I'm fairly new to the online writing scene (and that's a phrase that makes me vomit a little bit in my mouth). I started looking for writerly groups while 3/4 through my novel, desperate for likeminded support. What I found was a vast amount of people writing vampire/werewolf/zombie stories, trolls, cliquey love-ins and angry little minds using the anonymity of the internet to shout at people and reinforce their supposition of superiority. Crits varied from the thoughtful, to the gushingly complimentary yet empty, to the unnecessarily vicious. The crits that I gave were often treated with disdain, dismissal or outright outrage. Despite these writers having ASKED for reviews, a lot of them just wanted to be told their stories were perfect, while they tore a bunch of new arseholes out of any story they reviewed themselves.
Ok, so not all writers who participate in online writers' groups are like that - there were a fair few in each group who were polite, constructive and friendly. But they were the minority.
I've found that in 'the real world' too - writers' groups can be weiiiird places, held in pubs you would normally avoid like the woman on the train who smells like pee, has a grand total of three teeth and is wiping something suspicious onto the seat beside her while occasionally yelling "FLANGE!"
Actually, I think she attended one of the writers' groups I went to. She wrote partially rhyming poetry about existentialist frogspawn.
So, I was about to give up the search for a place that I didn't feel... out of place in, when I came across Show Me Your Lits. It seemed like a suggestion I could be persuaded to fulfil under the right circumstances. Oh, what? Lits?
SMYL, as the cool kids call it, holds a weekly flash fiction challenge, based on a group of prompts and set to a 90 minute Big Honkin' Timer. All entries are then posted anonymously over the following few days, for the authors (and any registered users) to read, review and vote. The stories with the most votes have a brief head to head bout, with the winner getting the privilege of choosing the next week's prompts.
The threat of the timer is an awesome addition to a prompted challenge, and the addiction of the whole shebang means that I'm now producing at least one flash-to-short-story length piece a week. The other participants are *shockingly* nice people. Really. The reviews are honest, constructive and helpful. The voting is fun, not competitive. I'm welling up here. I may need to stop drinking.
I've found my niche, anyway. Different strokes for different folks, right? If you're a writer it's worth finding yours. For me, writing is - to a large degree - a compulsion. I *need* to do it, or something shrivels up inside. But I also need to make it a habit - if I don't write every day, or every week, and place some sort of organisation around it, I'm likely to just moan about wanting to write than actually doing it. A weekly activity like SMYL does that for me, and as a result, I'm learning what works in my writing, what sucks, what I hate, what I aspire to.
There are a shitload of writer haunts out on the wide, wild ol' interwebs - certainly one for every aspiring YA/Twilight/hybrid story out there... if that's your bag, you're in luck, anyway.