Over the years I’ve been part of a variety of writing groups/critique groups. The fact that I’m not even sure what to label them tells you something—these groups can run the range from a group of writers getting together to offer each other support and socialization, to a hardcore critique group that maximizes manuscript commentary and holds chitchat to a minimum. Either way, these groups can be valuable networking opportunities; they are chances to gain other writers’ perspectives and support, as well as to share all sorts of information about submission opportunities, contest openings, editor insights, etc. Perhaps even better, some of my absolute best writer friends over the years have emerged from these groups!
I know writers who have been part of the same writing group for many years, but don’t be surprised if you find that your groups shift over time. People move, goals change, babies are born—and for myself, I’ve found that I’ve needed different things from a group at different points on my writing journey. Sometimes I’ve needed tough critique, and sometimes I’ve needed a social group that can empathize with the challenges I’m facing. Another consideration is whether you want to limit your group to children’s writers (or perhaps even more narrowly to picture books writers, for example), or if you want to have a more broadly based group. I’ve enjoyed the chance to mix up my writing contacts by also participating in groups that have a range of writers (poets, essayists for adults, etc.), although their critique is obviously not as specific to children’s books.
If you’re not yet part of a group, look around: often groups grow out of a shared writing class, or your regional SCBWI can be a great resource. Or maybe that person who is often sitting nearby at the coffee shop with their laptop is a place to begin? Test your networking skills while riding a caffeine high!