How to Write a Novel

How to Write A Novel

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When you hold your favorite novels in your hands…
When you think about how they’ve moved you…
When you think about what they’ve GIVEN you…
You think… I want to do that.

“You Have Dreamed of Starting and Finishing a Novel… But All You Have Right Now Is A Bunch Of Broken Starts… And You Have No Clue Why They Broke!”

I already know I want this…

Maybe you’re here because you’ve written a lot of novels, but are looking for a way to smooth out or speed up your process.


Odds are pretty good that you’re not. Odds are high that you’ve started at least one novel, but probably haven’t finished it.

Why do I say this?

Because most of us who who have ever done this for a living – myself included – began with unfinished story and novel starts cluttering hard drives or notebooks or drawers.

Doesn’t matter where you start, though. If you want to write a novel, you can.

Why do I say this?

Because I was you.

My name is Holly Lisle, and my first novel, written before I turned 25 because of the only New Year’s resolution I ever successfully kept, was bad. Very, VERY bad.

But finishing that novel all the way to the end, and then revising it, taught me that I could in fact sit down and write novels. And I learned well enough working on that first novel that my second novel, Fire in the Mist, sold the first time out to the first place I sent it (Baen), and went on to win the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel.

That’s been a lot of years ago now – but I’m still a novelist, and still love the work. And I can show you how you can move past the unending creation of hard drive zombies (those unfinished novels that wander around on your hard drive filling you with feelings of failure and despair that you’ll never finish them) and write your whole book.

All the way to THE END.

Some people have this idea (fostered by Hollywood) that pro novelists sit down to write and perfect words just fly off their fingertips, ready to go to the publisher.


I laugh…

I’ve been doing this professionally since 1991, and my first drafts are as battered and messy as everyone else’s. And week by week, I prove that live, while at the same time showing you that making mistakes in first draft is never a problem.

Really? REALLY? You’re gonna have to prove that…

Not finishing the book in spite of its mistakes is the only real problem.

A lot of the writers in the first class to go through this course found watching me writing a real novel (Dead Man’s Party, not yet available) comforting. Because they discovered that watching me writing first draft looked pretty much the same as watching themselves do it. They discovered from my example that you don’t have to get a perfect first draft to create good fiction. You just have to get a FINISHED first draft. And then learn how to revise it when it’s done. (Different process, different class. But just as learnable and just as doable as this one.)

By the end of this class – IF YOU DO THE WORK – you’ll be comfortable using the different steps it takes to write your next novel, and all the novels that follow.


NEXT Novel?

Yes. Because if you do your weekly writing assignment, by the time you finish this class, you will finish the novel you write in this class at about the same time.


But You Have to Finish The Novel

  • No novelist ever became a novelist by reading about writing.
  • We all did it by writing.
  • A lot.
  • BUT not a lot all at once. It’s a “small bites” process.

I think I could DO “Small bites”…

So on to the writing…

The first four weeks are preparation and setup — and once you’ve mastered the techniques and concepts involved, in your future novels you’ll be able to work through this part in a day or two. After you finish prep and setup, you’ll be writing your novel for the next thirty-four weeks. That part?

Well, it depends on you, on the book, on how big you want it to be when you’re finished, and on LIFE, and what life decides to do while you’re writing. But you can can spend a year (or more) writing bigger books if you want, or a few months writing shorter novels if you’re so inclined. The process will fit what you want to do with it. So let’s look at the process.

How to Write a Novel is a learning-by-doing class.

No one learns to write by reading about writing. (Yes. I repeated that. It’s a Big-Big-BIG Deal.)

We all learn to write well by first writing… ahhh… not so well. By failing, getting back on our feet, and trying again. Some folks find the learning process simple, some find it incredibly difficult, but if you’re willing to dig in and push yourself, to not make excuses, and to work hard — and believe me, real, focused work will be requiredyou CAN do this.


“Holly’s How to Write a Novel class is giving me the tools that I need to escape from analysis paralysis. I was getting nowhere, reading book after book on craft. Should I outline? Should I snowflake? Should I follow the hero’s journey or save the cat? What about character arcs? Scene structure?

I was buried in information, but couldn’t seem to get myself to do the actual work of writing. Holly’s teaching style gets you in the trenches right away, pen on paper. For the first time ever, I’m making progress on my lifelong dream of writing a novel. Thanks Holly.”


(Holly’s Note: This and all student recommendations are posted publicly by the writers who made them in the How to Write a Novel Forum)


LESSON 1: Starting Right — Developing Novel-Sized Ideas

How Te Write A Novel

In WEEK 1: If you’ve ever asked the question, “Why do I always end up stuck in the middle of my book, lost trying to figure out what happens next?” the answer is, “Your idea wasn’t big enough for a novel.” And the answer to the follow-up question, “How do I make sure I have a novel-sized idea before I start writing?” is the step-by-step process in Lesson One.

Sitting down and grinding for a novel idea is not fun. At the point where I was on my tenth “3 chapters & synopsis” for an editor with whom I had a three-book deal and who had rejected the previous nine, I was ground down to the bone. Being broke and living on beans, rice and fear does not help creativity much.

Wish I’d known then what I’m going to show you in this lesson. Because you can sneak up on a wonderful, complete novel idea by playing a game.

By letting your right brain Muse do what it does best — pull its toys out of your attic and start tinkering around with them until it comes up with something clever that knocks your socks off. Something that will let you write the whole novel secure in the knowledge that you have a big enough idea to support it.

Novel-sized ideas… are TESTABLE?


LESSON 2: Concept Testing with Your Story Artifact

In WEEK 2, you’re digging into the artifact you built last week to find the essential parts of the story you created when you build it. Protagonists, antagonists, conflict, twist, and SETTING — and you’re going to discover how very important active setting is, and how creating an artifact has given you that. This is not outlining — it’s in fact a sort of anti-outline thought process that is friendly to both planners and pantsers.


LESSON 3: Novel-Worthy Characters: How to Make Yours Measure Up

In WEEK 3: This is not the lesson you expect. This is not the process you expect.

And you may need to bury some things you built ahead of this lesson. Because this week you’re discovering that to give your characters room to become the people they need to be to fuel a complete novel, you have to let go of a lot of your control.

From painful experience and a lot of experimentation, I finally got to the point where I could reliably build characters who could brave the damn middle of the novel and still be worth reading by the time they got to the end. This week, you learn to do that — and this week, you unlearn a lot of what you thought you knew.


LESSON 4: Immersive Conflict — Grabbing Readers and Not. Letting. GO.

In WEEK 4: Immersive conflict is conflict that drags your readers in, glues them to the page, makes them sit and read until they finish the book because they’re living in your words, and they cannot back out until they know the conflict your characters are fighting their way through comes out okay. Or doesn’t.

Here’s the thing about that. Learning to write immersive conflict requires that you slip inside the skin of your eventual reader. That you adopt the position of “don’t know what happens next.” Even though you already know some of what happens next. It’s a conundrum. It’s tricky. But it’s not impossible. So this week, you’re going to learn the FIRST steps of doing that. You’re going to build the starter stubs for your novel conflict. This lesson isn’t the whole process. But it’s the first step onto the tightrope.



The best thing about Holly’s How To Write a Novel class is that it isn’t learning ABOUT how to write a novel. You actually write a novel in the class, and after Week 4, you have a specific, but very low, very manageable word count goal to meet along with doing the exercises, which are expertly integrated into the novel writing. So instead of learning all this theory and practice on separate worksheets that you then have to figure out how to apply to your own novel, you are really just working on the novel the whole time.

Raven O’Fiernan

That’s just Month One? Lemme in…



LESSON 5: Writing the Killer First Page (and All the Ones that Follow)

In WEEK 5: We’re going to do a bit of MythBusting this week. In first draft, you do not EVER have to have a killer first page, a killer first line, a brilliant first scene. This week I wrote my first scene as a short demo in the lesson, then decided to take a fresh run at it to see if I could get it a bit longer, a bit meaner, a bit richer, and considerably more “novel-y”.

You’ll get the SECOND raw first draft, in which a lot of the details change, in the supplemental handout. So this week, we have a couple of BIG extras. First is the “Scene Building Workshop,” where Becca and I brainstorm and then build four novel first scenes live. Second, you get the first Live Writing Video, in which I start my novel, which became Dead Man’s Party.

And this week,
YOU start writing
YOUR novel, too.


LESSON 6: The Next Scene, and Going Deep into “Show, Don’t Tell”

In WEEK 6: It’s the first thing experienced writers tell new writers.

Problem is, telling writers to do this is pointless, and SHOWING writers how to do this takes time, effort, and demonstrations of exactly what you mean and how you do it.

This week, I show. This week, you start winning your fight with “show, don’t tell.”


LESSON 7: Novel Structures, and How to Work Inside Them

In WEEK 7: There is no One True Way to write fiction. And the more you connect with the way your mind creates fiction, the way you discover and experience stories, and the way you actually sit down and get work done, you’ll discover there isn’t even really “YOUR One True way.”

There will be the way you write “this story” and the way you write “that story.” No two people are the same. And no two stories are the same. Trying to shoehorn an infinite number of unique brains telling unique stories into a three-act structure, or a seven-act structure, or an alternating POV structure and saying This is the One True Way would be ludicrous. In spite of which, I had a lot of people tell me the One True Way when I was getting started, and I rather imagine you’ve had some tell you.

Time to stop listening. Time to build a structure that fits your story – not the other way ’round.


LESSON 8: Getting Words On The Page: Building Your Daily Process

In WEEK 8: By the time you get to this lesson, you’ve been writing your actual book for a couple of weeks, and you will have had the chance to see where you’re strong, and where you’re weak.

It’s very important to remember this, however:

  • You do not write a book.
  • You write words.
  • Words grow into pages.
  • And when you get enough of them (and all the elements that books contain), you’ll discover that you have written a book.

And how you embrace the process of doing this determines your success or failure.


LESSON 9: Genre at Novel Length: What HAS to Be There

In WEEK 9: First, what you want in the story determines its value to YOU, and I’ll be blunt here. What you want is what matters most in the story. But once you know that, you do need to be able to figure out who else might want to read what you’re creating, and you need to be able to figure out what needs to be in the story for those folks to find it and love it. This lesson… is how to do THAT.



The best thing about this class is I now have a roadmap of the way to finish a novel, a map of those obstacles that will be in my way, and the solutions around those obstacles. After several false starts before this class, I know I am going to get this done!

BJ Steeves

No “perfect” first line
AND week-by-week steps!
Put me in..




LESSON 10: Pacing the Plot — Building and Maintaining Suspense

In WEEK 10: Getting the suspense into the story is enormous fun, and one of my favorite things about writing fiction. It takes some focus, a bit of planning (but nowhere near as much as you might think), and a willingness to be mean to your characters. But this is where you start building the rewards for the readers who will come to love everything you do.


LESSON 11: Immersive Dialogue — Fixing Talking Heads and Other Conversational Disasters

In WEEK 11: The dreaded “Floating Heads of Fiction Syndrome” — in which long strings of dialogue happen in the middle of no place by characters doing nothing — are counterbalanced by the equally horrific “Compulsive Choreographer Disease,” in which each character’s every thought, movement, facial expression, and emotion is detailed inside settings so overburdened by detail that Victorian maidens hardened to flowery excess would be driven to their fainting couches.

Writing good dialogue, which usually lives somewhere in the middle, is an attainable first-draft skill, and this week you’ll learn that.


LESSON 12: Research — Bringing Your Book in On Time & Under Budget

In WEEK 12: Writers have to “eat the elephant” — go deep into researching some elements of their story to make sure that they have story-critical details right.

But what defines a Story-Critical Detail, and when do you know you know enough, so you can stop researching and get back to writing? (Big Secret: You never stop writing to research. So along with learning when you’ve found what you need, you’ll learn how to research WHILE you write.)


LESSON 13: Writing Good Descriptions (That Aren’t Exposition)

In WEEK 13: Remember those Victorian maidens and the fainting couches back when you were getting a grip on dialogue?

They’re back. Because most writers end up either skipping description entirely or jamming so much useless furniture into every scene that the poor reader can’t breathe. Think Evil Word Corsets of Whalebone and Pain.

You’ll learn how to show your readers what they think matters, then walk them around what really matters (so you can get the “OMG jaw-drop” from them later when they see how cleverly you misdirected them) and you’ll learn how to do this while never, ever, EVER cheating. Being good at active description is so cool it’s almost a superpower.

This week, you start trying on capes.

Active description?… SUPERPOWER?

LESSON 14: The Writer’s Guide to Transition Scenes: Shooting “But…”

In WEEK 14: So right here I’m going to tell you flat out that in good fiction, there is no such thing as a transition SCENE. “But…” you say, “I know they’re boring, but I need to get my characters from Point A to Point B.”

So this week, you learn how to shoot “But I need to…” and find out all the really cool things you can INSTEAD.



Holly’s classes are wonderful! The community surrounding these classes is the best. I feel like I am not alone and always have someone to help with whatever questions I may have.

KCM21 (Forum Username)


LESSON 15: Writing Meaningful Fiction: Mastering Theme, Allegory, and Subtext

In WEEK 15: Allegory, theme, and subtext are generally considered the sole realm of literary novelists.

But when you tell stories that are meaningful to yourself AND your reader, you make the experience of writing your fiction rewarding for yourself, and the act of reading your work MEMORABLE for your fans.

Allegory, theme, and subtext are the secret sauce that compels a reader pick up your book a second and third time, and read it again because every time they read it, they discover something new. Something deeper.

I write genre fiction, and I’ve written intentional, planned subtext and themes in every novel I’ve written since the first one that sold—Fire in the Mist.

And this week you’ll learn THAT.


LESSON 16: Building Your Novel’s RIGHT Voice and Tone

In WEEK 16: VOICE is “single first person, multiple third person, omniscient, alternating first and third” or some other option.

TONE is funny, snarky, sincere, smart-ass, scary, creepy, romantic, elegant, and anything and everything else writers have been doing since Chaucer sent his gang of pilgrims down the road to seek the Martyr of Canterbury… when to entertain themselves, had each tell a story in his or her own voice. Some of those ancient voices are STILL lovely, some are raunchy, some are stuffy, or smug, or just plain annoying… but all of voices Chaucer wrote for his characters create people and a world that are deeply and recognizably real.

Chaucer did this so well those stories hold up today—630-ish years later. (And just for what it’s worth, I fell in love with Chaucer in my senior year of high school, when I read The Miller’s Tale, one of the stories my teacher had made a point of NOT assigning. It was funny, it was dirty, and I laughed my ass off, and then read the other stories he didn’t assign. They were the best ones. People in England were very modern folks 630-ish years ago.)

You can learn this skill of Voice Plus TONE, and this week you’ll start putting it to work in your novel.


LESSON 17: How to Figure Out “What Happens Next?”

In WEEK 17: Occasionally a lesson will go sideways on me. I’ll think I know how I do something, only to discover when working through putting the lesson together that how I think I do something and how I really do something are utterly different.

This week, you’re going to see that happen. You’re going to see me thinking I know the process I’m going to demonstrate for you, only to have my real process land on my head partway through the lesson. You’re going to learn EXACTLY how to figure out the middle parts of your novel, though.

I do know how to do it, and I do show you that. I just get there from a direction that surprised the hell outta me.


LESSON 18: Building, Hiding, and Revealing Core Plot Twists

In WEEK 18: Short stories have one twist. Novels have a lot of them — smaller reveals that surprise individual characters, the one big twist with which you resolve the ending…

And a lot of these you come up with as you’re writing. The actual twists and reveals are pretty hard to plan in advance, but the process of setting up and writing your story so you can come up with them as you need them builds on last week’s lesson, and adds some additional, well…


that gets you where you need to go.


LESSON 19: Provisional Outlining & Provisional Thinking: Dealing on the Fly with the Mess in the Middle

In WEEK 19: Years of punishing experience taught me the following essential truths of writing fiction:

  • There is always a better idea
  • There is always a BETTER better idea
  • There is always a different approach
  • There is always a different voice
  • It is nearly impossible in the heat of writing to tell the difference between a genuine “better idea” and a chaotic “disaster idea” (though for the worst “disaster ideas” you will get an avoidance technique this week)
  • The only way to discover the value of any idea is to write it
  • The only way to finish the damn project is to Just. Keep. Writing.
  • The only way to just keep writing is to pretend you got the first stuff right, no matter which voice, idea, or approach you’re trying at the moment…
  • In spite of the fact that all of those things can change on you at any given time…
  • And in spite of the fact that you can never know until the first draft is finished which changes were the right ones

If you think this sounds like How to Build Your Path to a Padded Room, all I can say is, “Yep. It could be that.”

But it doesn’t have to be. And this week you learn how to work past and around all of the mess in the middle.

I’ve been here before!
Get me past the mess in the middle!



For me, the big thing here is that Holly isn’t just standing up front teaching the class, she’s also part of the community, and available to answer questions. Which means that you can fine-tune your understanding in a way that you can’t, other places.

Klynn (Forum Username)



LESSON 20: Building Your Midpoint Pivot

In WEEK 20: This week you’re going to develop the essential information you need to write the midpoint or turning point scene for your novel in progress. This will require…

  • Your current best guess
  • About the story you think you’re writing
  • Based on the characters you think you’ve built
  • The conflicts you think are core
  • The plot you think you’re creating
  • And the world you think you’ve designed
  • While acknowledging that you don’t have a firm bead on any of this
  • And won’t until you write all the way to the end
  • And discover what your novel is really about

In other words, this week’s lesson is the literary version of “How to Walk Across Quicksand and Not Drown.”


LESSON 21: Writing Your Characters Into GOOD Corners

In WEEK 21: When you write your character into a corner, that’s bad, right? Because your character is stuck, and you have no clue what happens next, or how to get him out. But in fact, if your character is stuck someplace interesting and exciting for your reader, that’s a good corner.

Dangling off a cliff, trapped underwater in a sinking car, falling out of an airplane with a chute that isn’t opening… Sucks for the character, might also suck for you… but this is an amazing corner for your reader.

If you can land the scene without wrecking it.

To do that, though, you have to have a GOOD corner. (There are bad corners. They’re probably not what you think, and you’ll learn how to identify them, and then how to fix them.)

But this week, the biggest thing you’re going to do is build one GOOD corner for one important character, and fix any corners in your story that you might have already broken (in your provisional outline, of course).

NEXT week, you’re going to build GOOD ways out.


LESSON 22: Getting Your Character OUT of Good Corners

In WEEK 22: Last week, you got at least one character into deep trouble. This week, your character is going to get back out… eventually. It might take this character until the end of your novel to get all the way out. And if the character is important, the fact that getting out isn’t easy is going to be what helps you keep your readers caring.

How you work through this lesson depends on the corner, depends on the stakes, depends on what you want to have happen.

All those corners you’ve written yourself into? Time to learn how to write your way out.


LESSON 23: Writing Tight Story Middles at Novel Length

In WEEK 23: Writing fiction is about showing the reader what matters. Not necessarily letting your reader know WHY it matters (at least not right away). But showing it. And in your previous two lessons, you learned how to get your characters into and out of corners, which are two of the core skills you must own to keep your fiction moving across vast reaches of fictional time and space.

But writing tight is not just about keeping the action moving, or keeping your characters in trouble.

It’s also about only focusing on what truly matters in the novel you’re creating. This requires that you be willing to ask yourself some tough questions about the story you’re writing, about what matters about it to you as its creator, and about what you want to matter about it to its future readers. And then it requires you to look at how what you’ve created relates to what you’re creating, and what you have not yet created.

This is an interesting process, and odds are pretty good it’s one you haven’t used before—and will find a great stress reliever once you master it.

It generally shows you that your novel is coming together better than you thought.


LESSON 24: Identifying, Pacing, Tracking, and Resolving Story Arcs

In WEEK 24: When you’re right in the middle of the storm, how do you find your way to safety?

Over the past month or so, you’ve been gathering an understanding of the nature of the “storm” that is novel-writing. And you’ve been acquiring some tools for getting through it.

Building out character arcs simply gives you a new kind of tool that you can use separately from everything else, that you can work on independently from your story, and that you can track easily with… Your Provisional Outline. There are much heavier ways to do this, but why would you want to make things tougher than they need to be?

So this week, we’ll jump into the pieces you need to build into your character arcs, the ways you identify those pieces, and then the way you can write your way through them to make sure all of your characters end up where they need to be, in the condition you want them in, and with their jobs in your story done.

This process is like a great writing vacation. Easy, restful, productive… fun.

A productive vacation in the middle of writing a novel?!
Hah! Show me!




There are lots of reasons to take this class, but for me, the best reason is being guided by a writer defined by her generosity.Holly is willing to show you her failures as well as her successes. She lets you peek over her shoulder while she writes the first draft of a novel. And she provides a new method in every lesson to help you get the best story you can—as you are writing it. Holly is smart, witty, kind, and knows how to help writers find their voices. She’s the real deal.

Bonnie Burns



LESSON 25: Invasive Ideas — Protecting Your Novel from Wrong Directions

In WEEK 25: You’re writing along, words falling on the page beautifully, telling a story that you love, and suddenly you know exactly what the story needs to make it perfect.

You’re certain can see how right it is, how much it’s going to improve what’s already good.

So you jump. And sometimes you’re absolutely right.

Sometimes, though, the idea is a trap, and will wreck your story. In this lesson, learn how to tell the difference between the genuinely great idea and the horrible wreck you’re gonna end up having to fix.


LESSON 26: I Turned Right, My Story Veered Left… Now We’re BOTH Lost

In WEEK 26: Last week we figured out our novels’ premises, and looked at ways to keep a novel inside the premise. Ideally, you never drift, you never get lost, you never fail to notice that you just followed a character away from the premise into “I Broke My Book” land.

Unfortunately, sometimes we DO chase phantoms, will o’ the wisps, and red-heads down the primrose path. And then have to figure out where we went wrong, how we went wrong, and how we fix what we broke.

So this week you’re going to meet Sarah Ellen Hahns.

My nightmare.

And I’m going to show you how I broke her, and how I could have fixed her if I’d had a bit more experience… and if I’d been a bit less stressed.

Because tossing out 60,000 words when you’re on a tight deadline is a bad last option, and one I shouldn’t have taken… especially not twice in the same book.

You didn’t really…?
Yeah, I really did.
Okay. Show me how NOT to do that!


LESSON 27: Thin Prose, Fat Prose — The Jack Spratt Dilemma

In WEEK 27: This week we step away from storytelling to sidetrack for the first time into writing technique.A lot of writers and a lot of writing classes focus on technique first. I don’t, and I don’t for an essential reason…

Until you can tell a good, compelling story, your style of telling it is irrelevant.

You and I have both read writers who can craft beautiful sentences, but who have absolutely nothing to say with those sentences. At this point, if you’ve been doing the exercises, writing your weekly words, and putting into practice the storytelling techniques you’ve been learning… THAT ISN’T GOING TO BE YOU.

So now we can take a little breather from plotting and pacing and keeping our characters in hot water, and we can spend a week focusing on making that water pretty. You’re going to want to use both fat prose and thin prose to tell your stories, to keep your readers eating out of your hand. So let’s work on that.


Holly’s How to Write a Novel course takes you straight to the heart of what honestly matters to you as a human being and writer, and shows you exactly how to grow your novel from a brand new idea – or even one that’s been simmering on the back burner for some time.

In How to Write a Novel, Holly uses her decades of writing and teaching experience to reveal not just some of what you’ll need, but absolutely everything. From your opening sentence, through the twists and turns of the middle, to final thought, if you keep up with your daily words, the lessons are timed so you will find yourself learning precisely what you need for each sequential moment in your novel. That novel you’ve always wanted to write deserves this course.

Lita Brooker



LESSON 28: The Series Temptation: Keep the Book Standing on Its Own Two Feet

In WEEK 28: There comes a point in most novel first drafts where the writer realizes two things…

  • The perfect ending for the book is nowhere in sight
  • The novel could become a SERIES!!! (Oh, boy, oh, boy, visions of dollar signs and a howlingly sneaky escape from having to figure out the RIGHT, complete, standalone ending now…)
  • We have ALL been here. We will ALL be here again.

Not in every novel… but frankly, in most of them. My right-brain Muse loves series fiction. Loves to read it, loves to write it.

And is lazy. It is entirely content to give me a half-assed ending that leaves things dangling so that I can “get the REAL ending in the next book.”

Seriously. It tells me this all the time.

Meanwhile, creating the best possible stand-alone ending for every book is hard, and frequently doesn’t even happen until you’re partway through the revision and suddenly pick up three Toys on the Floor (a REVISION technique) that, when combined, create this subplot that you didn’t even realize you were writing, at which point the whole book comes together with the most amazing and gratifying THUNK.

But to get those Toys on the Floor, you have to stay focused on writing toward AN ending in this book right up to your last word.

And to that end…


My brain ALWAYS cops out with “Surprise, it’s a Series”

LESSON 29: The Story Idea That’s Bigger Than Your Writing Skills

In WEEK 29: I have a Story That’s Bigger Than My Writing Skills sitting on my hard drive right now. Its code name is Dreaming the Dead. And an interesting error I made allowed me to misidentify that story as “too big to write right now.”

A really funny, error, actually. Sort of.

It’s an “I just dropped an anvil on my toe” sort of funny. And I think you’ll benefit a lot from me getting flattened by MY anvil (which might keep you from getting flattened by one of your own).

Once I got over the pain (this week, when realization finally dawned) I did.

There are three things that can make an idea “Bigger Than Your Writing Skills”…

The three obstacles you face are:

  • Internal Obstacles,
  • External Obstacles, and
  • Incomprehensible Obstacles

And two of those are fixable right now. In this lesson, we’ll deal with identifying and, where possible, solving the internal and external issues that can make a book seem like too much for you right now, and shaping that idea into something you can actually dare to tackle.

I stuck in a “bigger than my skills book” right now.

LESSON 30: Reining in a Runaway Novel

In WEEK 30: Novels can get away from you, can race in seriously wrong directions for a lot of words before you finally pull them in, and can leave a lot of damage in their wake. This week, you learn how to identify the part of the book that ran wild, figure out what caused the problem, and plan the fix. Because to get to the end of this book, you still have to hold on to the Prime Rule:

“Do not touch first draft!”


LESSON 31: Keeping the Faith — Getting THIS Novel Done In Spite of Fear, Doubt, and Distraction

In WEEK 31: And then there’s this…

The moment when you think, “I’ve made a terrible mistake. How did I ever think this would be a good story? I need to walk away and start something new.”

This moment will come.

When it comes… you shouldn’t walk away. Finishing the first draft of this book is your promise to your Muse (your creative right brain) that you can follow through.

That you can be trusted with another good idea in the future.

Finishing what you start is make-or-break.

And you can do this. In this lesson, I’ll show you how.

I don’t want to shove yet another stalled novel under my bed….



LESSON 32: Big Book or Story & Sequel?

In WEEK 32: Sometimes the answer to “I love what I’m getting, but this book is way bigger than I’d planned,” is to up your stakes, increase your tension, and turn it into a magnificent 200,000-word epic.

Sometimes the answer is to figure out where you can take it apart and turn it into two books (or more) at the word length you’d planned. I’ll walk you through the steps to identifying your best path, and then to making the changes that will let you follow through.


LESSON 33: Unsticking Stuck Stories

In WEEK 33: Being stuck is a mindset issue. This week, our focus is going to be on getting past the mindset that causes it, and creating intentionally bad solutions that feed a good solution. When you’re stuck, you don’t need to spend a lot of time identifying a problem. You simply need a reliable process for kicking your Muse in the butt and getting it back to work.

This week?


My muse SO needs a good hard kick. Show me how!

LESSON 34: Affirming Theme, Allegory, and Passion

In WEEK 34: Back in Lesson 15, we built themes, allegories, and subtext for our novels based on what mattered to us. That feels like half a lifetime ago — but this close to the end of our novels, we have to check to make sure that even as our books have undergone strange and unexpected directions shifts, and have brought our characters and us to places we didn’t expect…

We’ve still managed to get our readers to the right place. Theme and allegory are what matter to you about your story. They’re also what you leave behind at the end for your reader to think about after she closes your book. And this week, we’re either going to find what we need already in place, or we’re going fix what went missing.

Show me how to keep the great stuff!



LESSON 35: HARD MODE — Multiple Antagonists & Multiple Endings

In WEEK 35: There are folks who can only be happy if they’re playing a game on the highest difficultly.

This week, you’re going to learn how to triage — it’s an old nursing skill of mine that proved to be insanely useful writing fiction. And then you’re going to learn how and why Writers Do It Backwards. Onward.


LESSON 36: Finding or Building (and Recognizing) Your RIGHT Ending

In WEEK 36: I always write with an ending in mind. By the time you get this far into the class, you’ll know now all of my planned endings are good. Sometimes all I can come up with in the early stages is “And then I kill them all.”By the time I actually write the ending, though, I’ve usually come up with something better — and sometimes I bring home something spectacular in first draft. But not always.

There are things a good ending has to do.

There are a few extras that a great ending brings to the story. This week, you locate the keys to potential great endings, and put together the pieces to let you consistently write at least a good one when you get there.


LESSON 37: Bringing It All Home— Story, Characters, World, and Promise

In WEEK 37: This week you write your novel’s final scene. If you’re not actually ready to do that, save this lesson until you are. You’re going to look very lightly at what you thought you were going to write, what you actually wrote, and how the best version of what you’ve written can end. And when you’re done with this, you’ll write your FIRST DRAFT ending. Remembering that when you revise, you can fix everything that’s wrong with the book in one go — and can make sure that you come up with the right ending for the fixed book, if you don’t come up with it this week. It’s a light but thoughtful process. Interesting. Kind of fun. Very freeing.

And when you’re done you celebrate! You’ve written a complete first-draft novel.

Revision awaits… but before you start into that, savor the joy of your success in writing your book.

THIS moment is beautiful, and wonderful, and something you can remember with joy and delight for the rest of your life.

You put a challenge in front of yourself, you followed through, and you persevered.

P.S… The class bonuses…

The SMALL Class Bonus: Streamlining Your Writing Process

In WEEK 38: This week you get the “built-into-the-class” bonus: How to take the parts of the process that worked for you this time and build them into YOUR process — while not losing track of things that you either didn’t need this time, or couldn’t figure out how to use this time — that might come in handy in the future. So before we get started, two important pointers:

  • Every novel is different, and you never stop learning how to write novels…
  • You never stop figuring out how to streamline and improve your process for getting this done.

I have a lot of things I do to write novels most of the time. Writing PACTS sentences for each planned scene (which I did NOT do this time) is something I use a lot. I have a few tricks in my bag that saved my butt once, but that I then forgot when I stopped needing them. Until I started needing them again. Provisional outlining — outlining just several scenes ahead and trusting my Muse to use the elbow room well — is an example of learned – forgot – relearned. The key here is that what you need is YOUR process. Which will change. Which you will adapt. Which will get you through most novels. This week, you start identifying your current process, and making sure you leave room for necessary adaptation as you grow and change as a novelist.

The How to Write a Novel Big Bonus — Chosen by the First Class:

INTERWEAVING Multiple Story Threads in Big, Complex Novels​

When you find yourself writing a Great Big Novel with four main point-of-view protagonists, eight or more major plot lines, multiple locations, multiple conflicts, and a lot of things happening in different places and different times, what is the SIMPLE, CLEAN way to keep all of that straight. I figured this out when I was partway through writing Diplomacy of Wolves, and the process got me through that trilogy smoothly, with some terrific twists and surprises, and and ending I love do this day. And on deadline. Hit all three of them. This is a cool, powerful, and best of all, EASY technique.


So c’mon in. Write with us. Learn how to get all the way from start to finish on a brand new novel, and then how to make sure you can do it again.

And again.


That’s the future… But it’s an achievable future.

The Big Things You’ll Get From This Class

  • You’ll become comfortable using the different steps it takes to write a good novel
  • You will get the help you need to get past any previous attempts that failed, starting fresh with a new project on day one, but from this NEW, fresh novel, learning how to go back later and figure out went wrong with past crashes in your earlier novel attempts
  • And if you follow the steps and write your small weekly word count, you will finish your novel by class graduation

You want to make it YOUR future?

You can do this!



How to Write A Novel Single Payment
Single Payment
Plan, Write, and Finish Your Novel!
Single Payment, Permanent Classroom Access
37 Weekly Lessons
Complete Step-by-Step Process: Idea Generation through Novel Completion
Learn to build good NOVEL-SIZED Ideas, Characters, and Conflicts
Learn to write STRONG first pages and gripping scenes
Identify and build sound novel STRUCTURES, then set up your daily process
Identify the audience for your books BEFORE you write the whole novel
Master basic techniques like plotting, writing dialogue, researching, and writing active descriptions
Kill all "Transition Scenes"
Conquer intermediate skills like Meaning, Voice & Tone, writing MIDDLES, and twisting your plots
Discover provisional outlining and provisional thinking
And acquire advanced techniques like the Midpoint Pivot, Corners, and resolving story arcs
Avoid chasing wrong directions and disastrous characters, and STOP getting lost
Create stand-alones and series because you PLAN them, not by accident
How to Write A Novel 10-Month Sub
Monthly X 10
Smallest Payments, Lessons TWICE Monthly
First Lesson Today, then Lessons Every Second Week
SMALLEST PAYMENTS: First lesson IMMEDIATELY, then lessons every second week
37 Twice-Monthly Lessons
Complete Step-by-Step Process: Idea Generation through Novel Completion
Learn to build good NOVEL-SIZED Ideas, Characters, and Conflicts
Learn to write STRONG first pages and gripping scenes
Identify and build sound novel STRUCTURES, then set up your daily process
Identify the audience for your books BEFORE you write the whole novel
Master basic techniques like plotting, writing dialogue, researching, and writing active descriptions
Kill all "Transition Scenes"
Conquer intermediate skills like Meaning, Voice & Tone, writing MIDDLES, and twisting your plots
Discover provisional outlining and provisional thinking
And acquire advanced techniques like the Midpoint Pivot, Corners, and resolving story arcs
Avoid chasing wrong directions and disastrous characters, and STOP getting lost
Create stand-alones and series because you PLAN them, not by accident

— Holly Lisle

P.S. I guarantee your satisfaction. You’ll be able to quit at any time. If you quit on the first lesson of any month, you’ll receive a full refund for that month. If you quit later in the month, you’ll receive a pro-rata refund for any lessons not received. No hassles, no questions asked. Just contact me via Student Support, which is linked on every page in your classroom, and on the main Classroom Hub.

Make today YOUR day.


Course Information

Course Instructor

Holly_Think Holly_Think Author

Novelist. Writing-course creator.

HTWAN: Reminders and Introduction 

HTWAN Section 1:  Building Your Novel’s Bare Bones

HTWAN Section 2:  Building Your Writing Process 

HTWAN Section 3: Building Your Basic Technique

HTWAN Section 4:  Building Your Intermediate Technique

HTWAN Section 5: Building Your Advanced Technique

HTWAN Section 6: Dealing with Mid-Book Problems

HTWAN Section 7: Dealing with Late & Unexpected Problems

HTWAN Section 8: Hanging In When the Going Gets Tough 

HTWAN Section 9: Finishing the Novel


The HTWAN Bonuses