The short answer is “yes,” what do you have to lose? It certainly won’t hurt your writing. It might very well help improve it and give you the opportunity to help someone else with their writing. So yes, join a critique group if one’s available.
But all critique groups are not created equal. My advice is to shop around, ask some questions, and try to find one that fits your particular needs. (This, of course, is assuming that you live in a large enough community to have multiple groups available. In smaller communities like my own, there may only be one group).
So what do I look for in a critique group?
Size. A good, productive critique group should be fairly small. Somewhere between six and ten members is best. It’s large enough to represent a variety of tastes and skills, but still small enough to be manageable.
I once belonged to a critique group that probably had twenty-five people at any particular meeting. Even with a five minute limit on comments, it could take two hours to get through one piece. Even if it’s your work under consideration, that’s a lot to sit through. (There’s a reason that even most college classes are only about an hour long. It’s about the limit of human boredom tolerance).
Genre. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that we can all learn from writing genres we aren’t usually practicing. But I also think that in order to get the most from the feedback of a critique group, a percentage of the members need to either practice or read your chosen genre. If you write horror fiction, having all the members of the group read and write nothing but inspirational fiction probably won’t help you much.
The optimal makeup would be a couple of members who are familiar with your genre and an even mix of everything else among the rest. That includes poets, writers of memoir, personal essay, romance, sci-fi, humor, and anything else someone can devise. The more is truly the merrier.
Mechanics. This is personal taste. I prefer having works for consideration by the group be submitted in writing or be email at least a few days before the meeting. I feel that gives everyone time to read it, think about what they’ve read, and make thoughtful suggestions. I’ve been in groups that simply read their work aloud to the group, then everyone comments. This, I feel, only allows first impressions and often the critique will be as much about the reading as the work itself.
That is just my opinion though. (We all know what that’s worth).
Lastly, I like to make sure that one or two of the members are, if not better writers than I am, at least on a similar level. The primary purpose of a critique group, after all, is to have a sounding board to tell us what isn’t working in our writing and offer suggestions on how to improve it. That can be done best by someone who is better than we are. At least they may have figured out a solution to a particular problem you’re facing.
So, yes, join a critique group. It’s a great way to get initial feedback on your work. And the network of readers/colleagues you create may end up rewarding you in ways you’ve never considered down the road.