Let me get this right out there at the front. I think critiques and comments are important and valuable. I find them helpful in not only improving my stories, but in improving my writing for the next go 'round. In fact, if anyone ever wishes to read and comment on a WIP (work-in-progress, for those of you not up on the jargon), they simply need to let me know, and odds are I'll give them a crack at it. I encourage all writers to seek and embrace critiques.
I do think that critiques sometimes get elevated to near-religious status by writers, especially by new writers, and I'd like to offer a frank assessment of some of the limits of critiques. I offer these thoughts not to dissuade any writers from getting their materials looked through, picked apart, and remarked upon. Ou mei! Rather, I hope to help liberate some new writers from the bondage that critiques can become. Let me elaborate:
1. The nature of the critique is that you will almost never get copy back without remarks for improvement. If you do, the reader probably didn't read. Even after you've edited once, if you re-submit, you will probably get remarks. In fact, if you use a different reader, I assure you that you will get remarks. Moral Number One: Don't wait for the all-clear on your story before submitting it, because the all-clear probably won't come.
2. A critiquing reader is not the same as a reader. Ideally, the comments in a critique will help you tighten and improve your writing. This should also enhance your story for readers. But when I'm critiquing a story, I'm looking at it differently than when I'm just reading it, and I think that's true for most people. Readers may subconsciously notice the impact on your story of the technical details the critiquer points out, but they will rarely fixate on them. Moral Number Two: A mechanic can always find something on your car to tune-up, but is your car safe and comfortable anyway?
3. Critiques reflect taste. Sure, there's bound to be some grammar. Some syntax. Some writing fundamentals. But there's also the sort of thing that a critiquing reader just doesn't like -- or just happens to love. Another reader may have a totally different opinion. "Good writing" is in the mind of the reader, and if we all agreed on that, we'd all have the same favorite authors, which we don't. Moral Number Three: It's okay to disagree with a critique.
And lastly (at least for today)....
4. A rejection letter is not cancerous. Once you get a critique or two, it's okay to send something off. If your submission or query is rejected, you will not die, nor contract a deadly disease, nor plunge into financial ruin. You will be disappointed. You will be frustrated. And then you will decide to either send it elsewhere or edit and revise, perhaps on the basis of a fresh critique. Moral Number Four: Send out your dadgum writing.
Too many new writers seem to get trapped in this thing where they work and work and work and work the same story to death. If this is you and you're reading this, break the cycle. Please, start sending some stuff off.