Membership in a group that gives thoughtful critique on one’s writing can have many rewards, but it is important to find a good fit. Such groups come in various sizes, levels of experience, and approaches to writing. When the mix of talent and personal qualities is right, the group can be educational and emotionally supportive.
Over the last twelve years I have been in two different groups and have seen examples of how things work well and how things can go wrong. Misunderstood expectations, fragile or gigantic egos, and too great a disparity between talent or experience among members seem to be the main barriers to a rewarding experience.
Many if not most groups recommend a trial period of sufficient length to allow the prospective member to know some key things about the group. How ambitious is the group? Some people write purely for pleasure and have no real designs on publishing, but for some groups considerable time is spent discussing how to find agents or how to self-publish.
Some who write are dedicated to the grammar and punctuation of the King’s English and others hope to find that unique form of expression, such as is found in the genius of a Faulkner or David Foster Wallace. Too much of this might cause some ideological tension, but at the same time, a certain diversity of skills and interests among the members can stoke creativity.
I once heard a writer say that she would love to be in a group but really had no interest in reading the work of other people. That’s a problem. Depending on the size of the group it can be a real investment of time to make the kind of contribution that you hope to get back. If you have no interest or actively dislike certain genres, such as horror, science fiction or fantasy, you are not likely to be helpful to those writers.
Approach joining a specific group as you would a job application. What value can you bring to the others? How will they help you accomplish your goals? Check your ego at the door. Pay a significant measure of attention to the culture of the group. Be willing to work. Expect to get and to give honest but tactful criticism. Expect to learn some things.
And when you find that group that is a good fit for you, thank your lucky stars and fall in love with writing all over again.