Back when, pre-internet, you might find a critique group by finding a local writer’s group from a bulletin board at your local library or grocery store. That still might work, but the internet is probably the easiest way to find a writer’s group in your area. Some writers groups don’t do critique. You’ll figure that out pretty quickly from their websites.
Then to get down to the nitty gritty of finding a group that is a good fit for you.
First try to find a group that writes what you do. I don’t mean that a general fiction critique can’t be good for both romance and mystery writers. But if you write poetry, you’re probably not going to get the kind of feedback you need. Some people prefer that the groups be limited by genre. However, I have been in mixed genre groups and have found them pretty helpful. It’s your call.
So that leads to the second step here. Try the group out. Some groups have the author read their work aloud. Some groups give out manuscripts at the end of each group. You read the stuff at home and write down your thoughts, then come in and give a quick crit. Some groups have the author pass out a copy to each member of the group, who read and critique each manuscript right then and there.
Each of these methods have their drawbacks. For instance, with the first option, when some authors read aloud, they can make the warning on a pack of cigarettes sound wonderful. It becomes harder, for me at least, to separate dreck from greatness when I’m not the one reading through the printed page.
Then there’s the one where you take the manuscripts home to read. It works for many.
That feels a little like homework to me, and frankly that was one part of school I was glad to be done with. I tend to lose the manuscripts, spill coffee on them, fall asleep before I get them done and then try to cram a critique in as I’m sitting waiting for group to start.
The drawback with the last method of critique–reading each work to yourself before giving a critique is that the group needs to remain rather small or you’ll never get through all the work.
Pick a method that works for you. Make sure you like the folks you’re about to share your stuff with too. It really sucks to be in a group with someone who can’t draw breath without annoying you.
Last but not least make sure the group is not out there with hatchets for unsuspecting writers. You want a group that gives a good sandwich critique–telling you what is good and what isn’t. You want a group that remembers you a person with feelings.