Ever since my creative writing workshops at university (no, it's not as long ago as you think, I went when I was thirty-five), I have been a firm believer in the benefits of writers' groups. Having others read your work and offer feedback is a priceless learning tool. Not only do you learn what's wrong with your writing, you also learn what's good and worth nurturing. Putting your baby into someone else's hands can be terrifying at first, of course, but if you can learn to accept good, honest criticism in the spirit it was given, then you are on the way to becoming a better writer.
I've tried lots of online groups over the years and some of them have been extremely helpful. Critters is a particularly good one and has been going for quite a time. Unlike some out there, it's a non-profit site that relies on voluntary donations from fellow critters to keep going rather than charging a fee. It also doesn't encourage the kind of popularity contests that some others seem to favour. You can join in the community, or not and it doesn't make any difference to the quality or amount of critiques you receive. Of course, the more work you put into your critiquing, the more you get out of it.
Another site I tried was Scribophile. I made some really sweet writer friends there, with whom I stayed in touch afterwards. Scribophile is free to join, but to be able to post more than one or two works and get more focused feedback you need upgrade to their premium service, which last time I checked was $80 for a year. I was apprehensive at first, because it seemed to be one of those places where cliques form and had a bit of a popularity thing going on with being able to become someone's fan and so on. After a while, though, I found the community was decent, on the whole, and I received some valuable critiques. From what I can gather since I left, it has become the writers' version of Facebook in appearance, and in style, but the critiques are still as worthwhile as ever. I left because I spent far too much time on the social side of the site and didn't get enough work done.
In the end, though, you can't beat a good old-fashioned face-to-face group if you can find one. Since I moved to the Portland area I've been looking for such a group and I recently found one. We meet on the first and third Tuesday of each month in a Shari's restaurant and the really cool thing is that we are mostly fantasy and science-fiction writers, although open to any kind of writing. We exchange work by email and write critiques, and then deliver them in person at the meeting, as well as have a lot of fun just chatting. After only two meetings, I already find this group invaluable. Just to be able to sit and talk with other writers is something I've longed for ever since my workshop days at university. And the feedback and critical insights I've received in just two meetings have really helped me to see where I need to focus my attention while editing my work in progress. I hope I can be as helpful to them as they are to me.
So how about you? Who do you share the writing experience with?