What can I say about critique groups? Only that they are amazing, terrifying, invaluable, and humbling! I've been attending a critique group for many months now, and it's been worth every minute of the hour plus drive. The particular group I meet with has anywhere from 10-30 people on any given month, and we divide into groups of four to six people for critiquing.
We bring copies of our manuscripts, pass them out amongst our break-out group members, and take turns giving critiques. Critiques consist of reading a work aloud, spending several minutes in silence writing a critique, and then ending in sharing of individual feedback. Feedback is "sandwiched," meaning that we begin with a positive comment, followed by a "criticism," and ending with another positive remark.
Critiquing is nerve-wracking, humbling, and downright necessary. Unfortunately, it can feel a bit like stripping down to your underwear and asking for honest opinions about your body. Seriously. But the great thing is that you're not alone, and the purpose is truly to make you a better writer. Everyone is there for the same reason, not because we're perfect writers, but because we know there is always room for improvement. I believe that most writers would agree that they didn't get to where they are by themselves, meaning that any improvement in their writing had the input from others who desired to make it better, too. Who doesn't want to see others do their best?
Successful writing isn't defined solely by being published. It's by doing the work of a writer, which means writing, learning the craft, and using the resources available (like critique groups, writing conferences, SCBWI, etc.). It means putting yourself out there despite the guaranteed criticism. But take heart, dear writer. Behind every good writer is a good critique group.