"The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes, people learn only by error." -- William Faulkner
I've been in a number of writers groups over the years. Sometimes I love them and other times I think they're a complete waste. I think the key is to surround yourself with good, honest people who look at the group as a tool to advance everyone's writing skills, not just as an excuse to socialize or stoke their own egos.
One of the key incidents that confirmed my love for my wife was at a writers group meeting. I had just read out loud a short scene I'd written and everyone was giving me their feedback. They were all lauding my work, spewing superlatives and telling me how wonderful it was. Juliana, my girlfriend at the time, was the only one who didn't hesitate to tell me that it was awful. She then proceeded to list all the flaws with the piece I'd written, and I agreed with all of her critiques.
I'm not saying that the others were being dishonest or kissing my ass, but there were obvious weaknesses in my draft, and constructive criticism is what I was seeking.
I've experienced writers groups where we only gather and spend a couple of hours chatting about everything except writing. I've also experienced incredible writers groups that motivated me and inspired me. At one such writers group, I was able to workshop one of my stage plays, Dream Fragments. At another with my good friends Vinny and Debbie, I was able to finally set deadlines for myself, becoming the most prolific in my life, banging out pages and pages every single day.
What I look for in a writers group is simple: people I enjoy being with who share my passion for creative storytelling, who are eager to tell me how to improve my work, and who are open to feedback about their own writing.
Writing groups can be a very valuable tool. I've learned from them and my imagination has been ignited by them. Hopefully, I'll continue to find fellow friends and writers with whom to share some more great writing experiences as we journey down literary paths together.