I belong to two online critique groups, one for prose, and one for poetry. Both of these groups are invaluable to me.
Writing is a lonely business because most of the time, you’re working in a vacuum. Sometimes, it’s hard to see any potential flaws in my own work because I’m just too close to it. Stepping away from a project for a little while is helpful most of the time. It allows me to view my work with fresh eyes and maybe I’ll spot something I didn’t see before. But the best way to spot any flaws in my work is to have a trusted group of critique partners take a look at it. They don’t have any emotional investment in my project, so they will be able to look at it more objectively then I can.
Now putting your work up for critiques is not a natural process. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a certain emotional investment in your work. It’s like your baby. After all, there was nothing there before you made the effort to bring it into this world. Getting a critique is a little like presenting your baby to the world, only to have people say, “Your baby’s ugly.” And the thing is...maybe they're right.
Of course, a critique partner will be more tactful than that, maybe… But the point is, constructive criticism is vital to the writing process. Having someone else take a look at the story arc, character, pacing, grammar, etc., has definitely improved the quality of my work, and has made me a better writer. Over the years, I have gotten feedback that helped to make my stories shine, and some that I’ve disregarded because it didn’t fit with my vision of the story. But all of the feedback I’ve gotten, made me look at my story from another angle. That helped me craft a stronger story. Because whether I used the feedback or not, every thing in my story was there because of a conscious decision.
Now all critique groups are not the same. Some writers like to get together in person. However, that is something that wouldn’t work for me. I wouldn’t be able to commit to a critique group that met regularly and read over manuscripts. I just don’t have the time. The nice part about an online critique group is that you can critique when you have the time. If I get an hour here or there, I’ll be able to get a critique done. The other nice thing is that being online has put me in touch with people from the other side of the country, and the other side of the world for that matter. You get great feedback from dealing with such a diverse group of people. In the process, I’ve made some friends there that I wouldn't have met otherwise too. It's been a win-win situation.