I don’t really like it when people make absolute statements about writing. That said, I do think all aspiring authors should at least try being part of a critique group. You may find it’s not for you, but if you’re like me it will be one of the best decisions you make. Ever.
I know a lot of us are shy. Heck, the first time I let a stranger read my work I wanted to apologize to everyone within earshot and then run weeping from the room. It hurts to step outside your bubble and have someone tell you your best effort still needs improving. But if you don’t know where your weaknesses are, how can you make them into your strengths?
Recently one of my critique partners read a chapter from my female MC’s point of view. She kept asking: “What is she thinking here?” “How does she feel about that?” I realized I didn’t know; I was skipping a lot of the character’s internal workings because delving into them was hard. Her questions forced me to make that character deeper, which in turn made my story stronger. How many published stories have you read with gaping plot holes? How much could those stories have been improved if someone had said, “Hey friend, you’re awesome, but that deus ex machina ending totally contradicts the rules you laid down in Chapter 5.”
For me, talking about my story generates ideas. My monthly group is a meeting of the minds. Their take on my writing lets me see my story from that slightly skewed angle that brings half-realized ideas flying out into the open. They are awesome, and I love being able to read their stories and hopefully do the same for them. I kind of get a buzz out of being part of a group creative process. It’s just unspeakably cool.
Of course, there are people out there who are not great at critiques. Don’t get discouraged if someone tells you they’d “just like your Russian fairy tale retelling better if it took place in Chicago and the character was a mob boss” (true story, happened to my friend). Don’t write off critique groups forever if you happen to land in one where the person in charge fixates on a joke they don’t get about the character being Sherlock Holmes reincarnated and literally talks about it for an hour, continually not getting it (another true story). Try a new group. The people make it or break it.
So how do you find a good critique group? I lucked out and met some incredible, outgoing people writing conferences who more or less adopted my socially awkward self and introduced me to some other incredible people (one of the many reasons conferences are awesome). Aside from that, there are plenty of places online. Writing forums, blogs, and online classes are great places to connect, and many writing society websites (like SCBWI, SFWA, and RWA) give contact info for local chapters.
Don’t let shyness stop you. After all, if you want to be published people are going to read your work eventually, and you’ve got to start somewhere. Just try it. Good luck!