The importance of writing groups

I have got into a habit of going for a long, often muddy, country walk on Saturdays, usually ending up in a nice pub where I do some editing. It's a job I've never been fond of but am getting better at doing. Today I was looking at a novel that I wrote in the winter of 2010 - spring 2011 and which I had an abortive start at a second draft at in the Autumn of 2011. I think it's quite a good story but, looking at it now, I found myself thinking 'hmmm, the Renegades would pull me up for that clumsy phrasing', and 'that's lazy description', etc., etc. Then it struck me - this 'inner voice' which is improving the detail and quality of my writing is down to going to The Renegade Writer's most weeks and reading out sections of my work and having it criticised. I've written non-fiction (published) for 12 years, fiction for about 6 but I've made more progress in the last 13 months than I have made at any other time. Writing groups can be just back slapping exercises ('oh, how very nice, dear') or ways for writer's to boost their ego's ('listen to this - aren't I just the greatest?') but when they work at their absolute best is when writer's are unafraid to read things out which they know are not perfect and the group is unafraid to offer genuine and unabridged criticism. It can be alarming, you can sometimes get a rough ride but, boy, is it effective! Writing can be a very lonely business. The actual hard slog is almost always done alone. Even joining an ineffective, non-critical group will be beneficial to most writers. Joining a group that will criticise your work will not give you the easiest of times but if you are genuinely interested in improving (and we can all do things better) then it is the single best thing you can do.