Much debate exists about the value of joining a writing group. One camp says they're horrible wastes of time where you spend the better part of the hour chit-chatting and do nothing to develop your writing. Others feel outside input stifles the creative process and any negative comments make you doubt your inner voice. Yet another segment swears writing groups are vital to spotting errors in your work and improving the story.
I fall into the latter camp. My writing would stink without the critical eyes of my group (I'm tempted to shoot this blog over to them right now for their thumbs up).
That's not to say all writing groups are fantastic. I was in a short term group where everyone was super nice, and that was the problem. No one wanted to openly critique another writer's work, probably because we were all raised by mothers who insisted on the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" rule. Someone might suggest a different word here, the removal of a comma there, all the while piling on the praise. And who doesn't love to hear how wonderful their writing is? But constant compliments with no criticism don't improve the work. It's like having your grandmother read your manuscript. I'd leave the meeting happy to know they liked my work but feeling like I'd accomplished nothing.
On the flip side, I knew one woman who was booted from her writing group because she actually critiqued the work. The group wanted to pat each other on the back and complain about how no one appreciated their work. They weren't interested in actually improving. But she kept arriving at meetings with ideas and suggestions. How dare she! They told her to hit the road.
My writing group strikes a fantastic balance between spotting problems in my work and providing moral support. They highlight trouble areas, tell me what's missing, offer appropriate additions, and point out flaws with the plot, all the while managing to not make me feel like an idiot. Without the group, my books would be full of inconsistencies, plot holes, and awkward writing. To thank them for their comments, I try to give their writing the same amount of attention and dedication I know they're giving mine.
If you can find such a group, don't let them go. Plant yourself firmly in your critiquing chair and never get up from the table.