I was extremely nervous before that first meeting. I probably couldn't have even told you exactly why I was so anxious. I might have been worried that I was about to be told truths about my writing I couldn't handle. I've never been part of a writing group, or done a writing course, so I am quite unused to direct and rigorous critique. When I have shown my writing to friends, they have usually been so supportive I've had to beg them to say something (anything!) negative.
It turns out I shouldn't have worried. Sitting around with a group of adult professionals discussing my novel was one of the strangest and most gratifying experiences I've ever had. Nice things were said. Constructive things were said. Wild suggestions were made regarding which voice I should write in, and the relevance of whole chapters were questioned. The entire thing was picked at until it felt there was little that shouldn't be changed. It was great! Everyone on the room was taking my writing seriously enough to discuss it. The characters and place that had lived only in my head and on my laptop for so long suddenly had a life outside of me. It felt for the first time like there was a chance that these characters could be real for other people in the way that they are entirely real people to me.
Since then I have been slashing and burning and re-writing left, right and centre. It was like I was waiting for permission to shake things up. Rather than being painful it has been a real relief to take a hammer and chisel to my manuscript, like I'm freeing something that's still half-buried under rubble.