In 1996, Hillary Clinton published It Takes a Village, a book that asserts that it takes a community to raise quality (i.e. smart, well-adjusted, achieving, etc.) children. When you think about your own writing, it helps to think of your work as children, little beings who need a community of support to turn out well. And for most writers who think along these lines, they have cultivated a writing group, comprised of people (likely fellow writers) with whom they can share their stories, and from whom they receive honest, well-articulated feedback, which is designed to move the story along until it has mature enough for the outside world.
And yes, every writer should have some other writers to turn to, for several reasons. But your community should not be limited to just this type of a support network; rather, you should make use of the Internet and engage with other writers (and readers) with whom you can share ideas about writing and reading, not just people who will read your work.
Form a writer’s group: You should cultivate a small circle of writers whose opinions you trust. The temptation can be to form a social circle of writers you trust and with whom you like to drink. Okay, maybe this is just MY inclination. But seriously, you should look to align yourself with people you can work well with and who will bring out your best work as a result of this interaction. Choose these people wisely, for their opinion will likely shape your work.
And don’t feel limited to the people local to you. The good thing about the Internet is that you can now do these interactions virtually, using tools like Google Hangout to get together. Do you have any writer friends you’ve met through Facebook? Put feelers out, swap work; see how you react to their work. Is this someone who sees writing in ways you do? Vastly different? You may want a similar point of view or a vastly different one.
One of the most important things to remember: Having people who say they like your stuff but don’t give thorough feedback aren’t doing you any favors. If anything, they’re holding you back.
Also, a lot of writers function well with having deadlines to meet—and if you organize a group that meets regularly, you will need this. You need to decide how best to establish the constraints which will help you best. You should also hold yourself to this deadline and hold the members of your group accountable. You should respect the work as much as you respect one another. One way to do this is to always be the writing partner you would want to have.
For a different take on the benefits of a writer’s group, check out my fellow 5Writer (Linda Price)’s post: http://5writers.com/2013/05/06/why-everyone-needs-a-volleyball/
But a writer’s group doesn’t have to be the only community in which you take part. Online communities/forums can fill a different (and useful) need for writers. There are a number of social media outlets that can allow you to think about writing and reading in various ways.
Here you can be a little more liberal with your associations, in part because you’re just fielding comments, ones that would be unlikely tied to your specific stories. I’ve joined some writing community forums on Linked In. I occasionally comb through the message boards and engage with a posted topic that interests me. The responses—from people I’ve had little to no interaction with—offer a wide range of attitudes about the craft. Since the thoughts are not directed at your work, they can open up a few doors for you without shaping a particular draft. Therefore, if you encounter bad advice (or un-useful advice), it might not directly impact your work (i.e. alter your work in a disastrous way). But it might give you something useful to think about, a new tool to try out. And at the end of the day, a writer can never have too many tools from which to choose.
Writing is a very solitary (and for some, lonely) activity. At the very least, interacting with other writers is fun and healthy. Best case scenario, your work will find its way into the world someday. You can increase your chances of this happening if you reach out to others for help along the way. Plus, these people get to share in your success and you in theirs.