I belong to two writing groups and I facilitate two additional writing groups. So, ask me if I think writing groups can be helpful to a writer and I will give a resounding "YES."
However, it has to be a GOOD writing group. By good, I mean you have to feel safe with the other group members. Only then will you be able to share your writing and hear what the other writers are telling you.
What is a writing group? A group of writers who meet to read, discuss and help each other with their writing.
In my writing groups, everyone brings a piece of writing and provides a copy to each member of the group. That writer then reads his/her piece aloud and the readers follow along on their copies. They often make notes to the writer on their copy.
After the writer has finished reading, he/she becomes a ghost in the room and listens to the readers discuss their piece. The writer does not speak during this time, unless there is a question that needs to be explained. The readers discuss the piece amongst themselves and do not direct their comments to the writer.
At first, this is difficult for the writer and the readers. The readers want to direct their responses to the writer and the writer wants to comment on the discussion among the readers. But when the writer is engaged in the discussion, they often do not "hear" the comments because they are busy thinking up defenses or explanations. The best thing a writer can do is sit quietly and take notes. They will be surprised by how much they learn.
So, what makes it a good writing group? The main goal of the group is to help each other become better writers. They do this by finding and pointing out what is good about a piece of writing, what works, what evokes an emotion, and what jumped out at us as the reader. However, they are not there to kiss your behind and tell you that you are the best writer in the world.
The group members also give you honest suggestions on what will help strengthen your piece or what it may be lacking. They will point out areas where they (as readers) were confused, or where something seemed weak.
They do this by suggesting, not criticizing. They do not attack. They do not tell the writer that they should do it their way. Their suggestions are about the writing, not the writer. The suggestions are not personal.
A bad writing group is intent on knocking the writer down. They are rude, they are personal with their attacks, and by the time they are done, the writer wants to crawl out the door. This is not helpful to a writer and if you find yourself in a bad group, run! Find another group and try them out.
After you meet with your writing group, you should feel inspired and excited about your writing. You may leave with some thoughts on how to strengthen your writing, or be happy that the readers understood what you were trying to put out there. You should not feel defeated.
If you are not in a writing group and are interested in finding one, check with your library, bookstores or nearby coffee shop. These are places where many groups meet and you may be able to get information about how to contact a local group.
Remember, a good writing group means stay! And a bad writing group means run.