The best thing I ever did for my writing was to get involved with a critique group. It happened because I attended my first ever writer's conference, one put on by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in Seattle. There, when the opportunity was offered, I signed up to be in a critique group. Not long afterwards, I got a call telling me where and when to go, and even an offer to carpool.
To this day, I remember how scared I was to read my piece out loud. I just knew those other writers--some published, some not--were going to tell me to give up and go home. But they didn't. Yes, my picture book, or was it a short story?--I didn't even know the difference then--needed work. The group members were kind to me and pointed out what I was doing right as well as what I was doing wrong. And, they invited me back. That was in the spring of 1990.
In 1992 my first short story came out in Jack and Jill magazine. No, it wasn't that first piece I took to the critique group--it has never sold--but it definitely was one they critiqued. Since then I've sold over 130 magazine pieces and two books. The middle grade novel was inspired by my critique group. So many of the others were writing novels for children, I became interested in the process. I learned from what they did right. I learned from their critiques of my manuscript.
Groups change. People quit or move to a different group or to another town or state. My needs as a writer change. However, I think I'll always need the feedback of a critique group.
Local Writing Groups
Of course, SCBWI is a good source for children's writers. That organization has grown internationally since my first association with them. Go to www.scbwi.org and see what events might be near you by clicking on your state and following the links. If you join the organization, you can do manuscript exchanges with other members through the mail or online.
Look at other writer organizations in your area. They may not have many members focused on children's writing per se, but you can still learn a lot from "adult" writers.
Sign up for a writing class at a community college or university. Even if they don't offer in-class critiques, you may connect with several other students to form your own group, or the teacher may have recommendations.
Online Writing Groups
There are online writer's groups that offer critique exchanges as well. Some are two-way list serves - designed as a place to chat, but you can ask for feedback on a manuscript. I belong to one of this type that is a Yahoo! Group. I'm sure there are others. Here's a sampling of groups* that focus on critiquing:
Writing4Kids - Weekly Online Group: http://www.angelfire.com/ultra/writing4kids/weekly.html
Articles on the Net
Join a Critique Group to Get Your Writing Moving
Debbie Ridpath Ohi's blog entry on: Online critique groups and MiG Writers
And, of course, if you read that last title strictly as a question, my answer is "yes." You won't regret it when you find the right group. (more on that later)
*Know other online critique groups? Share about them in the comments.