The Internet is a wonderful thing.
Anything is possible--you can buy houses, visit countries and cultures, gossip about Lindsay Lohan's rehab sentence or Paris' shrinking inheritance, find other writers to share the highs and lows with.
Looking back, I don't know what I would have done had I not gone surfing and stumbled upon my current critique group. For me, writing well was something I wanted to do so desperately, but not something I could talk about or share with anyone around me. And when I decided to pursue it, I mean, REALLY pursue it, I understood I couldn't do it alone.
But how did I go about finding others to learn from? No one I knew had the same interest. I was a social hermit (and a techno idjit to boot), but I needed to get past my fear of reaching out and see where my keyboard could take me.
Joining a writing community was likely one of the smartest decisions I made, and when success rings my doorbell, I'll know where credit is due. I strongly recommend any writers out there who are not part of a critique group to find one. There are many possibilities just waiting for your typing fingers to find on Google. I'm partial to the Critique Circle of course, but if you write for children, you can always find other writers at Verla Kay's who are interested in forming critique groups or have openings in current ones. Often Google searches can turn up face-to-face critique groups in your city or area, if you're looking for a more interactive experience.
So WHEN is it time to get a critique group?
1) If your query letters announce you're the next JK Rowling, it's definitely time to get a dose of reality...and a crit group.
2) If you are starting to see your writing strengths emerge and are aware of your weak areas, its time to take the next step and get a critique group.
3) When you read other work (published or not) and feel you can suggest ways to make it better. Sharing your knowledge and thoughts leads to writing growth. Practice makes perfect--the more we help others, the easier it becomes to see waffley spots in our own pieces.
4)When you want someone to read your work and tell you what's wrong with it (as apposed to them gushing how you're going to be --yep, you guessed it-- the next JK Rowling).
5)When you need the support of people who 'get' you. Only writers understand the highs and lows, the frustrations and the struggles. If you feel an overwhelming urge to reach out to someone who can relate, it's time to find a critique group.
The right critique group can be life-changing, not just from the learning aspect, but on a personal level as well. I've met many online personalities whom I think of as friends first, and writers second.