I submitted a 7,000 word story about a man who runs a machine --at a health insurance company-- that induces guided, therapeutic dreams. Eventually, he takes advantage of the technology and begins indulging his patrons' fantasies through the machine. It's a simple story about a common man with shaky moral grounds.
When the story finally reached the top of the submission queue a few weeks back, my nerves were a little on edge, but the critiques started trickling in the day after the story went live on the site and most were positive. Actually, almost all of them were. The best part about Critters.org's online nature is that people aren't looking you in the face, making it easier for them to be honest, as opposed to sitting across from you at a local writers group. Each critic offered their opinions and suggestions, the majority of which were useful. Someone one said that my word choice was bland. Another said that the potential abuse of the technology in the story was to obvious. Several hated my protagonist and claimed he was unlikable and hard to root for (I took this as a positive, that I could invoke such an emotional response in people by writing such a questionable individual). Many pointed out embarrassing typos and spelling errors.
I received 20+ critiques, but after the first dozen, I already knew where the story and my writing stood. Many of the suggestions that the critics make, might not make a lot of sense or be helpful, but when someone tells you for the tenth time, your ending blows, you can be pretty assured that editors and publishers will come to the same conclusion. It puts your story on a spectrum, or a scatter plot graph that you can draw a line through. The story becomes easier to reshape, fix and strengthen. Best of all, the critiques shake loose those malformed ideas that didn't quite make it to the blank page as you had intended.
Get your work out there! It's important to your growth as a writer, even if it makes you want to huddle in a corner for a few days.