One of the coolest things about this conference was the "bootcamp" the day before -- five writers, five manuscripts, one published author, and roughly six hours of straight critiquing (well, except for the snack break -- as noted, food was plentiful). I was fried afterwards, but it was exciting to meet new writers and utilize my brain picking apart the manuscripts.
I'm a huge fan of critiquing. Learning about writing is great, but I think some things are only learned through critiquing others and yourself. Kind of like archaeology -- textbooks are nice, but they make more sense once you've been in the field.
In honor of bootcamp, here's some of my favorite links on how to critique and how to receive critiques:
The Diplomatic Critiquer
Critiquing the Wild Writer
Two of these, you've probably realized, come from Critters.org -- an online critique group. I have a writing group and other friends to read novels for me, but I run all my short stories through here (they handle novels, too, but I write a lot of short stories). As the articles above talk about, sometime I get a critique I feel is very off, or is trying to solve a problem in the wrong way, but just as often I have light bulb moments. The Critters.org crowd is full of brilliant people, and having twenty or so brilliant people read something takes a story to a level I couldn't with my own eyes.
Oh, and at the conference, I ended up feeling like a Skype salesperson, even though computer-to-computer, it's free. If you have writer friends scattered about, Skype makes it easy to still have an almost face-to-face writing group -- this is what my group does, and it's fantastic.