Saturday I went to Provo to meet with my new critique group. Now, I've belonged to a casual critique group online. We trade manuscripts, first chapters for contests, cover letters and queries, but I've never been part of a regular critique group that meets face to face.
I love it, and I am so excited for the things this group is going to do for my manuscripts. The feedback I got last Saturday (our first meeting) was very helpful, and very encouraging. I can't stress enough how important it is for writers who are serious about their craft to make time for something of this nature. I travel more than an hour to meet with my group because I live in a rural area and there are few writers nearby. Since I travel to the Provo area nearly every week for my business, it wasn't a horrible stretch for me. I'll just take care of business matters on the day that my group meets.
That might not be possible for everyone, but there are online critique groups you can meet with--and here's the important thing: Not all groups are created equal. The people I meet with are mostly people I've known for several years through a forum I belong to, and the one person who is new to that group is well known by one of the other members of our group. I know I can trust them to give me good, honest feedback in a positive manner. You may get into a group and realize that the feedback you are getting isn't helpful, or that the feedback is mean-spirited. Unfortunately there are writers out there who feel it necessary to tear down others rather than give helpful, honest critiques in a reasonably kind way. If the group doesn't work for you, find another one. The most important thing is making sure you mesh with your group, and that you all come away with something worthwhile in your meetings.