Here`s the way I see it - writing is a craft. Just like any craft, leaning from a master (mistress!?) is valuable.
I was lucky to be picked for the Escalator scheme in 2006. It`s run by New Writing East, and part of the scheme was to work with a mentor. My mentor, crime writer Michelle Spring, was an inspiration. She worked with me through my manuscript of The Sacrificial Man, and we had debates about what worked and didn`t. I ended up with a stronger novel, but also the confidence to say "I am a writer." So many of us feel we should whisper it, don`t we? As if we are admitting to something shameful... maybe it is the egotistical premise that we think we have something to say that others will be interested in. Hmmm...
I have just found out that I have won an Apprenticeship in Fiction, which will mean working with another mentor, this time on Family Snap. I have heard good things about Adventures in Fiction, and look forward to starting in September.
Writing is an isolated, lonely job - most of the time we live in our own imaginations. If we can access these brilliant schemes we can improve our skill, and also touch base with others in the business.
Also, there are ways to find funding for these schemes. I was lucky; I got Arts Council funding for Escalator. But there are other bursaries and grants available. Check out the section in Writers & Artists Yearbook. And good luck!