One of the best things you can have as a writer is a critique partner. They'll tell you what works, what doesn't, how awesome you are or how much you suck. When I applied to the Writer's in Paradise workshop (OMG, only 6 days until I find out if I got in!), I sent out my first 25 pages to some avid reader/writer friends, and the feedback I got was amazing. They all said I was off to a great start (woot!), but they also all pointed to problem areas, and made great suggestions for how to fix them. Some of the issues I was aware of going into it but I wasn't sure how to fix it, and other ones I hadn't even considered. By the time I got all four critiques back, I really thought my pages were vastly improved.
It was then I decided I needed to find myself a long-term critique partner. Unfortunately, I didn't really know where to start. I basically have no idea what I'm doing, so how do you ask someone to read what might be the worst piece of YA literature ever? Fortunately, one of the women in my online book club suggested a NaNo chapter swap for those of us who participated, and in that same thread I threw out (totally casually) that I was looking for a long-term partner.
And I got two responses! Yay! Of course, I won't be tapping into them for some time. I'm still sitting pretty at just over 50,000 words, my novel hasn't ended, and I haven't even given most of the pages a second glance. But come next year, after I've given it a few passes to beef it up, I'll be thankful that I've made these connections, and that we've made the commitment to each other now. We promised to be brutally honest with each other, no-holds-barred, no sugar coating.
The best thing is, we're all in different genres. One is chick-lity (but sophisticated chick lit...honestly her story sounds so awesome I am bursting waiting to read it), and the other is a short story compilation. Since I'm YA, I feel like we'll have a lot to give each other. Hopefully, our strengths will be different, and we can find the weaknesses in each other's manuscripts that we can't see ourselves.
I'm also trying to create/find a local writing group, so I can meet some writers in real life. I think the more support you have, the better. That's how I got through NaNo, and that's how I'll get through life.