(This is the third installment in a three-part series. For part one, on Stalking, click here. For part two, on beta-ing, click here.)

I need to open this up with a caveat: I take the phrase Critique Partner really, really seriously. Like, kind of embarrassingly so. Plenty of other people out there use it to mean anyone who betas for them, or anyone with whom they swap, or anyone they consider a writing bestie, and that’s obviously totally cool – everyone has their own definitions.

This post is about mine.

And you don’t have to agree with them, but hopefully reading my thoughts on what a Critique Partnership can and should be will help you figure out what you want and expect from your own.

So what do I mean when I say that I take the phrase seriously? I mean that to me, the key to what makes a true CP lies in the words themselves:

Critique: This one’s kind of a biggie; no matter the actual relationship, one cannot be a critique partner if they’re not doing this part. Like betas, CPs should provide comments that are helpful, thoughtful, and address real issues, and they should do it in such a way that works for you. Got bad notes from a random beta? You can chalk that up to a bad experience and never use him or her again. But in a partnership that presumably you will want to be ongoing, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to keep going if your CP’s notes feel rude or thoughtless or useless to you – you’re not going to want to make the changes, and they’re not going to want to keep putting in the time.

Another thing that separates CPs from your average beta is that they often serve an alpha reader purpose too, i.e. they read during the process. To speak from a personal experience, I struggled with my current WIP and whether I should continue it as a dual-POV. I clearly couldn’t make the decision on my own, so I reached out to my CPs, all of whom graciously read the first 5-6 chapters and shared their comments, and those comments made me feel like both POVs were worth keeping. Had several of them said otherwise, I might be nearly finished with a completely different first draft right now.

Partners: To me, a partnership means give-and-take; I have read 1-2 manuscripts by each of my CPs, and they have all read at least 2 of mine. The difference between someone I call a CP and someone else I consider a really good writing friend might be as simple as the fact that said friend hasn’t read anything of mine. And that’s totally cool – Contemporary isn’t everyone’s bag – but to me, that’s not quite the same level of partnership.

Because I have utterly fantastic CPs, my partnerships with them tend to extend far beyond just manuscripts. They’re also my go-tos for “WHAT DOES THIS E-MAIL MEAN?!” and “OH GOD I HAVEN’T HEARD ANYTHING FROM EDITORS IN THREE DAYS!!” and everything in between. We talk about contests and helping other writers and going to conferences and what we’re reading and pretty much everything you can imagine.

Another bright side? I actually love their writing. And supposedly, they like mine too. Considering we plan to keep reading each other’s, this is a pretty awesome thing.

But whatever your relationships with the people you choose to call your CPs are like, here’s the number one thing I consider non-negotiable:

Your CPs should be people who help you love and excel at this process. Period.

Too many times have I heard of CPs cutting off others, simply for achieving some measure of success. Too often have I heard, “I’m not really tweeting or blogging so much these days because my CP made me feel bad about getting an agent.” These people are not your partners. Someone who doesn’t make you feel good about and proud of what you’re doing is not someone who should be a fixture in your writerly life. Please, if you’re in a Writing Relationship with someone who makes you feel like crap, get out. Rip off the Band-Aid. Do what you need to do. But don’t let anyone hold you back. So much about writing and the publishing industry is so challenging already; do you really want to add toxic relationships to the mix?

As I’ve said, it’s tricky, and sometimes, you have to go through a bunch of bad experiences before you can really find the good ones. But when you do? It’s pretty much magic.