How to Revise Your Novel

How to Revise Your Novel: Every Second Week Version

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No matter how you got there – 30-day NaNoWriMo novel or five years of cautious, patient, writing – your book is done.

Only now you’ve discovered revision is ten times harder than first draft.


“When Even The Pros Crash And Burn While Rewriting Their Books, How Are YOU Supposed To Get Revision Right?”

“I already know I want this class.”

There’s a way that works, and that has worked successfully for thousands of people. I’ll tell you about it in a minute.

But first, let’s talk about what most people do.

On TV, in movies, in novels, and even on writer’s weblogs, you see people who make a living from their writing laboring through their fifth or tenth draft of a novel, falling behind on their deadlines, struggling to figure out what went wrong.

And more importantly, struggling with how to get it right.

And the funny things is, this is one place where popular fiction shows something the way it is.

Most writers, including most professional writers, do revisions like a clueless cosmetic surgeon trapped in an ER.

They’re doing their thing on a patient who isn’t breathing, who has bled from everywhere, and whose heart has stopped…

… and they can’t figure out why that nose job isn’t bringing him back to life.

And honestly, when I got started, I tried the “nose job” approach, too.

And failed miserably.

  • Almost every writer does revision wrong, by starting on page one, line one, and “fixing” the story one sentence at a time.

  • Almost every revision kills most of what’s good in a novel without fixing what’s bad.

  • Almost every first draft never makes it to second draft.

  • And almost every first novelist abandons that first novel forever, tucking it (and with it the opportunity to learn the most amazing part of writing fiction—how to turn first-draft dross into final-draft gold) in a box under the bed…

… Right along with those dreams of writing something worth publishing.

My name is Holly Lisle…

Holly Lisle

… and I’m a full-time, well-paid, well-reviewed, internationally published novelist. (30+ years, 32 novels published with major publishers, and now a growing stack of novels and short fiction indie-pubbed, with more on the way.)

But I spent the seven years before I had a career (while I was an emergency-room nurse) trying to get a handle on revision. I sent out short story after short story. Revised each draft and each project time and again.

All the while garnering more than a hundred rejections and no acceptances.

Analog, Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Aboriginal … and many, many publishers of magazines you never heard of and I hadn’t, either.

I stored my rejection slips in a big man’s big shoebox, and I filled that sucker to overflowing.

So believe me, I KNOW how hard it is to get a revision right. I got it wrong so very many times.

It was when I switched from writing bad short stories to writing a bad first novel that I had a breakthrough.

Oh, not in sales. Everybody on the planet shot my first novel down.

But in revision, baby. I learned how to rock in revision.

I tore that first book apart, piece by piece, over and over and over, trying to figure out what was wrong with it, why it didn’t work, how to make it work. In spite of the fact that it never sold, I learned an incredible amount from that particular brutal failure of fiction.

I learned so much, in fact that my next novel sold the first time out to the first place I sent it—Baen Books— one month after I mailed it out the door. (And the book won me an award for Best First Novel, too.)

I then had a steady run of about seven years where every single thing I wrote sold first time out.

Runs like that don’t last (unfortunately) but I have sold my work to major publishers in the US and around the world, have been translated into a dozen languages, my new indie reprint and indie frontlist novels are selling well…and after the several years I spent struggling to figure out that first one, I’ve never spent more than a few months on any revision.

It’s not because I know how to write near-perfect first drafts, either. My first drafts are as mangled as everyone else’s.

Fortunately, that’s not a problem anymore.

Because I’ve learned the secrets of doing a good, clear, intentional revision.

Recognizing and saving what works, fixing what doesn’t.

And not screwing around for years on going back and doing it all over again and again.

What I do isn’t magic.
It isn’t magnificent raw talent.
It isn’t genius.

And more than two thousand other authors have already discovered that they can do this, too.

What I do is a combination of:

  • an intelligent, focused approach to the problem at hand,
  • a series of techniques and skills I figured out,
  • and a simple system that lets me apply skills and techniques logically, step by step.

None of what I do is hard to learn. None of it requires a college degree.

And everything I do, I can teach you to do.

The way I revise requires only your desire to fix the book you wrote so that you can move on to the next one. And your willingness to put in the time and effort to THINK about what you’ve written, and what you want it to become…

… and then to use simple techniques to make the book you imagine become the book you wrote.

And my students publish.

Here’s what a few have to say about the class.

Carl S. Plumer

Why did you sign up, Carl?

My first ever novel, Mad About Undead You, was a mess. It had
parts that were genius (IMHO), but most was a scattered, disconnected
mess with many scenes that just didn’t belong. The voice was wrong,
too, as was the POV.

What were you hoping to get out of the course?

Teach me how to write. Believe it or not, up until HTRYN, I honestly
thought that great writers never rewrote.
(I thought that rewriting was cheating.)

I know better now. Rewriting is actually the best part, where it all comes
together and where the “magic” happens.

Your most exciting moment while revising?

Just understanding that there is a way to see the big picture, the view
from the mountaintop. I was always nose to the grindstone, one scene
at a time. Now, when I write each scene I am always thinking, “What’s
the connection to what has come before and what has yet to come in
this story?”

How has the course met or exceeded your expectations?

This is Holly’s blood, sweat, and tears. She has put so much love into
this course it is overwhelming. I like to say that I now have a PhD in
novel writing thanks to the 2+ years I spent revising Mad About Undead You
using Holly’s HTRYN course. Harder—and far more beneficial—than
the Masters in Writing that I received from an accredited college.

Every day that I worked on my novel with Holly’s guidance, I would
ask myself, “How is it possible that I didn’t learn this in college?!”
Now my book is published (indy via Someday Press) and was a
Quarter Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards and a
Finalist in the Indy Excellence Awards (both for 2013)
. Probably
could have won more, but I only entered those two contests!

Without Holly, I believe the book never would have come to light, and
even if it had, it would have been ripped to shreds by Amazon reviewers.

What do you say to the person thinking about taking the course right now?

It is worth ten times the cost! Holly is practically giving away a lifetime’s
worth of insight and practical knowledge. She leads you gently by the
hand through dangerous and difficult territory. You start her course
knowing little to nothing (regardless of where you are in your writing career),
and, if you stick to it and sincerely complete EVERY lesson, you emerge a
real writer. A writer who understands and can apply the craft.

Carl S. Plumer

Carl isn’t my only student who already had a Masters in Writing when he took this class. Folks with all sorts of advanced degrees in writing, journalism, literature, and other word-related fields have taken it.


Because this is the process I used for all the many years where 100% of my family’s household income was from fiction I sold to commercial publishers in the open market.

I didn’t have tenure, so I couldn’t waste time on theories. I had my brain, and my butt in the chair, and my fingers on the keyboard, and deadlines, and kids to feed, and bills to pay. If I didn’t write AND SELL, we didn’t eat.

So the only thing I could afford to do was what worked.

This is what works.

“This is what I’ve been looking for.”


Sam Austin

Why did you decide to start this course, Sam?

I got stalled on editing my novel ‘Truth Seeker.’ I hoped that it
would teach me skills that I could use to turn this novel,
and all the stories after it into something I can be proud of.

You’re just now wrapping up the Triage section.
What have you taken away so far?

Every time I look back and realise that I know why I kept
feeling this novel wasn’t quite right, and best of all I
have some glimmerings of how to go about fixing it.

Anything else?

A great step-by-step way to analyse the problems in my pieces that
my logical brain loves, and hopefully when I get a bit
further on (only on lesson 8), ways to fix them too.

Is the course what you expected?

So far I’m finding it great. A heck of a lot of hard work, but great.
I’ve even found things I can apply while writing my shorter pieces,
to the extent that I’ve started self-publishing some of them.

Suggestions for the writer looking here for help fixing a first draft?

It takes a lot of time, and a lot of work, but if you are stalled and
have no clue how to edit the piece you are working on and make it
shine, then this will help with that. I plan to use it again and again
with every novel I work on, and I plan to write a lot of them.

Sam Austin

Yes, the class takes a while. Revision takes a while.

Being blunt here, I know that spending twenty-two weeks to learn how to do this may seem like a lot. But consider…

  • Folks have struggled for years…or even decades…working on a single novel trying to get it right. And most of the time they never do

  • And while it is absolutely possible to figure all of this out on your own, because that’s exactly how I did it…
  • It took me more than half of a 25-years-and-counting career to put all the pieces together into one single, coherent, logical, workable system…
  • And you might not want to throw away 60,000 words of a novel—TWICE… WHILE ON DEADLINEwhile figuring that system out…***
  • And if you prefer the shortcut, you only have to learn the system ONCE — after that, you just use it, and get faster at it

Compared to how long it can take to figure out professional-caliber revision on your own, learning revision this way is lightning fast.

And as you’ll soon see, if you’re currently pinned to a revision deadline with no elbow room, I’ll give you an emergency fast-track method you can use—starting on day one—to revise your novel in as little as one week, even before you’ve mastered the full revision.

***Throw away 60,000 words?
All different? Twice? Same book?
Tight deadline?
You didn’t really do that, did you?

Yes. I really did.

It was the nightmare I thought would never end. The book was Closer to Chaos (a horribly appropriate name), which was published as The Wreck of Heaven (HarperCollins 2009).

In class, I use that broken manuscript, and then the fixed one, to show you not just where I screwed up, but what I finally had to do to get it right.

“I’d rather learn from YOUR mistakes than mine.”


Peter Cruikshank

You’d been writing for years, Peter. What were you hoping
the How To Revise Your Novel course would do?

Help me find the problems in my manuscript that I was too
close to see and develop a viable process for taking a novel through revision.

Any favorite moment?

When I had identified all the problems with
my first draft and was able to start “fixing” them.

What skill that you learned helped most?

The ability to systematically identify the areas that
need repair and the tool kit to actually repair them 🙂

How has the course met or exceeded your expectations?

I never could have realized the issues I had with
everything from timing to conflict arcs. HTRYN not only helped
me to identify these, but showed me how to correct them.

What would you tell someone considering taking HTRYN?

I spent over forty years trying to write and publish a novel.
The end result, a drawer full of unfinished manuscripts.
It wasn’t until I completed How To Think Sideways and
took the first draft through How to Revise Your Novel
that I will be finally publishing my first novel.

Peter Cruikshank

Note: Dragon-Called: Fire of the Covenant (Book 1) was published in October 2013.

You’d be astonished how easy it is to forget to put compelling conflict into your scenes.

You’ll be thrilled, on the other hand, to discover how easy this problem is to find — and fix — once you have your system going.

And even better, how many fewer times you make this mistake writing your next book, and the ones after that.

“Missing conflict? Yeah. Must fix that.”


Jade Eby

Why did you decide to sign up for How To Revise Your Novel, Jade?

I had a goal to self-publish my novel by the end of the year and
I knew I needed some heavy revisions before I could send it to
the editor. I was looking to revamp and realign my draft so it
fit together perfectly.

What is the most exciting writing moment you’ve had because you took the course?

I really loved the introspective moments like doing the
Triage Theme Summary… looking at all the things I did right
and all the things I did wrong made me step back and evaluate
where I was at and where I wanted to be.

What about writing or revision skills you’ve acquired from the course?

There are too many to even count! Honestly, I think looking at
the novel in a big picture sort of way and breaking it down into
manageable bits was the most important thing I learned during this
course. HTRYN course has given me structure and a guide to follow
when revising. Though it was a lot of work, I know
I’m a better writer and reviser because of it.

Anything you’d tell a writer considering the course?

If you’re serious about writing and about your craft…
take this course. Even if you don’t use 100% of the material…
whatever you do use is completely worth your time and money!
Stop thinking about taking it and JUST DO IT!

Jade Eby

You know that moment when you look at your manuscript and think, “I don’t even know where to begin?”

When Jade talks about learning to look at your story in a systematic big-picture way, and breaking it down into manageable bits, she’s talking about fixing THAT.

“I SO need a workable system.”


Anne Lyle

Finally, Anne Lyle…

I signed up for Holly Lisle’s latest Writers’ Boot Camp course,
How To Revise Your Novel. The course was a revelation,
helping to turn my revisions from panicky flailing around in a
morass of conflicting ideas, into a methodical process where
I felt in control. And I ended up selling the manuscript
in a three book deal, so obviously it works.

Anne did a little better than a three-book deal, actually. On the strength of her first novel, The Alchemist of Souls, she was a nominee for the British Fantasy Society’s Best Newcomer Award. She successfully wrote and revised her second novel, The Merchant of Dreams, to contract.

And on her blog, she discussed working her way through my other major course, How To Think Sideways, while she wrote the third novel, The Prince of Lies. Which is now also out.

From the Acknowledgements in her first novel, THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS:

Fantasy writer and teacher extraordinaire
Holly Lisle (no relation!) earns my undying
thanks for her online courses on writing and
editing, without which this book might still be
languishing in revision Hell.

Anne Lyle

Okay… I can’t resist sharing this one last little story, which happens to be mine…

Not long after Fire in the Mist came out, I met my publisher, Jim Baen, at a convention, where I discovered that my first book was doing very well. Well enough that he offered me a three-book deal on the spot.

This is the dream. I had it, you’ve probably had it — and I discovered that in real life it’s even better than you imagine it will be.

So I took my check and my three-book deal home from the convention with me, and handed in my notice to the hospital…

…and invited all the folks in my writers group to my house…

…and we all celebrated while I burned my nursing uniforms in a bonfire we had in my back yard. Writers With Matches. That was us.

It was beautiful.

(…and for the guy who asked, nope, nobody got nekkid. Or if they did, they were either discreet or my watching neighbors decided not to call the cops.)

Leaving the day job behind was everything I had dreamed it would be. It was one of the best days in my life… and I have never regretted any single bit of it. Because while writing full-time for a living has never been easy, this is the job that just keeps getting better.


Back to revision…

“This is a lot like MY dream. Show me how…”


To revise a novel well the first time through, you need to learn the three stages of revision.

My fiction career started while I was an emergency room nurse, where my job was to assess life or death situations, think quickly, and take the right actions to save lives, I learned this process bone-deep. And when it came to looking at my writing, I applied the same process, and adapted it. So I’m going to introduce them to you in medical terms.

They are:

  • Trauma Triage — where your objective is to FIND the big bad stuff before your patient (book) croaks

  • Major Surgery — where your objective is to FIX the big bad stuff before your patient (book) croaks

  • Cosmetic Surgery — all that fiddle-farting around you do to make your patient pretty once the big bad stuff is over

Okay, making your ugly book beautiful is important. But if THAT’s where you start your revision (as damn near every writer, amateur AND pro, does) your novel is gonna diiiiieee.


So to prevent you from shoving yet another dead manuscript under your bed, with this manuscript you’ll start with intensive Novel Trauma Triage training.

Medical students don’t start cutting on patients the first week of med school. First they have to learn what they have to cut, and what’s healthy and needs to be left alone. They have to learn to recognize and diagnose problems before they can learn to fix them.

So tell me WHY the FIRST thing writers do with a manuscript they’ve just finished writing is to start cutting on it?!

If you ever want do to a revision that’s worth a damn, you must first learn to identify all the places in your book that you wrote right… and all the places you wrote wrong. You, too, have to learn to diagnose before you can learn to FIX.


In How To Revise Your Novel, you will spend eight full weeks learning Story Diagnosis and Story Triage.

Why, you’re wondering, would anyone in their right mind want to spend eight weeks learning to do that?

And I reply: Maybe because YOU don’t want to spend the seven years it took me to learn to do a revision that worked at all… or the roughly fifteen years it took me to learn to do a great revision. Maybe so YOU don’t have to throw out 60,000 words TWICE on the same book.

Maybe YOU’D like to learn—in FIVE months—how to do a real revision that actually fixes your book (and every book you write after this one).

You absolutely can learn by trial and error. I sure did.

But I have to tell you, if there had been anything that could have given me a shortcut through that agonizing, frustrating, years-long process when I was starting out, I would have been after it like a drowning woman for air.

Diagnosis and Triage are the MOST CRITICAL revision skills you can learn.

You’ll need them. And here’s how you’ll get them.

“5 months sounds better than 7 years.
Or never.”


What You’ll Learn and How It Will Help You

You’ll learn how to create your target.

This is the most important (and frequently the most difficult) part of revision… and the majority of novelists, including pros, never do it. Ever. You cannot hit a target you cannot see.

Which is why even big names in fiction waste years slogging through multiple revisions. They never bother to create the target they want to hit… so they don’t hit it.

It really is that simple.

You, however, are going to identify in your manuscript:

What you wanted to write, and WHY you wanted to write it…

What you actually did write, and where you missed your target… And what you want the story to be when you finish revising it. During this process, you’ll start finding places where you went in the wrong direction—that’s easy. You’ll also start finding the places where you were amazing—and identifying your own moments of brilliance is much more difficult. When you work your way through this first lesson, the most important thing you are learning is how to recognize and save every bit of wonderful you put into your book.


You’ll discover your promises.

I’ll bet you didn’t realize you were making promises while you were telling your story…

…but from your very first word on your very first page, you started making them.

And then you kept some. And you broke some.

There are three kinds of promises in every book ever written. They are:

The promises ALL writers MUST make (and most writers usually break)…

The promises you intended to make (though you probably didn’t think of them as promises)… And the promises you made by accident. Your promises are the heart and soul of your book — why you wrote it, why it matters, why anyone else should care. Get this right, understand THIS, and not just everything you revise now, but everything you write in the future, will start making sense and falling into place. Get this right, and you can make every book you write better than the one before. But most importantly, get this right in every book you write, and YOUR readers will never throw YOUR books across a room. Because the thing that causes a reader to do that is hitting the place in the story where a writer broke a crucial promise.


You’ll learn how to triage your scenes.

Some writers never get the hang of scenes, or learn the easy rhythm of conflict, twist, and the interplay of characters.

But you’ll learn how to break down what you’ve written to diagnose both where and HOW your story starts going wrong.

You learn to diagnose:

If you’ve written scenes at all — some bits of fiction masquerade as scenes, screwing up your story until you learn how to add what they’re missing.

What happens in each scene in your story—and what doesn’t, but should. You’d be amazed at how simple this is…

And what each scene brings to your story, and whether it’s carrying its weight. Or not. A LOT of times, you’ll find it’s not.

And then you’ll be amazed to realize that most writers never even check, and that THIS is why their stories drag, break, and bore.

So think of Week Three as “How not to bore the ever-loving crap out of my readers, Part One.”

And you may be thinking…

I would never bore the crap — ever-loving or otherwise — out of my readers.


Answer this question…

Which scene have you written because “it has to be in there,” even though you didn’t have any fun writing it?

THAT is the scene that’s going to make their eyes glaze over. And I’ll show you exactly what to do INSTEAD of writing that dull-ass scene…

… because there is no such thing as “The scene that HAS to be in there…”

Here’s one of the most important secrets I’ve discovered about writing fiction:

If you didn’t have fun writing it, your reader won’t have fun reading it.

But I digress. Onward.

“I’ve actually written more than ONE
has to be in there scene. Help.”


You’ll discover how to triage your plot.

Plot moves your characters through your story in an entertaining, surprising, and comprehensible fashion.

Or at least it does when everything goes right.

In first drafts, “everything” never goes right.

So you’ll learn to identify and diagnose:

Your primary plot, where it hangs together, where it blows apart… and WHY.

Any secondary plots you’ve written, what they contribute (or don’t)… and WHY.

And any evil NotPlots you’ve put into your story that are sucking the life out of it… and WHY.

QUICK ASIDE: There are writers who make a big ideological stand about plot in books being the One True Sign of Hack Writing.

So let me define plot: A plot is a character taking action to solve a problem, and dealing with the consequences of that action.

Writers who don’t believe in plots are writers who are saying they don’t believe that the consequences of actions should be important.

<insert looooooong pause here>

These are writers who need to NEVER CROSS A STREET IN TRAFFIC, mmmkay?

Understanding how to find and correctly use character + action = consequence gives you the key to keeping your readers turning pages because they cannot go to sleep until they know what happens next.




You’ll learn how to triage your conflict.

Writers frequently mistake conflict for argument (which, unless you have a spectacular “reason why” for it, is the least interesting kind of conflict it’s humanly possible to write).

Writers also frequently forget to include any sort of conflict whatsoever in their scenes.

You’re going to to learn how to determine:

  • What kind of conflict you’ve created in every scene (and whether it’s the right kind or the wrong kind).
  • Conflict progression through your story to resolution, and whether you did it well or badly.
  • And whether each conflict you’ve introduced adds to or subtracts from your story…and whether each one matters.

Here’s an example. There are stories where a subplot about the sweet little grandmother working hard to win a cooking contest is going to be really important.

HOWEVER, unless Grandma is cooking up nuclear brownies, if your main plot is about a small band of renegades fighting to prevent the end of all life as we know it, this isn’t going to be one of those times.

You might laugh. But I’ve seen subplots this bad and worse. Some have been blatantly awful. Some have been subtly disastrous. And time after time, I’ve even written them into my own first drafts.

But none of them made it past me to an editor.

Short and sweet — this lesson prevents you from looking like an idiotto your editor, agent, readers…whomever is going to see what you write.


You’ll move on to triage your characters.

Writers don’t have the constraints of movie-makers — and mostly this is good.

However, when you get to character creation, the unlimited writing budget allows the writer to hire every out-of-work character who comes traipsing across the transom of his mind.

This does not make for good fiction.

So you’re going to learn to dissect the following:

  • Who is this character, and what is he doing in my book?
  • What’s his job, and is he doing it… or is he taking coffee breaks and surfing the internet?
  • Should you keep him as is, make him work harder… or shoot him?
  • Shoot a character? Oh, yeah. We don’t mess around with characters in How to Revise Your Novel. Buggers will eat you out of house and home if you let them.

Why does this lesson matter?

Ask anyone who has ever read fiction, “Who’s your all-time favorite fiction character?” (If they’re big readers, give ‘em some elbow room. Change the question to, “Who are your five or ten all-time favorite characters?”)

They’ll have answers for you.

And if you learn to nail this part of revision, one of these days the reader answering that question is going to name a baby after a character of yours. And THAT’s why it matters.


You’ll learn how to triage your world.

This drives me nuts. REALLY nuts. SF and fantasy writers get the importance of the world in a story. Historical novelists get it. But everybody else seems to think that any little scraps of world you find lying around are good enough to toss into your world as background.

The story’s world matters, whether your main character never gets off his front porch during the entire novel, or whether he spends the book leaping from galaxy to galaxy, and whether you’re writing mainstream, literary, romance, mystery… or anything else

If you’re using it right, your world is a never-ending source of characters and conflict (and if the word “series” has ever flitted across the transom of your writing mind, it is the one of the four core elements in keeping a series going.)

This week, you’re going to learn how to figure out…

  • If your world fits your characters and enhances your plot…or if it’s in the back room taking a nap while they’re struggling alone…
  • If your world is adding deep and meaningful conflict, or if it couldn’t drop a conflict rock and hit the floor…
  • And if your world is throwing you gripping complications and cool twists. Or if it’s just lying there like a sun-baked road-kill toad.

It is impossible to tell a good story without having your story world make critical contributions.

Unfortunately, it’s dead simple to write a bad one without spending any time on your world. And most people do.

When you have your story world working WITH you, new story ideas, new characters, new plots, and new twists will come to you, instead of you having having to beat your brain to find them.


You’ll discover your story and theme.

While you were writing, you may have considered Story and Theme. You may not have. Most writers, after all, give them only cursory attention.

But Story and Theme are what pull everything else together.

They refine your target, illuminate the priorities in your promises, and spotlight every Scene, Plot, Conflict, Character and World problem your story has.

So you’re going to figure out:

  • If you have broken or abandoned themes, and how they’re broken…
  • Weak themes (and why they’re weak), or themes that are missing altogether
  • Or a story that holds together with a tight, compelling theme… or how to get it to if it doesn’t yet.

Your theme is what you have to say. Stories without themes disappear.

Stories that go deeper… stories that are personal and important to the writer… Those are the stories that last for years and decades and centuries.

There’s this baseball term—“Swing for the fences.” It means to try to hit the ball so hard and straight and true that it goes sailing out of the park, brings all the runners on base in, brings the batter in.

“Swinging for the fences” is a heroic thing. Brave. Crazy. Wonderful.

When a writer “swings for the fences,” that writer is declaring, “I’m going to take my shot at immortality. I’m going to say something that is still going to matter to other human beings fifty years from now. A hundred years from now. Or a thousand.”

This is the “Swing for the fences” lesson. (The “hit one out of the park” lesson is toward the end.)


“I love writing.
And I want to swing for the fences.”


By the time you finish Lesson 8, you’ll know how to Diagnose and Triage a novel. Now you’re ready to learn how to cut.


Welcome to Major Novel Surgery

You will discover how manuscript surgery works.

If you’re thinking, “Ah, now we get to page one, line one, and we start editing,” think again.

You’re going to find out the differences between:

  • Editing versus Revision versus The Complete Rewrite, WHY they’re not the same, and when and WHY you use each.
  • The step-by-step process for changing “what is” in your story to “what needs to be.”
  • And how to refine your revision needs and musts into usable form… what I call The Block Revision process.

But before we move on, here’s some happy news for you.

Believe it or not, the most difficult lesson you did was all the way back in lesson one… and the first eight lessons were the GENUINELY HARD work.

By the time you’re doing Lesson Nine, things are easier. Not easy. But EASIER.

The Block Revision is the process that — IF YOU FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS — keeps you from wrecking your book at the same time that it lets you make it better.

I need to be a curmudgeon for a moment…

curmudgeonnoundef. Grumpy old fart who
sits on the porch scowling at passersby…

…and possibly throwing sticks…

I teach a 100% non-destructive method for testing your revision changes before you make them…

I show my writers how to work out the essential elements of their scenes, and then move the scenes around IN PRACTICE to see if there are better ways they can present the story BEFORE they actually dive into making changes and then doing the necessary rewriting to make those changes fit.

I show them how to test characters BEFORE they change or cut them to make sure doing so isn’t a mistake.

I show them how how to RETHINK the plot before REWRITING the plot.

I do all of this by having you build the elements of your revision in a notebook, on worksheets, and on index cards.

Some writers decide to skip these testing and thinking steps to save time…

Don’t do this.

There is no One True Way to revise any given story.

There are, instead, an infinite number of ways you can make your story wonderful (and just as many ways you can make it suck).

So I am NOT going to teach you the One True Way to fix your story.

I’m going to teach you how to think your way through the process, and then figure out the BEST way to fix it to make it what YOU want it to be.

If you’re hoping I’m going to tell you, “Okay, now cut out all paragraphs that begin with the Letter M…” as if you were a child who couldn’t think for yourself….

RUN. A long, long way from me.

This class doesn’t work like that.

You have to make decisions on every single aspect of what you want your book to be.

And then you have to TEST them.

I’ll show you what good manuscript revision decisions look like, and I’ll show you how to test them and then make them.

But if you don’t do the testing, you will get no sympathy from me when the untested changes you make cost you a LOT more time than skipping the testing saved.

Hi. Remember me? Threw away 60,000-ish words while writing a contracted novel? Twice? On deadline?

Still hit the deadline?

I screwed up by not testing my ideas before writing them — first draft, so different process.


I have lived through the consequences of not testing my ideas.

Don’t skip testing.

“I kind of overlooked… testing…”


You’ll tackle Story and Theme, Take Two.

This is where you’ll learn to take the broken, mangled, or even nonexistent story and theme you discovered back in Week Eight and turn them into something whole and good.

Here’s where you give your story the powerful engine you want it to have, building it from pieces of what you already wrote.

  • You will write the theme you want,
  • The story core you need, and
  • The plan you must have to create them.

This is where you actually start building your legacy, one story at a time. Remember, “swing for the fences.”


You will commit to your keeper characters.

Earlier, you identified which characters were weak and which were strong, which were cast well and which had the wrong roles.

But as you worked through later lessons and learned more about what your story could be, your ideas will have changed and improved.

This week, you will decide:

  • Who stays, why, and what they’ll contribute —
  • Who goes, why, and who gets all the good stuff they’ll leave behind —
  • And exactly how each character who remains will connect with your ideal reader.

Be patient and thorough in this lesson…

…because the choices you’re making now can make one of these folks your reader’s all-time favorite character.


You’ll rework your plots and subplots.

Here’s where you take every flawed scene and every misconceived plot and subplot…and you fix each one. Non-destructively. With testing.

When you:

  • Determine your best story length,
  • Rewrite your main plot to your target,
  • Keep and hone your best subplots,
  • Remove the less than stellar ones,
  • Turn your NotPlots into compelling, exciting subplots, and
  • Cut JUST fat, NEVER meat…

…Your story will flow better, make more sense, and become much more fun to read.

And when you readers are blazing through your funny, hot, scary, romantic, or brilliant—but always compelling—story, readers will recommend it to friends, family, and occasionally even complete strangers.


You will track and complete all your conflicts.

This is where you make sure you don’t leave any threads hanging, but it’s also where you make sure that every thread you’re running belongs in the story and matters on several different levels.

  • You’ll fix the places where you committed action rather than conflict (committing action is bad),
  • You’ll build real, meaningful conflict,
  • Keep only the conflicts that improve your story,
  • Raise the stakes for your characters, and
  • Bring it all to a satisfying conclusion…

So that you can keep your readers turning YOUR pages. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s how you keep getting paid.


You will work with simple time.

This week, you’ll learn and master the basics of controlling the timeline of your story events.

  • You’ll set up your events timeline,
  • Evaluate your use of story time,
  • Test alternate story and time orders to find improved conflict possibilities, and
  • Learn when and why you may want to alter the presentation order of story events.

As with everything else in revision, because your story is unique, the things that will help you make it better and the things that will cause you to break it will also be unique.

And because you created it, the only person in the universe who can figure the use of time that will make your manuscript the truest and best version of your vision of what it could be and should be is you.

But the tools I teach you will make these decisions simple and straightforward.

And the results you get from using them will give you everything from a gripping thriller to a deep, rich literary tapestry to a side-splitting comedy to an edgy SF thinker.


You’ll work with COMPLEX time.

Complex time moves beyond the range of when events happen in the story, focusing instead on playing with the reader’s comprehension of time out of story.

You will learn and put into practice the How, When, and WHY of…

… Foreshadowing, where it belongs, and where it doesn’t…

… Backstory — when it helps, when it makes the story drag, and when it needs to go away completely… and how to make it work WHEN you use it…

… Flashbacks and Flashforwards, and revising through and around them…

… Past Lives, Alternate Realities, And Other Paranormal Time Treatments, and how to make sure yours work… as well as how to know when they don’t, and what to do with problems…

… And you’ll make sure your book begins at the REAL beginning of the story.

When you master complex time, you are no longer the slave of tedious step-by-step sequential plotting…

…and your ability to pull spectacular rabbits out of awesome hats for the entertainment of your readers shoots through the roof.


You’ll learn to become consistent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Beg pardon, but the dude did not write novels.

If you are inconsistent anywhere in your story, your readers will feed you to the lions and cheer while you scream.

So this week, you are going to skip the lions AND the screaming, and make your novel consistent in your development and presentation of everything from the color of your heroine’s eyes to the distance between Kateville and Bobtown (“If it’s ten miles, O Mighty Writer, how did your character walk there in eight minutes?”) to your story voice and where you are true to it and where you accidentally drop it and smoosh it all over the floor.

I’d like to write consistently BETTER.


… And then…

You’ll do your block revision.

All your work, effort, diagnosis, planning and rethinking culminates at last in the moment you’ve been waiting for.

First you learn the pro techniques for Block Marking your manuscript.

Then you go through a step-by-step walkthrough of the Rough Cut that utilizes all the preliminary work you’ve done in an orderly, sane, non-destructive fashion.

And then you will take pen in hand, and…

You Will Cut Your Book.

Even if you’ve never made it through a revision before, you’ll have every tool you need to make it through this one. AND get out the other end with a better book than you started with — one where all the stuff you love is still there, and all the stuff you hated now works.

And once you’ve finished your Rough Cut, you’ll move on to the third stage of revision.

I really need help cutting my manuscripts.


It’s Finally Time To Learn Cosmetic Surgery Revision

Consider… THIS is the place where almost every writer BEGINS almost every revision.

Can you see why things don’t work out for them?

This is how writers can do five or ten or twenty revisions on their novels, or spend YEARS, not months, struggling with the details, and still end up with a books they hate.

Scary thought, isn’t it? But nice to know theirs is a fate you can avoid.

But even when it’s time to line-edit, not all line-editing is created equal. And…

This is EXACTLY where I’ve been starting. Help me.


You’ll learn line editing with style and grace.

This is where writers suddenly start obsessing about commas. Wrong focus.

Commas do matter, but not as much as you think. So you’ll learn commas… but you’ll also learn the much more important stuff…

  • What Style and Grace in writing are…and what they’re NOT…
  • How to shape your voice and weed out what doesn’t sound like you.
  • How do identify the difference between Writing Rich and Self-Indulgent Writing… and how to fix the latter.
  • And how to use the professional novelist’s techniques of line-editing (these are not the same as a professional editor’s editing techniques).

I’ll note here (and specifically in relation to this lesson), that my all-time all-genre favorite writer is Mark Twain.

Close behind at #2? Terry Pratchett.


Because first, they both nailed content… and then second, they made it their own.

You can hear a passage written by either of them and say, “Mark Twain wrote that…” or “Terry Pratchett wrote that.”

When you’re shaping your voice, what’s at stake is connecting to those readers who will re-read your work until the pages fall out and they have to buy fresh copies. (Or who will keep you marked as FAVORITE on their e-readers.

We all have the same words available to us. The way Twain and Pratchett used their words, however, gave us THEM. In your stories, don’t just give us your stories. Make sure you give us yourself.



You’ll improve your dialogue, description, action, and flow.

  • This consists of fixing dialogue bugs like talking heads, stage managing, and trivial dialogue…
  • Working through description bugs like killer infodumps, pointless description, and fuzzy writing…
  • Writing action conflict instead of FCS (Friggin’ Chase Scenes), as well as mixing big action, small action, and action in stillness…
  • And making it all flow together like you wrote it that way the first time.

Because when you’ve finally successfully got some readers turning your pages, you want to keep them doing it… and to do this, you CANNOT break their immersion with sloppy, crappy description and action sequences.


You’ll do your final write-in.

You’re nearing the finish line, and doing your final handwritten changes. This week, you will work your way through testing and strengthening:

  • Your beginnings, to make sure every scene has a compelling open.
  • Your endings, to make sure each one will make your reader NEED to read what comes next.
  • Your transitions, to be sure that each one gets your story from logical plot point to logical plot point without including a lot of clutter.
  • Your pacing, so that where you want speed and tension, you have it, and where you want the reader to catch his breath, he will.
  • And finally, you will do one final run through the Step-By-Step Problem, to make sure you have eliminated it entirely.

This is the point where you realize how much better the story is than it was.
And this is a FUN part of revising.

But it still gets better than this.


You’ll do your type-in.

This is the last step before you send out query letters to editors and agents if you’re shooting for commercial publication, or before you start interviewing editors if you’re going indie.

And it’s a big step, with plenty of its own surprises still in store. (Simple typing rarely enters into the equation, actually.)

So what you’ll do during this lesson is:

  • Prepare your manuscript and yourself for type-in.
  • Deal with spontaneous live revision, and how to know when it’s a good idea, and when it’s a bad one.
  • Handle Type-In Problem #1 — Fixing stuff you missed.
  • Handle Type-In Problem #2 — Missing stuff you fixed.
  • And, of course, you’ll DO the type-in.
  • And you’ll learn how to pull your query letter from your revision materials. (No, writing query letters isn’t technically a part of revision. But you have the book done, dammit. You might as well know how to send it out.)

And when you’re done with this, one way or another, you get your book into the hands of an editor, and THEN you get it into the hands of your readers.

And officially, that should be the whole course. But once you know how to do a revision well, your life will be better if you learn how to do “well” faster. So…


You’ll learn to modify this class into a One-Pass Revision

I don’t spend twenty-one weeks revising an average novel.

I can revise a 100,000 word novel to publishable quality in about a month… and I only do ONE revision.

I still do EVERYTHING you’ve learned in this course.

But I’ve learned over the years how to streamline the process.

So now that you have the skills, in this final lesson you’ll learn:

How to never revise a book the hard way again.

How to carry what you learned about your writing from this revision into your next FIRST DRAFT.

How to do the “Mental Checklist” on paper until it fits in your head.

And how to use the course worksheets into your writing and revising future.

Because the first time you do a real revision is brutal, and mean, and difficult.

But revision is where you learn to be a better writer. If you do it and stick with it and FINISH THE DAMN THING, every time after that will be a little bit easier, and every book you write after this first one you revise will be better.

Learning to revise will improve ALL my work? Sign me up.


Vanna Smythe

Why did you take the course?

I wrote what would later become the first two books in my
Anniversary of the Veil fantasy series during NaNo 2009.
Fast forward to December 2010 and the books were still just sitting
on my hard drive, because I had absolutely no idea how to go
about revising them. I was pretty desperate until I discovered HTRYN.
I have since self-published both the novels and am about to publish
the final part of the trilogy. I’m sure I could never have done
that if I had not taken the How to Revise Your Novel Course.

I was hoping to learn the art of revising, which is something I have
very little natural inclination towards. I can write the first draft
in a few weeks, but revision was always foreign to me.
“Was” I say, because after taking the course this is no longer the case.

Most exciting moment?

That would have to be the publishing of my first book, Protector
(Anniversary of the Veil, Book 1). In the year and a half since
I published it, this book has gotten very favorable reviews
and I know I couldn’t have done it without taking HTRYN.

Most important skill you’ve learned through the course?

Learning how to dissect the different parts of the novel, such as
worldbuilding, characterization, plot, subplot and
making sure each part fits into the whole perfectly.

How has the course met or exceeded your expectations?

At the beginning, I was sure that revision was beyond me. Now I can
revise my books in two months, and I am getting faster and more
efficient with each book. The course has also
helped me plan better for my first drafts.

Your advice to prospective students?

If you’re serious about publishing then this course will not only
help you achieve that goal, but also enable you to produce the best work possible.

— Vanna Smythe



So What Does This Class Include?

This is a complete system for revising your book, and once you learn the process on your first manuscript, you can do the next book in a month…

… Or a week.

Most important of all, you’ll find that — no matter how many wrong roads you went down

…you’ll still get the novel you wanted.

You’ll get one written lesson in PDF format delivered to your classroom every week (every two weeks on the smaller payments/longer subscription plan).

You’ll also get worksheets…

… and (through the first stage, triage) demos in which I show you how to use the worksheets while I revise a first novel written by a new writer.

In these demos, I’ll SHOW you what various mistakes look like on the page, because it’s easier to see someone else’s mistakes than your own.

Live help and feedback…

Along with the lessons, worksheets, and demos, you’ll have access to both topical lesson discussions and free-ranging student discussions in the HTRYN Forum.

Private, members-only… everyone in there is either going through what you’re going through, or has already been and done… and is back for more. You don’t have to use the forum, but it’s active, it’s awesome, and it’s there when you need it.

And some surprises…

I’ve thrown in some other neat extras, but I’ll leave those for you to discover as you go through the course.

I want this. Put me in class.


What If I Can’t Revise That Fast?

Relax. You don’t have to complete one lesson a week. The course is entirely self-paced.

You can take as long as you’d like to finish each lesson. The lessons will be there for you whenever you need them, in THIS revision, or the next one, or the one after that.

Once you complete payment, you have permanent access to the course, ALL course updates (at no extra charge), and the community.

Stay as long as you like. Run through the process again with your next novel. And the one after that, for as many novels (or other projects) and as long as you’d like.

Your colleagues in the class and forum, veterans and newcomers alike, are wonderful folks.

So Who Shouldn’t Buy This Course?

Expecting me to say this class is for everyone?

It isn’t.

Don’t take this class if…

  • You haven’t finished a story yet.

    THIS IS THE BIGGEST REASON NOT TO GET THIS CLASS. How To Revise Your Novel starts on day one, minute one with you working with your completed manuscript that is at least 6000 words long. More than 20,000 words will give you a better chance to use and practice all the techniques — but the class will work with short stories, too.

    However, if you don’t have a completed manuscript, you’re looking for my How To Think Sideways class instead.

    There’s a little wiggle room on defining “finished.”
    I once finished the first draft of a novel by writing, “And then I killed them all. The End.”

    And this was on deadline. With one month left to do the revision and turn it in. But I had written the number of words the contract called for when I did that.

    And yes, I turned in the revised book on time, using most of processes I teach here [some I hadn’t invented yet], and it was accepted with minimal requests for changes. And I didn’t kill them all.

    So FINISHED is a relative term. Anyway….


Don’t take this class if…

  • You think that you can just read the lessons and the book will revise itself.

    There’s work involved in revision. A lot of it.

Don’t take this class if…

  • You expect the novel you’re revising to sell right away…or even at all… to your big commercial dream publisher. I absolutely guarantee that if you do the work, the novel you revise will be worlds better than it started out… but nothing will guarantee that your work will interest commercial publishers.

HOWEVER… <ahem> Between the slow pay, the pathetically small royalties, and the terrible-to-nonexistent marketing done by commercial publishers, I have gone fully over to independent publishing. And it’s what I recommend for my students, too. If you go indie, you can guarantee that your book will be published.

Don’t take this class if…

  • You’re arguing, “It only took me thirty days to write the book! Why should I take five months or more to learn to revise it?”

If you’ve seen everything it takes to get revision right, and you’re still thinking that, I CAN’T HELP YOU.

I’m the right writer for this class.

Here’s one more student’s story…

Vanessa Wells

When I found Holly’s writing site I had already ‘finished’ my first book and was about to ‘finish’ my second. I tried to edit them and nearly killed anything worth reading in the process. I wanted to write, but I was floundering, badly. I’d read Holly’s books for years. She tells a great tale. When she said she could teach me to write like that, I jumped at the chance. I was very torn, but I took HTRYN first (since I had two novels sitting around gathering dust.)

I had never edited anything at that point in my life and made it better than the original. I didn’t have a system, and I knew it.

I needed help.

When did the process click for you?

There are so many exciting moments! It’s hard to pick. The moment
when it all clicked and I knew that I was going to be a
professional writer…that was a good one.
Or the moment
when I sold my first story. Or maybe seeing the cover art for the
first time. That first book sale. I can’t pick just one.

I think the most important thing I learned was that it was
You hear so many people scoff and say things like ‘Oh,
there are lots of people who write…not many get published!’ There
is no negativity in HTRYN. Instead the focus was on the things you
can control: writing good fiction, writing every day, figuring out your
core values and using them…and persistence.

I can’t say that often enough. Holly’s courses invite you to write
wonderful stories and break down why they work (and why they don’t)
and then she encourages you to keep submitting, keep looking, and
never, never stop. She helps you build that thick skin that successful
writers have to have.

I thought I was buying a writing course when I
purchased HTRYN. (laughs).

What I got was a course on applied critical thinking for writers.
This doesn’t just list off a couple of common problems and give
you advice while patting your hand and telling that ‘you really are ok’.

Oh, it does list common problems. And it tells you how to fix them.
But it gives you the tools to do so much more than that.
This shows you how to fix them yourself, from the ground up.

You literally can not buy this information anywhere else
(and no other published author would sell it at ANY price…
much less make it available to other writers).

After using the information on three books and a dozen short stories,
I would pay three times what I paid for the course,
and it would still be cheap.
As a single mom, it was difficult for me to find money
in the monthly budget to pay for this course.

It wasn’t a matter of giving up a daily Starbucks or a weekly ‘date night’.

It was a real sacrifice every month to pay for it.
It was worth every single red cent.

— Vanessa Wells



If You’re Serious About Writing,
I’ll Make This Course Worth Your Time

And I’ll guarantee that.

There aren’t any guarantees in publishing, after all…

But I’m not that monolith, Publishing.

I’m just a writer who figured out how to beat the odds.

Holly's Signature

Holly Lisle,
Novelist & Writing Course Creator




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 site footer below.

Make today YOUR day.

Course Information

Course Instructor

Holly_Think Holly_Think Author

Novelist. Writing-course creator.

Welcome, Basic Information, and first bonus


Getting Ready to Cut

Cosmetic Surgery

HTWAS Bonus Lesson One

HTWAS Bonus Lesson Two

HTWAS Bonus Lesson Three

HTWAS Bonus Lesson Four