I’ll be honest—aside from my college writing workshops, I haven’t had much experience with critique groups.
And since I’m being honest, I’ll go ahead and tell you now that I hated those workshops. Two of them were run by a professor whom I admired and whose feedback—while harsh—made me really THINK about the words I was putting down on paper. I’m indebted to her.
The actual students-critiquing-other-students’-work part? Horrible. Egos, attitudes, pretentions of being way too “deep” for the simple spinning of this planet—GAG.
Nora has a really, really good point: don’t work with people you love simply because you love them. But I’d like to add something to this:
Don’t work with people you HATE simply because they’re “writers” like you. And, of course, it’s one thing to be forced together, but I know it’s hard, at least for me, to find people that are (1) writers and (2) not going to hate you for giving them constructive criticism.
Don’t settle. It’s tough to find a niche. Heck, it’s taken me over a decade to even begin finding people who want to be career writers. But I think it’s worth the wait. I’ve recently joined Absolute Write, which has the potential to be an invaluable venue for writers, beta readers, and advice.
Another good place to find beta readers and writing partners is on the National Novel Writing Month forums. The downside to this is that the bulk of people who use the website aren’t active until November of any given year. Plus side? I met Nora my second year of NaNo-ing madness, and despite the fact that we haven’t actually exchanged a lot of work (mainly due to the fact that we just aren’t finished with anything), I can tell you, having a support system—one that understands what you’re doing every day at the keyboard—is fantastic.
Basically, my experience with writing groups can be distilled like this: I can’t tell you a whole lot about critique groups myself. They have the potential to be terrible, to be amazing, and just plain useless.
But what I can say for certain is this: Find yourself a serious writer-friend or two. Someone who knows the craft, who’s eager to continue to learn it, and who’s willing to struggle with you along the way. Writing is by nature a solitary art, but it doesn't have to be lonely.