We didn’t start with it, the four of us, despite our smiles. After a few weeks, we suspected it might exist; after a few months, there was a base. Each person had something to offer, in her background, her skills; we could see it in the edits that slid back across the long wooden table. It took about a year before we confided quirky phobias to each other. It took longer to talk to the worries and fears of our inner creative beings.
I used to think a writers’ group would rise or fall based on multiple factors; chemistry, differing talents, different needs and goals. A writers’ group lives or dies on trust.
Our group continues to discover new things about what makes us work. We look for certain things when we read. We have differences and similarities in what we want to see in a story, in our approaches to the world, in our dreams, in what keeps us going with our fiction and what keeps us going outside of it. The areas where we overlap, or don't, are equally fascinating. Underneath it all, we have earned each other’s trust.
It is critical, at many levels. First, let’s all confess to and quickly dismiss that fear of bringing 20 pages to strangers, only to have someone steal the idea. Anyone who could come up with the missing 230 pages of compelling plot and prose overnight does not have an imagination problem and would find Bulfinch's Mythology sufficient. You do need, of course, to trust that a mostly or fully completed manuscript will be treated as sacred.
Still, it goes far beyond copyright. Trust is required in the feedback. This has nothing to do with talent and intention, but if what they offer is right for you. You need to think about whether the edits help strengthen your work, whether they offer false praise or insufficient criticism, whether they are pushing you when you need a push, and in time, whether they will be there for you through inevitable ups and downs.
Writing is a solitary activity. The success plays out in a highly competitive arena. Your writers' group must be based on the trust that together, you are becoming the writers you are capable of being.