Having a Crit Partner is like sharing your brain space. In my head, it's gotta be a little like what twins go through. Because you are your own person, with your style, dreams, ideas--but then along comes someone else who's all up in your space too. You have to be okay with it, to embrace it, to function and still try go your own way--even if there's someone else out there with your face. But you're a twin, so you've also got to consider your other half in each step you take because you can't share space with someone and not be bonded. It's a little disarming
This is what having a crit partner is like.
Through the process of writing (or editing or re-writing) a book, you have this other person all up in your space--creatively--and you have to be okay with it, to embrace it, to function and still keep your story YOURS. And, what's even more, you have to take what they say and suggest and LISTEN because you've invited them into your space and now you're stuck with the person. You can't share a space with another person and completely ignore them. It's impossible.
You are two peas in a word pod.
You exist, together, to make this one story be the best it can be--and to do that you have to be on the same page. You have to share a space.
I have four CPs and sometimes my brain space gets a little crowded. But it wasn't always that way. I used to have one: Christina. She's the only person who has read every single thing I've written (I mean, excluding my early days of fanfic and bad poetry from middle school.) From the beginning, Christina fit in my space. I remember those first pages we exchanged and the way she pulled out these errors and thoughts and questions from my MS and threw them up in the air. I did the same to her. I knew immediately I wanted to work with her.
The more we worked together, the more we learned the flow and rhythm of the other person. Where I was weak in description and action, she was strong. Where I was strong in characters and overall plot, she was weak. We were a perfect pair--literally, two peas in a word pod. We fit in each other's space. And, even more, we liked each other's writing.
Those two things are probably the most important thing when you're searching for or working with a CP.
I think should also point out that the title of "CP" can be applied in a bunch of different ways and I don't think every writer has the same kinds. Christina is still my #1 go to with my stuff--before anyone else reads it she does--because I know that she'll be able to find exactly what it needs and help me fix it. But then I have the others--and the beta readers (which are different from a CP because they are reading the MS and not offering writing help).
But with my other three, Patricia is more of my "brainstorming" CP. When I'm stuck or something's not working, I know I can talk to her and she can help me figure out the answer. She always seems to know what my story needs, what my characters would or wouldn't do and how to move things up a level. Cindy is great at fine tuning my thoughts and scenes. She can look at something and ask me questions. She's even line editing my current MS, which no one else really does at all. Jenn is my last CP because I save her for the end. She will either confirm that it is "ready" or tell me that it's not. Plus, she's just all sorts of fun and happiness and encouraging excitement. ALL of them offer a lot of (much needed) encouragement through the process. Cheerleading CPs are awesome.
However you want to title them, a CP is so important to a writer. It teaches you how to work in a group, how to write better, how to look more objectively at your own work and it challenges you. When you invite someone else into that inner-circle, you're opening yourself up to sharing your space. Sometimes, it will not be easy. But always, always, it's worth it.