Last night I took the plunge and attended my first writing group. Apart from very brief, unsatisfactory experienes with critique groups when I was at uni (all filled with Very Serious Writers who certainly don't appreciate a good steam-powered golem, for example) I've never done anything like this before, so to say I was fairly nervous turning up was an understatement. I hate sharing my work with people who can actually look me in the eye and tell me it sucks - the internet is a wonderful thing in that I can scream at my monitor all I like and still pretend to take criticism well.
Anyway. Last night I met up with the lovely people from the Manchester Speculative Fiction at MadLab (a fantastic resource; all cities should have something like MadLab). The meeting went on a lot longer than anticipated as there was a massive turnout - lots of us newbies - but nobody seemed to mind much. My story came up last, so on top of first-time nerves there was also the lurking sense that I was keeping everybody there against their will. Sorry!
Luckily, the story I submitted was very well received by everybody, which did my ego a world of good. I also got some fantastic feedback on what I can do to make the story stronger, not least of which is cutting the hell out of it to make it a lot leaner. So that's what I'll do, just as soon as F&SF decide that it's not for them either. The act of giving criticism to the other stories was a huge help as well, as it made me really aware of what does and doesn't work in a story. It's a lot easier to be objective about work that you aren't emotionally invested in.
So. Crit groups aren't that scary apparently. I'm definitely looking forward to the next meeting. Thanks for being so welcoming, MancSpecFic, and for providing cakes. Next time I'll bring chocolate.