So now that you know how I found my critique partners (See Critique Partners: Take One), let me tell you what is so great about having a critique partner.
Let's be honest. Most of us think that our manuscript is the most awesome manuscript ever seen by human eyes. At least for the first 10 seconds after you finish it. And you would send it off right away to an editor or agent if it weren't for that nagging voice that says, "Wait...wouldn't you like to show that to a friend first? Just in case you have one minor mistake that needs changing?"
So you show it to a friend, and behold...she has many suggestions to improve your piece. Then you show it to another friend, and he has suggestions, too. Some similar, some completely different.
One of the best things about having a critique partner (or two, or three, or a whole group) is that he\she sees the work with a whole new set of eyes. Often I've read a piece so many times that I intuitively know what a character is thinking or doing, but I haven't expressed that well at all in my story. A critique friend can see those places for you. And a different friend can see different things, and so on and so on.
This doesn't mean you change your story with every comment. You have to take what is said and think about it. Sometimes for weeks. Let the comments sink in, then change what feels right to you. You'll almost never regret it.
Another great thing about the critique experience, whether from an individual or group, is the support you receive. Even though my face-to-face group has no picture book authors in it, the support and yes...I'll say it...love...I get from them is far more to me than an editorial band-aid. They pick me up when I fall and make sure I keep writing even when I feel hopeless.
So go find that perfect critique friend or group of friends. It might take you a little trial and effort, but it will be worth it. Quick, before I start singing "Wind Beneath My Wings."
Did you ever know that you're my hero...(too late).