My writing group (http://bit.ly/GRRWG) is all for writing challenges, such as National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org), fondly referred to as NaNo. We’re not particularly crazy about the timing so this year, between meetings, February 12th to March 12th, we’re challenging each other to write 32K.
I’ve always been a big believer of talent winning out. Send your manuscript out and someone will recognize a good story and the skill it took you to write it
My writing group is hosting a one day conference next fall. Another member and I have been chasing down a venue and keynote speaker.