These days the only reason an author doesn't have a safety net -- writers' groups, friends, critique partners, advice coming out their ears -- is because they choose not to. There's a group for virtually every genre or subgenre of fiction, and they're all accessible thanks to the Internet.
Back when I wrote my first book, Within Reach, the sum total of my safety net was a book by Kathryn Falk of Romantic Times Magazine called How to Write a Romance and Get it Published. That, plus the tons of romance novels I read every month, was it. I didn't know any other writers. I had no idea that professional groups existed or that I would be allowed entry. After all, authors were intelligent, well-educated, highly-talented people. I kind of coasted through my college career, changing majors the way some people changed clothes, skipping too many classes, not taking it seriously until the scholarships were gone and it was my own money on the line. I was just a stay-at-home mom who'd been making up stories most of my life.
But I did the single most important thing: I wrote. Not every day, but regularly. I turned out pages and pages of story. I wrote tens of thousands of words before I ever got the nerve to submit anything.
And I read the books on the market that I wanted to write. People get excited by different things; for me it was books and bookstores. And since we lived right across the street from a shopping center with a WaldenBooks, I got excited pretty darn often.
For me, that isolation worked. If I'd had people giving me conflicting advice, bruising my tender ego or telling me what the odds were, I never would have made it as far as submitting that first book. My ignorance worked against me. I didn't have a clue about the craft aspects of writing, but I could tell a story, and I was lucky enough to get an editor in Leslie Wainger who taught me a lot of what I needed to know.
I wouldn't recommend going it alone these days -- other than "closing the door," which is the subject of another blog -- but why not learn from people who have already made the same mistakes you make? Take advantage of all that advice and maybe save yourself 100,000 of those practice words.