I've been writing for a while now. It is something that has been my fall back-to hobby since I was a kid. Over the years when I realized it wasn't quite logical to pursue an acting career in my home state (not unless you were related to a campaigning politician) and when my fleeting aspirations of being a *snort* model, (don't laugh, I was 15), were indeed fleeting because I was about four inches too short for it; it was writing that I clung to, that drew me up and away from the realities of my life.
For ten years now those on again, off again, jaunts from writing to 'the next new hobby' stopped completely. I was an undergraduate then and took my first creative writing class with Tim Gautreaux. Where I'm from, that's a big deal, having been taught by Gautreaux, and though I'll never be in his league and though my personal preference of genre isn't in the same stratospheres as his, I learned so much from the man. I was/am honored to have been taught by one of the best. Most of what I learned from him I probably could have picked up along the way. After all, research is a lovely, wondrous thing, but his advice has been priceless and the experience I garnered in his classroom is something I carry with me always. (God knows he put me off of adverbs for life).
Since that time, I took more CW classes and have been blessed, through one of those classes, to become involved in a wonderful group of writers that are blatantly critical and immensely helpful with the writing process. These bints and blokes are like family for me and they open my eyes to things that aren't obvious while writing my first draft. I adore them. I respect them.
I don't however, always agree with them.
You see, writer's groups are a funny business altogether. You have to be wary, careful not to involve yourself with people who haven't a flying fig's notion of what writing is or how a story should be structured. Lucky for me, that is certainly not the case with my group. One must also take into consideration that all writers...and I mean all...are a egotistical, jealous lot. I include myself in that distinction. We get insanely green when we read something that we just 'know' we could have written. We get snooty, at times, when we read things that are not quite up to our 'standards.' Its a sad reality, but it is indeed fact. You see, every writer wants to be the best writer. Every writer wants their story to be the most beloved, the most enjoyable, the most popular. Therefore if our own work isn't up to par, then we brood and (if it is a good writer who takes these things for what they are and are not petty about it) we try our best to improve. At least, that has been my experience.
I am in no way the best at what I write. I'm constantly being taught more with everything I read or write. I'm in constant search for a better way to express what I see in my imagination; for dialog that is funny or meaningful, for a plot that is intricate and crafty. I don't always manage it, but I try to come close and every day brings a new realization, every paragraph creates a new dimension of my ability. It is silly and trite, but it has been my experience that the more you write, truly, the better you become.
Improvement is usually where my writer's group comes into play. I'm sure I depend upon them far too often for critique, but I'm getting better at it, becoming more confident in my own ideas and opinions. The problem really lies in myself and in the decisions I make that cross over into my work. Do I start from scratch because a huge plot whole was pointed out to me? Do I throw up my hands and give up my dream because my character isn't flawed enough or because my 'hero' is far too handsome to be realistic? No. That's not me. That's not how I tick. I fix those things and go forward. I take all opinions into consideration and I weigh them against what has been suggested and what I'm trying to accomplish.
It is all a learning process. Gautreaux told us once never to use 'ancient' in a description unless we're talking about an Egyptian relic of some sort. Two weeks later we were reading one of his stories and wonder of wonders 'ancient' was mentioned in his description. When I asked him about it he said, 'well, I was an idiot.' Obviously, he wasn't, but he had written that piece when he was younger, when he knew less. The knowledge that we garner from experience, from time and even from the opinions of others, directly affects our actions, behaviors and yes, even our abilities as time moves forward. We live. We learn, etc.
So your writer's group may not know everything. Their opinions may differ greatly from yours, but if you listen, if you absorb then you can grow. If not, you're stagnate, and obviously growth is impossible in a stagnate state. (Unless, I think, if we're talking about fungi which is just really icky).
"He who increases knowledge, increases sorrow." That doesn't mean that the more knowledge you acquire, the more you open yourself up to sad realizations. It only means that the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know everything. Still, the point is that you have to learn to evolve. You have to experience to improve.