Why this is a mistake: Writing is a lonely profession. Many writers flock to writer’s groups that meet in person every so often—or more so these days, online writer’s groups. Elsewhere I’m going to talk about the importance of networking, and writer’s groups can be useful in that regard, but they can also be a negative influence if used improperly. In fact, if there are no professional writers in the group, a writer’s group can be a case of the blind leading the blind. Sometimes (often in some bad groups), if egos are not controlled, the best writers are often torn down (either consciously, or more often, subconsciously) because they are a threat to the majority of the other writers in the room. Also, people can waste valuable time getting critiqued and critiquing rather than writing. For novel writers, a group can be troublesome in that a novel is a very large and time-consuming project, and a group can have a hard time keeping track of such a large endeavor.
The solution: Be very particular with any group you decide to join. It is very helpful if the group has at least one or two published and professional writers in it to give some guidance and to keep it on track. A group must have rules to help its members avoid descent into unbridled hacking and slashing. One rule to follow is that you cannot critique content, only style. What this means is that whatever subject someone wants to write about is her business and not open for judgment by the group. Another rule is to balance negative and positive comments. Another rule is to be specific about comments, to not offer “I just don’t like it.”
Also consider a small, tight group rather than a large group. Make sure the group you are in is oriented toward your type of writing and not scattered. When you go to writer’s conferences, consider the people you meet there as possible writing partners, or as people with whom you might form a small writing community, whether local or online.
If you are a member of a writer’s group, stop every so often and evaluate the effectiveness of the group with regard to your writing, both in terms of creativity and business-wise. While the group might emotionally fulfill some need you have, is it fulfilling its true purpose?