Last week before the whole fiasco I had planned to chat on Writer's Groups - and I think that's a good plan still. If you are a "hobby writer" looking to publish (either self or with the Big 6) then one of the first steps I absolutely recommend is joining a Writer's Group.
Writer's Groups don't get a lot of credit, and many of the hobby writers I know say they wouldn't dream of sharing their work until its published, my question is why?
As soon as you write something it is protected under copyright laws, it is your own. Why wouldn't you share your work with an audience and see what they think? See if it has potential? See if it has flare? To hell with the grammar. To hell with the plot change in the third chapter that isn't smooth yet. To hell with your fears!
The first "Writer's Group" I joined was a fiction writing class in college in 2002. (Wow that makes me feel old!) I was intimidated, there were 12 other students and the professor who were going to be reading, grading, and critiquing my pieces. I was almost in tears the first story I turned in.
It helped me me grow in ways that I can't begin to explain. For one it got rid of the fear. When you are reading through other author's work you begin to see mistakes - in your own AND in theirs. You begin to develop a thick skin when you hear "jeez this was so not my style and totally sucked." And if you're going to make it in this business you have to have a thick skin. Whether its against publishers saying "No thank you" or reviews saying "this filth is too short" or what-have-you.
I am currently in a Writer's Group that consists of 3 members, including myself, and while its wonderful and I value their opinion, I wish it had more people in it. We have one member that is continually away, whether with school, work, home life, whatever, and that means that its me and one other author - we have grown, we're good friends, our writing is better, but our opinions are no longer "new" and as helpful as they once were. I'm thinking of joining another this summer.
Writing is a craft, it takes practice, it takes time, and it takes dedication. Whether you are writing as a hobby or as a career putting effort into it is one of the keys to making it work.