Reading writer forums was one of my New Year's resolutions, and for a few months I tried to stick with it. I added four new groups to my reader, and promptly hated my decision. After I started reading the forums, I fell even further behind on my review commitments and spent far too much time swearing at authors who will never know I scorned them. But the other day, I finally figured out a reason to really like reading the forums. I now know why this isn't the biggest possible waste of my time, or yours.
What I've Learned
I've made no secret of my forums frustration. I think would-be authors ask too many questions when they ought to be researching. I see the same questions over and over again. I groan and complain and roll my eyes, but I also know (now) that forums do serve a purpose.
It's not meeting other authors...you can do that on Twitter.
It's not getting help with research...that's what Google is for.
It's also not for promotion, unless implicitly stated. But forums are good for generating new ideas for blog posts. I get lots of blog ideas simply by reading what other authors are talking about. But you don't have to be a blogger in order to gain something from this exercise. Seeing the problems that other authors are having can help you avoid those same mistakes.
Writing and being an author is mostly trial and error. Forums can help you see other people's errors so you no longer have to make them. But I've learned something else about forums: they're only good in moderation. Be very picky about the forums you follow and the threads you read. As an indie author, your time is very valuable. Be careful how you spend it, and make sure you're getting something out of it when you do.