I realize how fortunate I am to live in a town with so many writers. The Twin Cities is jam packed with published mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and romance writers. There's an active (and large) local chapter of Romance Writers of America, a mystery writers' group called Sisters in Crime, and even a local chapter of the Natonal Writers' Union. This is an absolutely wonderful town to be a writer in, regardless of where you are in the process: just beginning or professionally published.
There are also a number of specality bookstores including Uncle Hugo's/Uncle Edgars for science fiction, fantasy, and mystery; Dreamhaven for SF/F and graphic novels; and Once Upon a Crime for mystery. There are enough writers and beginning writers in this town that we can even support two organizations devoted solely to nuturing and teaching writers their craft: The Loft and SASE/Intermedia Arts, both of which provide writers with classes (ranging from how-to write to taxes for the working writer), grants, rental office spaces, and on-going readings for specialized groups like GLBT writers, science fiction writers, writers of color, etc.
The ginormous number science fiction/fantasy READERS in this town support writers by hosting a half dozen conventions in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and invite editors, agents, etc. to come to us....
Let's just say it was not hard for me to find a way to connect with other writers in this town. I suspect, however, that's not going to be the case for most people reading this blog.
So you dream of sitting around a coffee shop table with other writers discussing each others' work, but you live in a small town. How do you find people? What can you do if you don't live in a town like I do that has so many resources waiting to be tapped?
First, you should take advantage of whatever you _do_ have. Are you sure there isn't a RWA chapter nearby? Check this list to make sure. The Romance Writers of America is an expensive organization to join, but they provide a lot of services and support to brand-new/just starting out writers. If you're at all serious about writing (even if it isn't a romance novel you're considering) I can't recommend it too highly. Even if your local chapter isn't super organized or large, you get access to the national folks who put on conferences, have a newsletter that lists contests, courses, and on-line classes. And other members can be the first folks you can tap to start your writers' group.
How about bookstores? Do you have any? Even if all you have is one of the box chain stores, they often have reading groups for your genre (romance, science fiction, and maybe even specfic ones like vampire urban fantasy) and you can join those and scope out whether or not anyone else in the group wants to write.
If you're lucky enough to have an independently-owned book store, you can make up a poster asking for others interest in starting a writers group and ask if you can post it in the window or on a board or whatever.
NOTE: even after being together with basically the same people for twelve years, we all still meet in a public place (a coffee shop in our case), and I would especially recommend that once you gather a few names you consider finding a public space (if not a coffee shop, perhaps a library, the bookstore?) for at least your first meeting. You may also wish to distribute e-mail and phone numbers, but perhaps withhold address, etc., until you're comfortable with your group.
In all the writers' groups I've run or been part of, I only ever had one problem person, but it's always a good idea to be careful about your personal safety.
Next up: Writers' group structure.