes to be your turn. Besides that, there is a system in which writers can grade how helpful a critique was to them, and users who critique often and score over a certain average can get special badges that show up next to their names. You can bet that there are people on the site who will choose to give critiques to those who have given good critiques to others! Be a good person: give the best advice that you can give. If you want to be a very good person, go back and read the previous chapter(s) before critiquing the current one. It won’t get you any extra credits, but I’m sure the author will appreciate it. Sites like this work best when everyone involved is kind and generous.

I wish the best of luck to all other aspiring writers out there! Feel free to shoot me a message if you decide to join based on my recommendation. If I like the looks of what you’ve written, I might just give you a crit.

The Binding of Magic

In the computational monarchy of Elniwald, unlicensed witchcraft is a crime punishable by death. Eighteen-year-old neo-pacifist Tim, who has spent the past thirteen years hiding in the palace basement, is forced to stop a pair of bullets in midair when political assassins set their sights on his beloved older sibling. Using powerful magic, Tim teleports an entire crowd of witnesses to safety, disables the assassins’ weapons, and ensures that his sister is able to escape, but the resulting power drain leaves him completely vulnerable to an unforgiving police force.

Shiloh Alexandria Gesenden, heir to the throne, uses her influence and technological savvy to protect him, but she’s forced to strike a terrible bargain with their father the monarch in order to save his life. Tim is sentenced to imprisonment in a so-called school of magic, cut off from all contact with the outside world and subjected to a series of escalating punishments designed to force him into becoming what normal people think a warlock should be: old fashioned, obedient, and weak enough to be dominated. When he meets an unfailingly kind rebel named Talia, the two of them combine their magic and hatch a plot to trick their way to freedom, but the sadistic witch who controls the licensing process is playing a game of her own.

The Binding of Magic is not the first novel I’ve ever worked on, but it is the first that I have been able to revise to the point that I feel really good about it. Truthfully, I’ve been planning and writing novel-length works since junior high, and by the time I’d started high school my friends had stopped believing that I would ever really finish any of them. I had an idea for a series then, and I rewrote the first book of it again and again, often restarting all over again well before I reached the ending. Eventually, I reached a point at which I recognized that the story was as good as I could make it, and I was able to feel a certain fondness for the two short novels that I ended up with, but I knew that I still had a lot to learn before I would be ready to actually publish anything.

Fast forward over ten years, and I once again find myself in the grips of a story that I can’t let go. The Binding of Magic started off as a short exercise for one of my college writing courses, one among many that I wrote during that time. It depicted Tim–a wizard at that time–imprisoned in a school for magic that he was utterly fed up with. It was trying to teach him magic in all of the wrong ways, and he was not having it. He set an ancient book on fire because he was tired of being forced to read the sort of thing that wizards were supposed to read. He turned one of his supervisors into a frog when he came in to scold him. He finished by making the entire castle explode in a burst of bubblegum pink (It’s ok; he teleported everyone outside first. His friend Talia got to hold a frog in her arms while she glared at him).

As it was written at that time, Tim was showing off a bit too much of the rebellious teenager trope, but he was quite the character, and he had some interesting points about trying to force a strict logical and academic framework around something so magical as, well, magic. Why should anyone be forced to follow someone else’s rules for how to properly do something that comes as naturally to them as breathing? Why should anyone have to change something so natural just because it doesn’t fit with others’ desires and expectations? These are the types of thoughts that rooted themselves deep into my brain and caused me to come back to the story again and again.

Initially, I attempted to simply expand the story beyond the point at which the original exercise had left off. I let Tim reunite with his sister Sasha and make grand plans for reforming and revolutionizing the field of magical studies. I had Talia pop up to scold him for thinking that he could do all of it without her. And yet I didn’t know, in the end, where the story was really going. One of my classmates had also pointed out (probably correctly) that having a protagonist gleefully engage in book burning did not send the best message. Tim needed to grow up a little, and I needed more experience.

The book in its current form has retained a lot of the same ideas from the original: Tim still finds himself imprisoned in a castle, tasked to learn the “proper way” of doing magic, but this time he would never dream of using his magic in a way that would put anybody else at risk. Talia still becomes his closest friend, but her role in the story has been greatly expanded, and her character along with it. Sasha has become Shiloh, an older sibling, not a younger one, but they still spend the story trying to get back to each other. Perhaps the most important change is that it’s no longer so easy for anyone to make an entire castle explode. Magic has limits now, and the characters face true struggles. I found out what was leaving me directionless.

I’ve learned a lot since then, and these characters and the world in which they live have spent all these years swirling around my brain, developing and gaining new complexity. The only thing that I was ever hoping for, back when I set out to be a writer, was to gain the ability to actually take the wonderous imaginings inside my head and translate them onto a page. I would always be trying, and I would always be disappointed in the results. They were always missing something. They always had something about them that was not quite right or just not good enough. Now that I finally feel confident enough to seek publication, I can only hope that readers get a glimpse into this world that I have worked so long to bring to life. I hope they fall in love with these characters in the same way I have.

Elniwald awaits.

About Me

I am an aspiring author currently seeking representation for my debut novel The Binding of Magic. It is a fantasy novel with science fiction elements that follows the story of Tim, a neo-pacifist warlock who is arrested for unlicensed witchcraft after heroically saving the royal family of Elniwald from an assassination attempt. The kicker is that Tim secretly is a member of the royal family, and his sister, heir to the throne Shiloh Alexandria Gesenden, wants him back. No matter what their society has to say about the proper place of witches.

I’m a thirty year old woman living in Wisconsin with my cat Willowstripe, who loves to sleep on my lap while I write… and pester me if I’m not giving her enough attention. I graduated from Cardinal Stritch University with bachelor’s degrees in writing and computer science in 2014. I currently work as a Senior Programmer Analyst for a property and casualty insurance company, which is actually a lot cooler than it sounds.

Shannon's cat Willowstripe: a brown tabby with a white belly and paws
My fuzzy little co-writer