|by Padurariu Alexandru, via Unsplash|
1. Take your time. Join a few forums, hang out in the comments section of your favorite blogs (winkwink), and pay attention to what other writers are saying. Engage in conversation; find a few people that you feel you can relate to before broaching the subject of forming a group.
2. Set a number. This sounds cliquish of me. But here's how I see it; there are quadrillions of writers out there. Why not quadrillions of writers' groups? My personal opinion is that critique groups in particular work best when the group is small. Would you provide better feedback if you had five WIPs to critique, or twenty? There IS room for everyone – everyone can join or start a writers' group! But smaller tends to be easier, as it's less overwhelming for everyone involved.
3. Consider genres. I hesitate to say "find other writers in your genre," because I think reading and critiquing books outside the genres you normally write/read can only make you a better writer. But if horror makes you squeamish, then you may not want to join a group with a horror writer, as you won't enjoy the experience and probably won't offer her the best feedback on her work.
4. Drop the defensiveness. Let's face it; even when we say "oh yes, I want criticism!" deep down, part of us longs for praise. And sometimes, we get it! But that's not the point of a writers' group. One or more of your fellow writers may give you feedback you disagree with – strongly. A defensive attitude is not the way to go, as it will only make folks hesitant to critique you in the future. And more often then not, after a few days of stewing over the comments, you might start to realize they make a little bit of sense.
5. Provide honest, polite criticism. If you think the story has serious issues, you'll be doing the author no favors to keep silent. Tell them the problem (nicely), and if at all possible, offer a few ideas on how to solve it. And if they get defensive, send them up to number 4. Being fairly timely also helps, and hopefully your buddies will return the favor!