I love my writer's group! I want to shout it from the rooftops, but I won't, I'll just blog about it. If you're an aspiring writer and aren't part of a writer's group, I highly recommend finding one. For about six years I was working on a novel. People knew the premise, but never saw a single page I had written. Not my husband, not my mom, and not even my best friend. After taking a creative writing class in college and having the evil professor rip my work apart, I didn't have the confidence to share my novel with anyone.
A little over a year ago I finally got the courage when I joined a writer's group. I knew the group organizer as we had worked together and we encouraged each other to put our stuff out there. My pages were well received, the group members liked what I had written and offered feedback and suggestions. Not in a "I will destroy your soul" kind of way like my professor, but as fellow writers whose confidence was just as fragile.
Now, a year later, three core members are still active in the group and we have all noticed an improvement in our writing. Getting feedback from an audience actually helps me with sticky scenes or character flaws. We have become comfortable with each other to be more critical, but only to push ourselves. We can take it. Within this year I had a short story published and started sharing my writing with family members. My mom, who I feared would be my worst critic, believes I am capable of making a career out of being a writer and is willing to pay for conferences. She considers it an investment. That was a surprise and a relief!
If you are serious about writing, one of the first steps you should take is to find a writer's group. It might take a few visits to groups to find the right one, but it is definitely worth the effort. I found my group on the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance forum. Check with your regional or state writers association or other resources (Craig's List for example) to see if there are groups meeting in your area.