When I was younger, I dabbled at writing. Or sure, I would write a chapter now and then, but it wasn't serious. I could stop any time I wanted; in fact, I managed to spend years on a book without ever finishing it. Then one morning I woke up and my addiction was out of control. I sat down and started a second, unrelated book and finished the first draft in less than two months.
Of course, it wasn't especially well written, but I didn't know that, because I was already working on book three. It went on like that for a while, until a friend at work handed me a slip of paper and said, "You should contact these people. They can help."
No, it wasn't an intervention or a referral to a 12-Step program. It was, in fact, the email address of some folks who were in a spec fic writing group called the Writer's Group From Hell (WGFH). It had acquired that name in an earlier and more contentious incarnation, but now (as it was and when I joined it), WGFH is made up of helpful people. Our membership has varied over the years— folks move away or stop writing or just don't have time to come to meetings— but it has stayed at somewhere between six and twelve people the whole time I have been in it. That's how I met scottedelman. He was one of the founders, and, at the time I met him, he was too busy editing Science Fiction Age, (a magazine that's gone now, sadly) to come to meetings but he does keep up with the holiday parties. It's also where I met mindyklasky, although once she had contract obligations, we lost her, too, which I suspect may also happen with stephdray now that things are looking good for her.
Belonging to a face-to-face writing group isn't the only option; there are online groups, too, for those who don't want or can't find face-to-face feedback. I mention some of the online groups on a page on my website where I talk about feedback. But one reason I have stuck with WGFH even though I let my membership in OWW lapse is that it not only gives me feedback, it gives me support. Writers get hit in the face with a lot of rejection. It's nice to have somewhere to turn where folks are pulling for you to succeed.
That doesn't mean you want a group where you hear only nice things. On the contrary. The WGFH is the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove. They will coat the bitter pill of where the problems are in your story with a sugared layer of what they did like, but you will hear about where your story needs to improve. What you won't hear are put-downs disguised as feedback, that make the critiquer sound clever and the writer being critiqued feel two inches tall. Balance is the key. You need honesty, not mere ego stroking, but you don't want "brutal honesty" that's more brutal than it needs to be.
So, where does a writer find a writing group? One way is to go to local conventions, to see who else in your area is writing. Another is to look online. In fact, jongibbs just recently started an online site called Find A Writing Group (FAWG) that's intended to serve as a clearinghouse for writers to make connections with others in their geographic area. If you're looking for a group, you can check it out.
So, am I preaching to the choir? How many of you out there already have critique groups? If you do have one, I'd be interested in knowing how you found them, and how often you meet.