My answer to this is a very firm YES and I’ll tell you why.
Being part of a critique group really forces you to think about what you don’t like about a piece of writing but in a constructive way. What doesn’t make sense, what doesn’t flow, what needs clarifying. It’s lovely to have friends and family gush over your writing and assure that you’re going to be the next J K Rowling or whatever but that’s not at all helpful. Ego boosting, yes. Making you a better writer, no. Constructive criticism is what it’s all about.
I was lucky enough to be part of a writing group that has gone from strength to strength. From starting off as a bunch of writers who had never shared their writing with strangers, much less agents, to being a talented group of writers, some of whom have become agented, published and won nation-wide competitions! Even if you rarely read your work to your group, listening to the critiquing of other people’s work can benefit your own writing enormously. So, someone in your group always gets positive comments on their dialogue – listen carefully to see how you can improve yours. Ask them how they write it, compare it to your own. Maybe someone else often has great concepts but struggles to portray them in words.
Take note on what members are suggesting for ways in which to fix things.
Concentrate on what your fellow writers home in on so that you can know what readers (listeners?) pick up on. Give a book to five people and they will all have different takes on it, even if they’re all readers of the same genre, but there will be an element that they all loved. Something that they all agree worked really well – character development, dialogue, plot twists, use of language. The same will be true of your own writing and a writing group will help you to discover what it is you do really well (yay – ego boost!) and the other things that you need to work on to get right.
Depending on the group, you may also find yourself a writing buddy and these are invaluable.
These are the people you can email your manuscript to and ask them to read the whole thing. Cover to cover. And they will be honest with you. But in a constructive way. And you will do the same thing for them. They might write in the same genre as you (helpful) or be really good at grammar (great for submission time) or just be really solid at critiquing, picking up holes in your plot or mistakes in your character development.
Your fellow writers will also clue you in to competitions and other groups that you can join such as SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). AND they will encourage you to enter said competitions, help you to get your piece ready and celebrate with you when you’re long-listed, short-listed and win (or commiserate if you don’t and then motivate you to keep entering competitions so that one day you will be celebrating).
Plus, seeing your fellow writers morph from ‘amateur’ status to being a ‘real’ writer with an agent or writing credentials like being long listed for competitions really gives you the shove up the arse that you need. There’s nothing like your comrades-in-ink getting on with it and REALLY pursuing their publishing dreams to persuade you to sign up too. Who wants to be left behind, not even on the slush pile but murmuring about the fourth book you’ve written, when everyone else is surging ahead, climbing the ranks, earning their writing stripes? Not me. I want to be the person who is inspiring others to follow my lead and here’s how you do it:
Write, write, write. Polish, polish, polish. Submit, submit,submit. Lather, rinse and repeat until you get the desired outcome.
So, get on Google, find a group and join them, suffer the embarrassment of reading your stuff out loud to actual people, take note of the constructive comments, revel in the good comments and enjoy the company of other writers. Because writing, as we all know, is a very solitary activity. Occasionally, it’s nice to be in the company of people who understand your pain and frustration, your elation at a positive response to your work and your need to write and escape into a world of your own making.