In my early days as a writer I lived in a small community and found myself somewhat isolated. Each year I attended writer's conferences, but felt more support was needed. When we moved to Phoenix I joyfully found a critique group attached to my local library. For more than fifteen years I have continued to meet with this group twice a month and they've been a help. I also attended several meetings of other groups in my area, looking for a "write" fit. All of it has been a learning experience on what works for me and what doesn't. Here's what I've learned.
1. As a novelist, a group for me must allow submission of longer chapters. In written form. Several of the groups I tried out had members read aloud portions of their manuscript for immediate comment. These type of groups seemed to work better for poets and flash fiction authors. Because, for me, grammar was a weakness, the submission of written work allowed me to see where I needed to work and also helped to improve my writing.
2. I learned to have a thick skin. Our babies, as novelists, typically take us nine months to write and we become very attached to those babies. Giving them over to someone else to critique is difficult. But necessary. While it was sometimes challenging to hear comments of an unfavorable nature, I have come to realize my story telling improved greatly from the comments given.
3. Before submitting to a group it is important to have a finished product. This has allowed me to maintain my voice while benefiting from the group insights. Before I learned this valuable lesson I became lost trying to please too many with my story and eventually pleased no one - that particular partial novel still sits in a drawer.
4. I once read an article about "puff" groups. Those that just tell you everything is great. That you are amazing. Watch out for them. You may be amazing, or they may not have the courage to tell you what you need to work on, and generally, there is always something that can be improved, right?