Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Thinking outside your mindset #revising


One of the things often recommended to writers of all levels (well, okay, maybe not William Kent Kreuger, Nora Roberts, or Stephen King level) is to find a critique group. My Writing Sisters are a great example of a critique group, and when we get together every summer for our reunion retreat, we critique and offer constructive feedback to each for whatever project someone is working on.

That’s once a year. We used to hold monthly critique meetings, but we’re all at the stage now that when we would like help with something, we can ask the group, and we’ll have a virtual critique session when we do our monthly Zoom chats.

I was fortunate enough to come across another mystery writer, whom I’d never met, who put out a request for writers interested in a suspense critique group. It turns out the author is in Madison, WI. Another writer who expressed interest in joining is from Duluth! AND she has the same publisher I do. Talk about small world!

Anyway, we’ve been meeting about once a month for a little over a year, and wow, I feel so fortunate. One of our members has insight into writing that reminds me of my writing teacher. The other member is as of yet unpublished. Every time we meet, I always learn something, which is awesome.

Critique groups can be tricky. Finding one that is at a level that will be helpful to you at your level (that is, an accomplished writer vs a beginner) can be hit and miss. Finding one in which all the writers don’t hesitate to give advice or make observations that can be blunt, but nice about it, is even trickier.

Our suspense critique group hits those notes. Score! Each of my fellow writers offers great insights and feedback, and I learn something each time, even when it’s not my month for a critique.

So this month one of the other writers in the group was on the critique block. She’s writing the second book in an unpublished series; she’s got a great story started (we only exchange up to 5k words at a time), and great characters, and great writing, but there was too much stuff in the first few chapters that really didn’t move the story toward the mystery. I noticed it, but I couldn’t really put my finger on just what felt “off” about it.

Then our other member asked a question: Why does this have to be the second book in the series?


That was it. Once she asked that question, the writer under critique, who’s been struggling with the story, said she’d always thought of the book as the second one in the series.

So the next question was: Why?

I know I’m not the only writer out there who comes up with a brilliant story in their head, and gets things lined up a certain way, but when you start to write it, something about it makes it more of a struggle to write than it should be. And so often a writer keeps pushing in the same direction, even though somewhere deep down they know there’s something not quite right with it.

Ultimately, the question was the right one to ask, because as we discussed it, if the book was, say, the first of the series, the writer wouldn’t have to try to cram a bunch of backstory into the first few chapters. The writer truly appreciated the question, and that idea, that the book could be the first of the series, opened her to a possibility she hadn’t considered since she’d always thought of the book as the second in a series.

It’s almost like, “Hey, you can color outside the lines. It’s okay, and that might even add to the awesomeness of the picture.”

So, bottom line, critique groups are a great way to look at your work from different directions, and maybe even a direction you hadn’t even realized was there.

I turned in my homework this week, so I’m just waiting for the professor to get back to me. Until then I’m digging into my latest round of revision. It’ll be good to get Book 2 refined and back to my agent so I can work on my police procedural.

Happy writing!


Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for over a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), one dog, five chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

5 thoughts on “Thinking outside your mindset #revising

  1. I’m really glad you’ve gotten so much from working with your critique group, Julie. Sometimes another person can have a really helpful idea that you hadn’t thought of, and that can do wonders. You can do the same for others, and that’s the whole point. Writing can feel like a solitary pursuit, but it really isn’t!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are blessed to have such a great group, and now to discover even more good people to help each other out. I’ve always been intimidated by the idea, but you clearly hit the jackpot!

    Hello, beautiful Zoey. A quiet, demure, meow to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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