I've been missing critiquing recently, so when Stacia Kane mentioned a couple of sites online the other day -- one a service to help find crit partners and the other an actual workshop -- I checked them out and ended up joining Critique Circle.
It's only been about a day and a half since I joined, but so far it's working out well.
The one thing I really liked when I was checking it out was the way it's organized. You submit a story or a novel chapter to a queue to be critiqued, and a set of stories and chapters becomes available in each queue to be critiqued for a week as currently up for review. (There are also archives where you can choose to critique an older story, or just read to catch up if there's an interesting Chapter 5 up in the current queue.) You look through what's up, pick one and write a critique.
There's no obligation to critique certain stories, or certain people's stories (although as I look around, there does seem to be some social expectation to give a critique to someone who's critiqued you, but it's not a requirement); you can do however many of whichever stories grab you. I've always had a hard time in workshops where you're grouped with four or five people and everyone in the group critiques everyone else's stories. Inevitably there are stories I'm just not into, and I'm not enthusiastic enough about the some aspect to really enjoy putting three or four or eight hours into dissecting it and making notes on all the parts. Or someone in the group is just not a great writer, but gets offended at criticism, etc. I like being able to choose what I critique. That's how the RomEx workshop back on GEnie worked, and it was excellent; it's sort of been my gold standard for workshops ever since, and Critique Circle seems to be hitting it.
I've done one critique so far for CC (although it hasn't been released yet -- newbies' first critiques have to be reviewed by a staffer, which makes sense) and it came out at a little over 7K words, for a story (actually half a story) a little over 3K words. That's always been fairly standard for me, unless I'm critiquing one of those rare writers whose manuscript is just that clean, which has only happened once or twice. I did an inline critique, where you leave comments under specific paragraphs so it's very clear to the writer exactly what bit you're talking about; there are also blocks before and after the story for leaving more general comments. I started the critique in the afternoon, left off when my husband came home (leaving the critique screen up on my computer), then finished the next day. The system logged me off at some point while I was AFK, and when I sat down again and started working, I got a message that the auto-save (which kicks in like every minute) had failed and that I needed to log in. It did not blank the screen, take me to a log-in window, or lose the typing I'd done in the previous minute; I was able to open a new window, log in there, then go back to the critique window and keep working. This is a brilliant system and every site where you have to be logged in to do any kind of work (even if it's just typing a forum post) should work this way.
CC works on a credit system, where you need a certain number of earned credits (although they start you out with two when you join) to post a story or chapter, and you earn credits by critiquing. Depending on the length of the story you critique and the length of your critique, you can earn between .5 and 1.5 credits for a critique. It takes three credits to post, and more to post another if you already have one in the queue, so the system requires people to critique more than they post. As it works out, looking at the older queues, stories seem to get an average of about half a dozen critiques each, which is pretty awesome. I've seen a few that only got two or three (which would still be pretty good for most workshops, not counting the you-WILL-critique-everyone groups; I've been in some that only promised one, and sometimes only delivered one) and quite a few have gotten ten or more.
I have to say, though, that most of the critiques are incredibly short. I've browsed through some of the archives and for the most part the comments are specific and useful, but still, the average critique length seems to be about four or five hundred words, which.... Well, yeah. Still, if you get six or eight of them, that adds up to quite a lot of feedback.
One thing I'm not crazy about is that the site uses a wierd, square-bracket-based markup system I've only seen on one other forum. I've gotten used to it for forum posts, but in order to take full advantage of the site features (like getting in-line comments on your story) you need to use this system for your posted stories too. :/ I posted the first chapter of my urban fantasy novel to the workshop yesterday and went through changing the italic text to use [i]italic[/i] markup. There were only a few instances so it wasn't unbearably annoying, but not for the first time I'm wondering who came up with this system and why they decided they just had to invent something different when HTML is around and most people online know at least the simplest basics, like italics. [sigh] And for a serious writing workshop, editors don't want the HTML either, much less some odd forum system, so even if they didn't make you learn something new, you'd still have to go in and change all your mark-ups to post. I'm hoping there's actually a technical reason why we can't paste text with inherent italics in, because it's definitely inconvenient to have to convert everything for posting. Ideally, the workshop should accept the format that editors want to see too, so manuscripts files can go straight back and forth.
There are some neat side features on the site too, though, like a tracking system for your submissions (to markets, not the workshop), a name generator, a reminder system that lets you set up alerts for whatever you want, and a manuscript progress tool, among others. I haven't tried any of them yet, but it's cool that the site has a lot of little extras like that; it'll be fun to poke around and see what's here and how things work.
At this point I'm generally happy with the site. Everyone I've interacted with has been very friendly and helpful. This feels like a good place and I'm looking forward to being here for a long while.