In reading up about successful writing groups, I've learned that there is a definite difference between a writing group and a critique group though often these two phrases are used interchangeably by newer writers. First some definitions:
Writing Group -- Think of this as a support group for writers. Members might be new to the field or new to a genre. Or they may have been writing for years. However, these groups focus more on actually writing and may spend part of their meetings writing as a group, and yes, this can mean everyone contributing to a single piece of work as well as everyone working on their own work in communion with their fellow writers. Sharing of work happens but generally comments are of a supportive nature (what works) and seek to spur the writer on and nurture the muses. For some these groups can be an antidote to the "lonely life of a writer."
Critique Group -- Again, while experience may vary from starting out to already published, members of these groups tend to be interested in making their work better. They regularly submit their work to the group for comments with the hope that the work will not only be praised, but that members will point out issues and areas needing improvement. A good group will stay focused on improving the author's story by looking at plot, scene, voice, character, flow, and maybe even some punctuation, grammar, and spelling.
Marketing Group -- Sometimes called a Networking Group, these groups are focused on pooling information and resources to help writers send queries or make a piece more marketable. Members share leads on agents, contests, and publishers. But probably most helpful is supporting each other as rejection letters arrive or, better yet, responding to revision letters. And with the increase in self-publishing, these groups will grow increasingly important since writers will have be their own marketing department.
Each group serves a different purpose and like much in the world, actual groups do not adhere rigidly to any given category. Some members may be looking more for support while others critique. As groups work together for months and years, some members may be wrapping up a project and preparing to shop it around while others are still trying to work the kinks out of a novel or play.
No group is categorically better than another -- they serve different purposes. The key is finding the right group for you and your writing needs.
So what kind of group is Westside Writers?
Westside Writers is a critique group with a bit of support thrown in for good measure. In time, we'll probably talk more about marketing, but currently members are still working on making projects better. We are a fiction group though members work in a number of genres. Some are writing novels; some, short stories; but all have novels planned for the future.
The bulk of our meetings is spent on critiquing each others work, but we always check in to see how the stories are progressing. We also share information about helpful websites, conferences, and books we've come across.
However the key ingredient is that Westside Writers is all about helping an author improve the piece being discussed using positive suggestions. But at the end of the day, we recognize that the author has final say on what changes are made to the work.