my dream about the Mad Men writing group and Dame Eleanor's group a few years back, I am in a writing group. Hooray!
It's really an accountability group of the kind that Boice and Silvia have separately recommended. We're not reading drafts, but we set goals and hold each other accountable for meeting them. "No excuses" is Silvia's motto, and it's ours, too.
I'm starting to think that the process of thinking about writing--the act of analyzing what you do when you write--is a recursive process, much as the act of writing itself is. When I read old "writing inspiration" posts here at this blog and elsewhere, it helps me to think about the process, which in turn helps me to think about the writing I'm trying to do.
The writing group is already helping with this, in these ways:
1. You work harder when you know you have to look into the eyes of a group and say, "No, I didn't meet that goal this week."
2. They can cheer you on when you get things done.
3. They can also fix you with a mildly stern gaze and point out that taking on too many low-hanging fruit-type writing assignments can leave your main project behind.
4. Since these are people in approximately my general field, I can ask for and give suggestions about publication venues.
5. Seeing how much everyone is accomplishing when not on sabbatical is a bracing reminder that I ought to be accomplishing more and to set goals accordingly.
This is the sixth year I've kept the Excel spreadsheet to keep track of writing, and there's a separate page where projects and deadlines are listed. It really does help. But I can choose not to open the spreadsheet, whereas the writing group is going to expect to hear from me.