While writers are known for being solitary folk (read: curmudgeons), the editing process is one time when you simply can’t go it alone. You need those suggestions for improvement, that second opinion, that shoulder to cry on, or your work may always remain a little too one-dimensional.
A new perspective
First of all, a critique partner provides that invaluable thing you just can’t give yourself: a fresh point of view. Your partner will review your work not only as a reader in new territory, but also as a writer with a voice, worldview, and skillset that is completely different from yours. Their eyes will pick up on what you’ve missed, and their mind what you’ve never thought of.
It’s remarkably easy to blow off your own deadlines, but when you have someone who’s like a close friend and a boss and a mother (you know, full of nurturing when you’re trying and full of disappointment when you fail) all rolled into one, you tend to work harder, to force yourself to keep showing up when that little voice tries to convince you it’s okay to just stay under the covers.
Practice being criticized
One of the most useful things you can do for your work is get used to accepting and parsing criticism in the spirit of improvement—but this is impossible to do alone. Accepting criticism from your partner toughens your hide and prepares you for professional critique so that when you do get it, you know how to use it constructively and discard hurt feelings.
Your partner is also an effective foil to the little voice that insists you’re not good enough, that defines success too narrowly, that encourages you to take rejection as the final word. A critique partner helps you get back on your feet after a rejection letter and provides guidance when you’re lost.
Ask not what your critique partner can do for you, but what you can do for your critique partner. Too often, when considering a relationship with a critique partner, writers think only of what a partner will give them and not what they’re bringing to the table themselves. Learning how to read critically and offer serious constructive feedback is often far more useful than getting comments on your own work—because once you develop those faculties, you unconsciously employ them when you’re writing.
Even if—perhaps especially if—your partner’s style or genre is wildly different from yours, your respect and admiration for their work will in turn motivate you to write, whether out of sheer sunshiney inspiration or playfully serious competition (à la Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace).
But you can get these things, to some extent, from a writing group, if the members are good and you’ve been a responsible member yourself. What is especially useful about a critique partner, what you can’t really get in a larger group, is the unique intimacy you form, the way you do with a long-term roommate or romantic partner (minus the arguments over the remote, the hot water, where to put the keys…). A critique partner becomes so familiar with your work that they know what you’re striving for and when you’re just missing it. They don’t make excuses for you, they know when you’re bluffing (and call you on it), and they know how to turn you on (inspiration-wise, of course). You build your own world together, and that is one of the best parts of writing.