There are only a couple of people on Earth who read my works in progress: Mighty Reader, Domey, Michelle and my agent (and his reader). I don't have a group of "beta readers" and I don't belong to a critique group, online or otherwise. I am not taking any sort of writing class and so, in general, most of my writing is done alone, with as little feedback as possible from other people. The main reason for this is that I know very few people who read the sort of fiction I write and will talk about the issues in my own work that concern me. If I ask someone to read something, I don't really want to hear about misspellings or split infinitives. I want to hear if the story and the characters work in the way I want them to work. In general, I trust my own instincts and taste more than those of anyone else, though I will of course listen to my agent and the three other people listed above.
Lately, however, I have begun to write more short stories, and I'm in a loose sort of online writing group who share our bits and bobs of stuff every two months. That's very cool, especially because I continue to struggle with the short story form and it's nice to have feedback from people who do it better than I do. It's also nice to be part of a writers' community that meets, virtually anyway, every so often. I also have a standing invitation to go drinking with a group of writers here in Seattle, but it's on a school night so I haven't gone yet, though I have gotten together a few times with one of these guys and it's a blast. He and I talk about writing in very similar terms and I get what he means and he gets what I mean even though the waitress and the folks at the next tables think we're just insane. Which is fine.
The thing is, then, that while I still see writing as primarily something done alone, in isolation, it is an activity that's brought me into contact with others doing the same thing. There is a lot of value, certainly, in the online community of writers. But the interactions I've had with writers in real life (and I include the groovy Skype conversations I've recently had with Domey and Michelle), including going to readings/book signings, means that writing has become something larger to me than just writing down stories. Some folks I know here in Seattle are thinking about organizing a regular series of public readings, and I think that would be a lot of fun and I think I'd like to try out my short stories in that venue.
Anyway, my point--if I have one--is that I think it's important to have real-world interactions with other writers if you can. So I'm wondering how many of you have met any other writers in real life? How many of you are taking a class or are part of a critique group/reading group that meets in person? How many of you take part in readings on a regular basis, either as audience members or as readers?