Aside from giving me feedback on my work, my crit group helps me in other ways and we enjoy sharing other writing-related activities.
One way my partners sometimes help me is when I’m feeling discouraged about my writing. At a meeting I might say to the group, ‘I’m feeling my writing is really terrible and I’m not getting any better. Can you tell me something you think I do well or some way you feel my writing has improved?’ They are always happy to oblige and I leave the meeting feeling much better.
Another thing I like to do once a year or so is to ask my partners for an objective assessment of my writing in general. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I like getting regular updates on my progress and no-one knows how my writing has evolved better than my crit partners.
If you were going to do this as a group, you could set aside an entire meeting (the first or last of the year seems most appropriate) in which every member would present a thoughtful supportive assessment of the others’ writing – that person’s current strengths and weaknesses, and how their writing has improved.
If all partners take part in this it can be a help with critiquing throughout the year. Defining and discussing each members’ writing weaknesses helps others in the group focus on those areas when doing their critiques.
Another way my crit partners help me is when I run into a problem with my plot. The trick to getting the best help here is to clearly explain your problem and present your partners with a specific question. (If my character does X in the second chapter how can he do Y in the 10th?)
These brainstorming sessions are often my group’s most animated discussions as everyone feeds off the ideas of others. Plus I'm capitalizing on the combined knowledge all of them have outside of writing.
By far the most fun things I do with my crit partners is writing retreats. Three times a year the four of us go away to a remote setting, often with other writer friends, and spend an entire week doing nothing but writing. Talk about a creative shot in the arm!
Who said writing was a lonely activity?