I am a member of High Desert Christian Writers. We meet once a month for encouragement, advice and to critique one another's work. You don't have to be a Christian to be part of our group. You don't have to write exclusively Christian content, either. We are simply Christians who write and meet to help each other improve in their craft.
I wrote my first novel--Precipice--before I discovered the existence of such a thing as a critique group. I had a lot of fun writing on my own. The writing at the end of the book is much better than at the beginning. I taught myself how to sit down and write. Something I did not teach myself: industry standards. I had no clue that there were such things. I figured you sat down, pounded out a best-seller and everyone would want it. Silly boy.
After I finished my book I looked around for someone to tell me how to publish my best-seller. That's when I found my critique group. They helped me by showing me everything that was wrong with it. That is a bit daunting, but in fact, a writer who is not willing to take a "thick-skinned" critique will never make it out of the hot house. I tell people now, if my first novel were a car it would be in the garage, up on blocks with greasy engine parts strewn all over.
I tried for years to edit that novel to perfection. I finally gave it up. It was more of a patchwork quilt than a flowing literary masterpiece. Instead, I wrote a second novel, Colombian Kilo. Though I ended up self-publishing that, I am much happier with the over-all writing. I have found, as writers are fond of saying, my voice. I know my style and can execute it on demand. I learned that through the patient, knowledgeable writers in my critique group. I owe them a debt for praising my writing where it deserved it, and wading in with machete's when it didn't.
The High Desert Christian Writers holds an annual writers conference each May. 2012's conference will be on May 4-5. Learn more at Antelope Valley Christian Writers Conference.