How to Write a Novel

How to Write A Novel: Every Second Week

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If you’re telling yourself, “Someday I’m going to write,” your writing dream is already in deep trouble. Because…

“The Only Writing Dream That Will Ever Come True Is The One You MAKE Happen!”

I already know I want this!

Dear Fellow Writer,

You’ve held onto that writing fantasy of yours for a long time. Have seen the covers of all your imaginary books on imaginary shelves, have stood in a beautiful room on your imaginary book tour where imaginary readers swooned over how wonderful your books were, and have written brilliant, earthshaking, imaginary stories in your head.

And you’ve promised yourself, “Someday…”

The danger with dreams is, they’ll wait for you forever. Wait until you run out of time, wait until your last breath when you realize it’s all over and you never did anything.

Because dreams will wait.

Reality won’t.

Dreams can point you in the direction you want to take your life, but if you never pick your life up and move it, those dreams will never be real.

You can have the reality.

Have real readers, tell real stories, be a real writer. You can create books better than any you’ve ever imagined, and you can stand in the middle of your life and stare out at the universe with a big grin and shout, “I have acted! I. HAVE. DONE!”

Not, “Someday I will do great things.”

Someday is the lie you tell yourself to make the pain in the present bearable.

But, “I have done great things!” Say it out loud, get the feel of it in your mouth. “I have done great things.”

Who gets to decide what adds up to a great thing in your life?

Only you.


It’s your life.

Nobody else can live inside your head, nobody else can make you stand up and say, “I’m tired of the way things are, and I’m going to change.” If you don’t make your life what you want it to be, it will never be any different than what it is right now.

If you want more than anything to write novels or short stories, if you want to know that you’re the person keeping people all over the world awake all night with the power of your words, because they cannot put down what you’ve written… then when you make that happen, you will know that you have done great things.

And I can show you how to get there.

More than 40 novels and more than a million books in print ago, I was Queen of the Imaginary Book Tour. Working a brutal job, falling into bed exhausted at the end of a twelve-hour shift, telling myself that someday it was all going to change, that someday I was going to be a writer and I was going to get away from the blood and the pain and the tragedy (I was the RN in an ER that routinely reenacted the worst days of the Wild West).

I’d close my eyes and see my throngs of adoring readers waiting eagerly in line for me to sign their books and tell me how brilliant those books were, and I’d lull myself to sleep with the pretty pictures of how wonderful it was all going to be.

Until one day, I woke the hell up and asked, “When?”

“When is all this wonderful going to start happening?” And I looked at myself in the mirror and realized the answer was simple.


“Not until you write the book.”

My name is Holly Lisle.

I’ve been a pro novelist and full-time writer since 1991. I now have way over ten million words of published fiction and nonfiction in print.

I’ve published or written more than forty novels so far (right now I’m finishing up book four of a five-book series that’s going to be rapid-released)—still writing, still counting—both with major New York publishers (HarperCollins, Time Warner, Baen, Tor, Scholastic, and more) and publishers around the world, have been translated into a dozen languages, and am now publishing independently.

I’ve also sold a lot of short fiction, and built a ton of free writing resources, and twenty paid writing courses including this one: How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers.

The thing that changed everything for me was discovering how to think sideways about the problems I was facing in my writing.

My first moment of thinking sideways was kicking myself out of the same little fantasy shared by so many other writers and deciding that I was tired of someday.


I wanted wonderful NOW.

And that was a problem.

Because reality requires that you know how to do things.
Real things, that require real effort, real skills, and real knowledge.

And back at the beginning, I didn’t have any of that. I got where I wanted to go, but it was a long, hard road.

What do you need to know to make this dream of yours into your reality?

What you need to know is…
How to write the best damn book you have in you.

And if you think you might want to do this as a career…

And you want your career to last…

You can’t just do it once.

You have to be able to turn out one great book after another, and do it…

Every book. Time after time.


You’ve heard that writers are born, not made.

Generally, you’ve heard this from writing prodigies who first published in their youth, and have gone on to know success.

The problem with taking advice from writing prodigies is that for them, the process IS magic.

They frequently have no clear idea how they do what they do—for them, the whole thing is a mystical process, and they assume since that’s the way writing works for them, that’s the way writing works for everyone.

Not so much.


I. Was. NOT. A. Writing. Prodigy.

I have no secret publishing history before I turned 30.

When I turned 30, I sold two funny, kind of dirty science fiction sonnets to Aboriginal SF for $25 apiece. (Thank you, Charles C. Ryan.) The next thing I sold—in late 1991, when I was 31—was my first fantasy novel (the second novel I wrote).

Which might make me look rather like an old prodigy, or a very lucky first-time author……if it weren’t for the SEVEN YEARS before that novel sold. You know when I decided that I wanted to be a writer?

January 1st, 1985

I wrote down as one of my New Year’s resolutions that day that I was going to write a novel before I turned 25.

Of course, I had a fifteen-month-old daughter at the time. And I was working as an ER staff nurse.

And I was very pregnant, and just a month and a half away from getting kicked in the stomach by a combative drunk in the ER and spending about two months on bedrest to prevent premature delivery. I was three months away from giving birth to a son.

1985 was an eventful year for me.

Even more so because with all of that going on, I did still finish a book before I turned 25. I made it with about a week to spare. It was a romance novel, and…Well…

It sucked.


I wrote a whole book from start to finish.

And then I sent it around, and got rejected by everyone.

What compelled me to keep going at that point was a real-life horror story I lived through in the ER where I was one of the registered nurses… from which I’d gained the knowledge that I had to succeed at writing fiction so I could become a full-time stay-at-home mom.

So I added “write gawdawful short stories” to my daily work.

I thought short stories might be easier to sell, and accumulated over the rest of that seven-year stretch a big man’s shoebox stuffed to overflowing with more than a hundred rejection slips.

I stopped counting at one hundred, but I didn’t stop submitting, and I didn’t stop keeping the endless varieties of “No,” “NO!” and “Please, Have Mercy, No More!” response editors sent me…

… along with an increasing number of “This is close, send me something else,” replies.

At the same time, I kept revising and re-revising that gawdawful first novel, using everything I was learning from writing short stories to try to make it better.

And I kept sending it around, too. When I finally got an offer from one publisher of airport books to buy it for $500 if I could cut in from 50,000 words down to 20,000 words, I called that a win and retired it.

That first novel never sold… BUT…

The second one did!

And the second one sold the first time out to the first place I sent it, one month to the day after I mailed it. The editor called me at home, and said, “We want this.”

And that moment was… AWESOME!

I learned from my mistakes, and with every rejection, I made changes, tried new things, and got one step closer to “Yes.”


When I sold my second novel seven years after writing the first one, it wasn’t because I was born lucky, or because I got lucky.

It was because I had discovered how to tell a great story in an engaging manner.

Show me how to do THAT!

And I’ve been selling my work ever since, in the U.S., in other English-speaking countries, and in translations around the world.


Here Is MOST of My Fiction So FAR…

(NOT including my pseudonyms,
short stories, or
novellas in collections)

1992 Fire in the Mist
(Compton Crook Award winner: Best First Novel)

1993 Bones of the Past

1995 Mind of the Magic

1996 Glenraven

1998 In the Rift – Glenraven II

1996 Sympathy for the Devil

1996 The Devil and Dan Cooley (with Walter Spence)

1997 Hell on High (with Ted Nolan)

1996 Thunder of the Captains (with Aaron Allston)

1997 Wrath of the Princes (with Aaron Allston)

1998 Curse of the Black Heron

1998 Diplomacy of Wolves

1999 Vengeance of Dragons

2000 Courage of Falcons

2002 Vincalis the Agitator

2002 Memory of Fire

2003 The Wreck of Heaven

2004 Gods Old and Dark


2008 Hawkspar

2008 The Ruby Key

2009 The Silver Door

1997 Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood

2012 Warpaint

2017 Born From Fire (originally published as “Enter The Death Circus” in 2014)

2017 The Selling of Suzee Delight

2017 The Philosopher Gambit

2017 Gunslinger Moon

2018 Vipers’ Nest

1993 Minerva Wakes

1994 The Rose Sea (with S.M. Stirling)

1995 Mall, Mayhem and Magic (with Chris Guin)

2004 Midnight Rain (paranormal romantic suspense)

2005 Last Girl Dancing (paranormal romantic suspense)

2006 I See You (paranormal romantic suspense)

2007 Night Echoes (paranormal romantic suspense)

I have a small collection of first-draft novels on my hard drive that are waiting for me to have time to put them into print (including some where the rights have reverted to me.)

And I’m currently writing the 5-book Ohio Series — “Ohio Series” is just the working title for work that’s going to come out under a new pseudonym, and as a one-book-per-month rapid release experiment.

(As I write this, I’ve started on book five, and when the first draft of that is done, I’ll revise the whole five book, 500,000-word monster in one go).

I’d like to be doing that myself.
Show me how.


What I discovered—and why this matters to you—is that, no matter what the prodigies say, you don’t have to be born a writer to become a writer. A good writer, who can build a good career.

You have to learn how to tell a great story engagingly.

And in spite of what the literary wunderkinds say, this is something you can learn.

Furthermore, it’s something I can teach you.


But don’t take my word on that.

My students come from around the world, and from all professional levels.

Absolute beginners, folks who have started submitting and getting rejections, journalists, playwrights, and screenplay writers looking for a way to break into novel-length fiction, and published pros have already taken this course.



Jenny Lundquist

“Plastic Polly is my second published novel, but the first that I wrote under contract, and I was asked to submit a synopsis and three chapters–and then finish the project in ten weeks once it received the green light. I could not have done any of this without HTTS [How to Think Sideways]. I used Holly’s questionnaires to get a quick handle on each of my characters, and I used her clustering exercises to make sure as many scenes as possible were “candy bar scenes” to keep me motivated to meet my deadline. I cannot recommend Holly enough. She’s a fabulous writing instructor.”




Anne Lyle

“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.”

—From the Acknowledgements in THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS, by Anne Lyle




Stephen C. Spencer

“It’s fair to say that without Holly Lisle’s help (and I’ve taken MANY of her courses), none of what I’ve written would have seen the light of day–or at least provided the light itself from inside a Kindle close to you. Much of what’s good about my little books (and nothing of what’s not-so-good) is due to Holly’s advice.”


And also…


Nikki M. Pill

“I wrote The Tease with HTTS [How to Think Sideways] and edited Gravedigger’s Daughter with HTRYN [How to Revise Your Novel]. The courses were very valuable because they provide a practical, manageable structure for what can be a bewildering & overwhelming process. Breaking the act of novel-writing down into bite-size pieces allowed me to face the daunting task of writing a damn good story. I already have 10 reviews on Amazon for The Tease – 4 and 5 stars — all my readers appreciate how well-structured the story was!”




Michelle Miles

“I was at a point in my writing life where I had decided to give up. I was disillusioned. I’d had a horrible experience with a publisher who ripped me off and refused to pay royalties owed. At the end of 2014, I took several months off to read craft books and re-evaluate my writing to see if I even wanted to continue.

In January 2015, I got an email from Holly offering her How to Think Sideways course. Taking a deep breath, I signed up and told myself it would be my last-ditch effort to get back into writing. I figured it was worth the investment if I could get back to writing something I loved.

It turned out to be the best decision I made. It helped me rediscover the joy of writing and In the Tower of the Wizard King was born.

I finished the book in May 2016, fifteen months from the day I began brainstorming with the class. The book went on to win third place in the 2017 New England Reader’s Choice Awards. I owe that to Holly.




Diana Layne

“I had almost given up on writing until I took your courses.

Using the HTTS course I wrote Pirate’s Proposal, published with The Wild Rose Press, Trust No One, self-pub RWA(R) Golden Heart(R) finalist, and using the How To Revise [Your Novel] Course, The Good Daughter, self-pub and a 2012 RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice nominee. (and on a recent free Select run had over 66,000 downloads and has sold over 2000 copies since then).


If you want to write fiction, you can.

If you want to write great fiction, you can.

You. Can. Do. This.

It’s not magic, it’s not a mystery, it’s not a gift of the gods. Writing good fiction is a learnable, repeatable skill, and if you read fiction, I can teach you to write it.


What you need to know to succeed isn’t in the library.

I know, because I looked. I looked for seven years.

During those seven long years when I struggled to figure out how to write stories that would sell, I haunted the library and bookstores, and I read magazines and even took a basic short fiction course. I learned useful things from each source, but nothing that made what I was doing publishable. I also wrote. A lot. And I learned a LOT by writing. On my own, I discovered more than 100 ways not to sell a story, and more than 100 ways to write unpublishable fiction. More than 100 ways to do it wrong. So the first thing you’ll get from this class is…


Your 7-Year Shortcut

By having me teach you what I learned in those seven years, you will leapfrog over every writer who is gritting teeth and bull-headedly grinding on, oblivious to the painful, obvious, avoidable mistakes he or she is making. Get seven years worth of condensed, from-the-trenches training in what you must avoid if you hope to jump-start your writing.

But as much as you need to know what NOT to do, you also need to know the system I developed as I started understanding what worked.

My system that allowed me to sell 33 novels to major publishers in New York and around the world, to independently publish my own reprints and original novellas and novels and to also write twenty writing courses (and counting) including this one, creating millions of words of fiction and nonfiction that people pay to read. I’ve worked steadily as a pro since 1991, and have gotten both better and more prolific as I’ve gotten older.

If you want to make a living at this, you need to have…

A Proven System For Creating Your Best Possible Work.

And that’s what How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers offers.


This 29-week class teaches you a unique, systematic, repeatable method for creating not just fiction, but really good, rich, deep, meaningful fiction. Fiction better than anything you ever imagined you could write. (And plenty of writers have used it for their nonfiction, too.)

I want that 7-year shortcut!

In Section One: Sideways Thinking on Ideas, you’ll learn…

Lesson 1: How to Break the Four Thinking Barriers to Your Writing Success

In the first lesson of the course, you’ll:

  • Discover the four thinking barriers that prevent writers from pursuing their writing dreams and creating the lives they want to live.
  • Discover who benefits and who doesn’t from each of these encouraged, rewarded mindsets (Hint: The one who benefits isn’t you.)
  • Take the necessary steps to overcome or prevent each of these thinking barriers from stopping YOU.
  • And meet the Shadow Room, a writing tool for discovering characters you want to write about.


If you’ve ever dealt with your hyper-critical internal editor telling you You’re not good enough to do this…

Or got too angry to write because someone you could write circles around just made a million dollars for a book you consider garbage…

Or stopped before you put any words on the page, because you were afraid you’d fail…

Or if you feel your story has gone wrong, but can’t identify the specifics…Then this lesson will show you how to move past that.

Lesson 2: How To Discover Your Writing Sweet Spot

In your second lesson, you’ll:

  • Discover what you really want to write (it might not be what you think).
  • Create a career map that will show you how to write stories you love and are passionate about every time—because your career cannot be a cheap imitation of anyone else’s career… it is what makes you unique that will make your work sell.
  • Learn how to train your subconscious mind work with your conscious mind in uncovering your passions and interests—because the sad truth about why so many writers who do succeed are miserable in their success is that they have NEVER learned to do this.

This is a fun lesson, but it’s also pretty amazing for most writers—because in it, you discover how deep and rich the sources of your fiction are, how strangely they connect, and how passionate you are about things you had forgotten (or didn’t realize) you love. Or hate. Or a few other compelling emotions. In this lesson, you dig down into passions and drives you’ve been neglecting, and you find the sources of your fiction.


Lesson 3: How To Generate Ideas On a Deadline

In lesson three, you’ll:

  • Learn how to come up with powerful, exciting story ideas even when you’re under a deadline—it’s fun, it’s a little crazy, and it will save your career.
  • Discover how to identify the great ideas you’ve been getting and overlooking for years—you have a well of brilliance inside you that, once you learn the technique, is easy to reach.
  • Get your ideas on paper in a form you can use now… or later—because a little note about “that guy who ate all the bananas” might have been a great story idea once, but it isn’t going to help you once you’ve had a chance to forget the context.

It’s important to discover that ideas are cheap, and easy, and you can come up with good ones whenever you need them. Never again find yourself in a panic because you don’t have any story ideas.


Lesson 4: How To Recognize And Build On Good Ideas

In lesson four, you’ll:

  • Sharpen your ideas from lesson three into well-honed tools that will keep your story on track from start to finish.
  • Learn to identify not only good ideas and great ideas, but also the bad ideas that have been wasting your time and energy and sending you off on wild goose chases.
  • Identify and USE the four elements that make an idea carry a story to a tremendous conclusion… or cause that story to fizzle and die if ignored—don’t kill your story by ignoring these.
  • Learn how to turn good ideas into great ideas time after time. (It’s not magic—it’s a simple, repeatable skill).

You know how you started writing that story you thought was going to be great, and you got a bunch of words, and then you realized you hated the idea and the characters, and you’d rather be beaten with a stick than finish that damn thing? Yeah. This is how NOT to do that.

SECTION ONE SUMMARY: You’ll discover the deep, rich wellspring of your ideas—and why you don’t ever have to worry about running out of stories to write, or the inspiration to write them. You won’t have to borrow ideas, won’t have to become a cheap imitation of some other writer. You will build your own idea generation system, and it will not run dry.

I do not yet have a workable system…


Section Two: Thinking Sideways on Project Planning

You will take the ideas you built in your first month and develop your system for planning projects that you need to write, and that you can be passionate about, and you’ll use your system to plan your project. (When I talk about projects, I’m mostly talking about writing novels, but you can adapt the material in this course for screenplays, short stories, personal non-fiction—biographies, memoirs, etc.—and any other form of creative writing.)


Lesson 5: How To Define Your Writing Project’s Needs

In lesson five, you’ll:

  • Learn two simple concepts that will allow you to lock in on what really matters in your story—in the world of novel writing, more information is not necessarily better, and drilling down to the information you really need and want will rip the “boring” right out of your pages.
  • Focus on the critical and the extraordinary when creating characters, situations, and more—because the only people who matter in fiction are the ones who can surprise, amaze, and delight the reader.
  • Avoid the meandering, pointless sidetracking that leads to unfinished projects and failed careers—when you learn how to blast through your own uncertainty, you eliminate most kinds of writer’s block, focus like a laser on what YOU want from your work, and make it happen.
  • Discover one amazing way to create powerful conflicts that will drive your stories, and keep your readers hanging on your words—and best of all, you’ll discover that this technique is simple, fast, and fun.

Conflict is not argument. Well, GOOD conflict is almost never argument. Wait ’til you discover the really cool conflicts you haven’t been writing, and how adding them can rev up your stories.


Lesson 6: How To Discover (Or Create) Your Story’s Market

In your sixth lesson, get ready to:

  • Identify markets you never imagined (as well as the one you did) for the project you’re creating—having a backup plan can give your work and your career second and third chances if your first plan dies an ugly death.
  • Learn how to write professionally in a new genre to rescue an ailing career, boost your numbers, broaden your readership…or just because you want to. (If more pro writers knew this technique, there would be a lot fewer dead careers).
  • Learn how to create your own genre either professionally or for fun—because whether you want to take this course to go pro, or just to write kick-ass stories for your family and friends, you deserve the skills that will let you tell any story you want in a genre you hand-tailored to it.
  • Discover one fast, simple, eye-opening way to do market research—in ten minutes, you can find not just genres related to your own work that you didn’t know existed but publishers paying good money for books in those genres.

Being able to step out of your genre and into another one, and to write the RIGHT stories in it to reach new readers, can save your career. Ask me how I know.


Lesson 7: How to Invent Your EXCLUSIVE Self-Publishing Genre

This week, you will:

  • Give readers the chance to to really know you, and by doing so, to like you.
  • Figure out what the core of your work is going to be. There’s some flex in this, but if you ignore this, no one will follow your work from book to book.
  • Know your life’s theme—and how understanding what it is will help you make sure every book you write will matter to you AND your core readers.
  • Know how to identify and use your passions.
  • Know your three objectives in writing every novel, short story, nonfiction piece, or other writing you create—and discover how knowing these will allow you to keep and build a strong, dedicated readership.
  • And finally, be able to adapt all of this information into building your own personal self-publishing genre. Write for the people who will love what you do.

A Little Tip: I discovered this early in my career, and I hope you’ll find it useful. Only take criticism from folks who mostly love what you do. Your readers, your fans, your editors. (Not your mom, though, or your best friend. They’re biased.) Write from what you love, LOVE what you write, and find your readers among the people who share your passions. Folks who mostly love what you do are your readers, and they want to read more of your work.

Ignore comments from people who hate your work. Folks who hate your genre, or hate your story philosophy, or hate you have no advice they can offer to you that means anything.


Lesson 8: How to Develop Your Personal Writing Project System

This lesson will teach you how to:

  • Do pinpoint-accurate research without getting bogged down in tons of information you’ll never use—let other writers spend months or years digging around for the details of their story before they put a word on paper: You’ll be up and writing in days.
  • Learn how to build just the parts of a world or background you need to start… and how to build the rest the right way as you go—worldbuilding is not building your world in such detail that you could live there. Worldbuilding is building in the specific details that will make your reader believe she could.
  • Use between four and eight steps to custom-create exactly the foundation you need to write your story—the eight story-development modules will focus you on the heart of your story and let you discover depths, conflict, and twists and turns you never suspected you had in you.
  • Kill once and for all the dreaded Research Procrastination Syndrome—because, yes, worldbuilding and character creation are a blast, but if you’re a writer, they’re tools to get you to your book, not the quest themselves.


I’ve fallen down the research well. Convinced myself that I really did need to know how to build biospheres in details, how to terraform a planet in detail—not because I was writing a book about characters who were building biospheres or terraforming planets, but because I was writing a book that included planets that had been terraformed.

I fell down a weeks-long rabbit hole of ever-cooler books, ever-spiffier tech, and at the same time into the delusion that I would know enough before I started writing to terraform a world.

Why did I do this? Because I was stuck on my story and research kept me from having to admit that.

What did I use from all that research?

The word “terraformed.” Which I already knew.

This lesson is “How to not do that.”

You’ll be panting a bit after all of that, but there’s a lot more. Next you’ll learn…

Lesson 9: How To Plan Your Project Without Killing Your Story

Here, you’ll:

  • Discover how writers outline—and it isn’t the way teachers outline, the way professors outline, or the way editors outline.
  • Create a quick, working outline for your project that will NOT suck all the fun and mystery out of writing the story—beginning writers and pros alike kill a lot of potentially wonderful books by getting this wrong. Or they think they can’t write to an outline because they’ve had hideous luck with them before… and so spend months or years avoiding outlining entirely while wandering in the bleak wastelands, searching for the heart of their story.
  • Analyze, dissect, and correct problem scenes, troublesome characters, and story holes BEFORE you’ve written them, rather than after you’ve sunk endless hours and countless pages into struggling with them—I could have saved myself from throwing out over six hundred pages of finished novel… TWICE… had I invented this technique a bit earlier in my career.
  • And you’ll begin writing your novel or story, you’ll learn how to plan serendipity (yep, seriously—and it’s one of students’ favorite parts of the course, too), you’ll learn how to put together selling proposals, and you’ll discover how to get from the first part of your story into the middle (a point where a LOT of writers’ stories die) without running out of gas.

This is how to QUICKLY and LIGHTLY put together a story that will hold up while you’re writing it, that will flex when you have better ideas (and you will), that will let you move stuff around when you figure out better ways to present your conflicts (and you will), and that will never make you tell your story by expanding a damn outline.

Wanna talk about something that will make you hate life? That. Right there. Expanding a detailed outline into a story.

Don’t do that to yourself.


SECTION TWO SUMMARY: This is critical career stuff. To last at this job (and I’ve been doing the work since I was twenty-five, though I only started getting paid for it when I hit thirty-one) you have to love the work. From more than thirty years experience, I can attest while you can write projects you don’t love, doing it will make you miserable. Don’t be miserable. Learn how to develop the projects that will make you glad to get out of bed because now you get to go to work. If you do it the right way, this is the best job in the world. And you can do it. So I’ll show you how to stay in love with the work, so you can do it for a really long time.

I want to love the work while I’m doing it,
NOT just when I’m imagining it!


Now you head into Section Three: Thinking Sideways on Beginnings

A quick aside:

I can feel some of you thinking “Three months before I even start writing?” and worrying if this course is going to slow your work down.

Let me put your mind at ease. It doesn’t take me three months to get up and running on my books. Most of the time I can be ready to write in a week or two.

Remember, you’re taking this class to learn a system for producing consistent, reproducible results that will allow you to build a steady, long-lasting career. You’re doing a lot more than just writing a project in this course.

Realize that learning the system and its techniques and tools is what takes the time.


Lesson 10: How To Write From Inside Your Story—The Art of Standing in Your Map

Get ready to:

  • Uncover how and where you’ll start your story (most writers, including many published ones, get this wrong)
  • Figure out which character will carry the point of view in each scene to help you create the most excitement, the best suspense, and the greatest conflict—and learn how to decide when a story should be written in first person or third, and when just one POV character will work better for your story… or when you need several to make your project work best.
  • Uncover the roles your characters will play—and discover which characters you need to shoot before you even start writing (because there are some characters that will suck the soul right out of your story, and you can identify and eliminate most of these buggers before they wreck your book, if you know what to look for.)
  • Learn how to set up story rules that will make every element of your story matter to your reader.

Another little writing tip: If anything can happen, nothing matters. It is when you define and clearly understand what can NEVER happen in your story, and then force your characters to fight against those nevers without ever cheating, that you grab your readers and make them start turning pages. Because they know shit just got real. Here’s where you start doing that.


Lesson 12: How To Create Compelling Queries, Proposals, And Sample Chapters

Now you’ll:

  • Discover how to sell your book before you write it—for most commercially published pros most of the time, this is how you get paid in advance to write your novels, so you can afford to write for a living.
  • Learn the three kinds of changes that exist for writers of pre-sold books:
    — Changes you can always make
    — Changes you dare to make only with editor approval
    — Changes that will automatically cause your editor to reject your book when you turn it in (Most professional writers don’t know these, and they should…but you will)
  • Learn to write a query letter that agents or editors will read.
  • Learn to adapt the forms you know to unexpected editor and agent requests and still make the sale.

While a lot of folks are going indie (which I’ve now done as well), there are still some benefits to publishing commercially. The biggest of them is instant credibility. If you’ve sold your book to Scholastic or Time-Warner or HarperCollins (some of my previous publishers) or any other big New York publisher, you never have to listen to the idiots who insist if you don’t, you’re not a real writer.


By the way… real writers write. That’s the only definition. Real published writers write AND publish. If you’re producing and publishing work, you’re a real published writer. Welcome to the club.


Now on to the issue most writers dread even worse than sending in a manuscript (Shhhh… it’s self-promotion)…


Lesson 13: How To Promote Your Writing BEFORE You Publish

This week:

  • Learn how to meet the readers who will love your work before you’ve published anything.
  • Discover how to help your perfect readers find YOU—this is easier than flogging your book all over the internet, or trying to write for some group of readers in a genre you hate but think will sell… and if you promote this way, you’ll sleep at night
  • Find out how to build a platform that will help you sell more of your work
  • Discover how to meet and work with fellow writers (and others) who will happily help you promote your work.
  • Learn how to promote while still spending most of your time writing.
  • Finally, learn how to promote early, because the WORST TIME to begin promoting is AFTER you’ve finished the book.

Self-promotion, by the way, is not getting up in the faces of potential readers and shouting, “Buy my book!” Self-promotion is connecting with people who are already inclined to like what you write because they like other things like it, and showing them why they want to spend time with you.

Then on to one of the most essential skills in writing fiction that doesn’t lag, fizzle, or just plain suck…


Lesson 14: How to Create, Complicate, And Solve Problems

This is fun. REALLY fun. It’s a lot of writers’ favorite lesson… You’re going to:

  • Learn the difference between cheating narrative and sustained narrative—and uncover the reasons why some stories that have annoyed you for years don’t work… and what their writers should have done, could have done, but DIDN’T do, to fix them.
  • Discover how NOT to cheat (cheating narrative is one of the biggest ways to cripple your book and kill its chances before you even finish it—yet most unpublished writers do this all the time).
  • Master two new techniques that will lock readers to your story until you let them go—you have complete control over your reader’s focus and fascination with your story… if you choose to exercise it.
  • Learn how to resolve conflicts in ways that are satisfying, that don’t cheat, that always matter… and that keep your story moving—because nothing will get a reader to throw your book across a room faster than being made to believe something huge was about to happen, only to find out you duped him with your “just a misunderstanding” follow-up.

This is the lesson about how to use your conflict, make it better, make it tighter… and twist your reader into a pretzel. And then and ONLY then, give your reader the payoff. Because it’s easy to twist your reader into a pretzel. What’s hard is to make sure she has so much fun that she’ll come back for more. Paying off bigger and better than she expected, and NEVER cheating is how you make that happen.

I NEED the tools that will
make my BEGINNING great!


In Section Four:
Think Sideways on Middles

Now you’ll get into the second big hurdle of projects—keeping things interesting in the middle. I’ll show you how to bring in fresh ideas, how to discover where your Muse hid those surprises from Section Three, how to uncover ways to bring your stories to life that you’ve never even imagined, and how to tell when your project is going wrong before you’ve written the whole thing—and how to get it going right again.

So first you’re going to learn do deal with that inevitable moment when you ask…


Lesson 15: “Can’t I Just Kill Them All?”
How To Fall In Love With Your Story the SECOND Time

It’s time to:

  • Learn the four problems that cause writers to hate their characters and abandon their stories—and if you haven’t landed here yet, you will. I spend a bit of time in this spot with just about every book I write.
  • Master the four techniques that will let you solve each mid-story character problem… and each problem character (Yes. Ve have our vays of dealing with problem characters.)—You’ll laugh at some of my more bizarre ways to get stories rolling again… until you discover how amazingly well they work.
  • Discover how to keep writing and keep your story moving forward instead of falling into Revision Death—this is one of those critical pro-levels skills that is the make or break difference between whether you meet your deadline and get paid, or blow your deadline sky-high and owe your publisher the advance you already spent.

If you’ve been writing for a while, you already know this. But if you’re new, you’ll discover that there’s a point in just about every book you write where you get tired of the story you’re telling. You have this vision of taking the manuscript out back and burning the damn thing. When most writers hit this point, the book goes under the bed or into a folder on the hard drive that’s never going to be opened again. And the writer starts on something new.

The difference between writers and PUBLISHED writers happens here.The published writer finishes the book he or she is writing.

That’s it. The whole difference.

If you don’t finish it, you can’t sell it. You can’t publish it. And readers can’t read it.

So you HAVE to be able to get past that point. And in this lesson, you’ll learn to do that.


Next, on to:

Lesson 16: How To Find And Use Your “Planned” Surprises

Back in How to “Plan” Story Surprises that Surprise Even You, you learned how to be messy, and why messy is GOOD. In this lesson, you will use that messiness to:

  • Discover the surprises your subconscious mind hid earlier in your story. You know that breathtaking moment when you’re reading a great story and the author makes something happen that is both so cool and so perfect, all you can think is “Holy crap, I should have seen that coming!” Those are Muse Bombs, and this is where YOU learn to do that.
  • Learn how to develop these surprises to make your story richer and deeper— because once you find the Muse Bomb, you have to blow up the Muse Bomb… and detonating your surprises on cue is a cool, precision skill (this baby has won me more than one editor, and gets frequent, specific mention when my fans write to me about my books).
  • Create a system that will keep you surprising yourself (and your readers) in every scene and in every story you write—once you learn how to do it once, you’ll discover that doing it again and again doesn’t get old. It just makes what you’re writing better, and a lot more fun for you and your readers.

I love this process. I have so much fun using it, and so much fun hearing from readers who read my work, never see the surprises coming, are completely blown away by them… and go on to buy other books of mine because of this one use of writerly messiness. This process has gotten me agents and editors, sold books for me, and has given me reasons to be excited to get writing each morning. Because what surprises my readers first has to surprise me.

And that’s FUN!

Once you have your Muse Bombs exploding on cue, you need to know…


Lesson 17: How To “Hire” Spies, And Why Your Project Needs Them

This week, you’ll:

  • Learn where to find and how to use free spies, paid spies, and live spies to keep you looking smart and knowledgeable in front of your agent, editor, and readers—because the unnerving truth about writing fiction is you cannot ever hope to know everything you need to know in order to write your story… but you still have to LOOK like you know what you’re talking about.
  • Learn which of the five types of spies you’ll need to pick in any situation—from covering basic research to creating a character based on nitty-gritty insider information to dishing the dirt on a profession as background, you can find the RIGHT spies to spill exactly the goods you need to make your story ring true.
  • Discover how to “interrogate” your spies to get only the information you need, and avoid wasting your time, or theirs—because getting the wrong information doesn’t help anyone, and it sure doesn’t help your book.

One of the huge benefits of being a writer is that if you are one, and you let folks know that you’re writing a book that requires some of their knowledge, they’re generally happy to help you. I’ve talked to folks with some fascinating jobs, hobbies, and interests, and have acknowledged them in my work. For me, a big perk of the job is that I get to talk to these folks. The fact that they’re willing to tell me what they know to help me avoid looking like an idiot is good, too.


And with your spies tucked away, you’ll move on to…

Lesson 18: How To Assess Your Progress And Make Mid-Course Corrections

Take a deep breath. Now you’re ready to:

  • Learn how to figure out what’s going wrong in the middle of the book, and why knowing this will save you a ton of time later—because, believe me, your heart breaks more than a little when you have to toss out 40,000 or 60,000 words because you screwed up your story. Been there. Done that. You do NOT want to own this T-shirt.
  • Learn how to correct problems without stopping to revise. This one skill has been responsible for the fact that I have come in either on time or early in 29 out of 32 novels, and has cumulatively saved me thousands of hours of pointless, wasted revision.
  • Discover how to prepare the manuscript as you write it so that when you do have to revise, you only revise what needs to be fixed, and you only do it once—let other writers brag or moan about the five or ten or twenty revisions they did on their novels. You will get it right the first time, and move on to write five or ten or twenty new books while they’re still piddling around on their first one. (Yes, Virginia, repeated revision IS a form of procrastination.)

Bringing your middle to an end is a big deal. The story middle is where most writers fall apart, where most stories get abandoned, where most potential careers end before they have a chance to get started. So give a small cheer. By the time you finish this lesson, you get to say goodbye to your book’s middle.

Middles are where I always bog down…

As a side note, along with fiction, I’ve also written and published a lot of material for writers…

Beginner Courses

Create a Character Clinic

Create a Plot Clinic

Create a Language Clinic

Create a Culture Clinic

Create a World Clinic

How to Write Page-Turning Scenes

Career Courses

How to Write a Novel

How to Revise Your Novel

How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers

How to Write a Series

Content & Marketing Workshops

How to Write Villains

How to Write Short Stories

How to Write Dialogue With Subtext

Title. Cover. Copy. Fiction Marketing Workshop

7-Day Crash Revision

Writing Focus & Motivation

21 Ways to Get Yourself Writing When Your Life Has Just Exploded

How to Motivate Yourself

How to Beat Writer’s Block

And some free stuff…

How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t SUCK

Find Your Fiction Mojo (a course by email)

The Beginning Writer’s Working Tour (a course by email)

And about a hundred thousand words of writing articles on my personal website over at


But back to THIS class…

In Section Five: Thinking Sideways on Endings

In this section, you’ll learn how use story gravity to propel your novel to the best possible ending, how to find the ending that fits your beginning, how to avoid trashing your career with a wrecked book, and how to write your ending so that you bring it in BIG. Because the beginning sells this book. The ending sells the NEXT book.


So first you’re going to learn…

Lesson 19: How To Use Story Gravity To Get To Your Ending

It’s fun, it’s simple. You’ll:

  • Learn to find your story’s gravity, and discover why gravity matters to editors, agents, readers… and you (Good gravity can sell a manuscript).
  • Discover how parts of the story you didn’t realize you’d created make some endings impossible, and others almost inevitable—this is a simple technique, but the results it yields will blow your readers’ socks off.
  • I’ll introduce you to my Grav-O-Meter™, a simple, fun-to-use tool I built that will let you identify your story’s gravity, and learn how to change it, alter it, and increase it at will, to turn the story you want into the story you get.

Never heard of story gravity? Okay… When you love a character you’ve been led to believe is a critical main character, and you’re following the story along because you want to be a part of that character’s story, and all of a sudden that character is beheaded in the public square… and you get angry? You’re angry because the writer broke his story gravity. There are ways to kill off beloved main characters, but, “Surprise! I just killed the guy you love for no good reason, and there will never be any consequences from his death!” is not one you want to emulate.


Next, you’ll discover…

Lesson 20: How To Find Your Story’s RIGHT Ending

Here, you’ll:

  • Discover that the One True Ending is a pernicious and cruel myth… and you will learn how to kill it before it kills your book.
  • Learn the difference between a good ending and the RIGHT ending… and why they aren’t the same—every well-written novel has countless possible good endings (if it didn’t, why would anyone waste time reading it?) but the right ending is the one that will have readers e-mailing you begging for you to hurry the hell up on your NEXT book. (You’ll love those e-mails.)
  • Create at least three good endings, and from them tease out the ending that truly fits, that truly matters, and that you will love to write—and not inconsequently, the ending your agent will gush over, your editor will adore, and your readers will thank you for.

Yes! Time to write your ending. If you’ve never finished a story before, you’ll learn some of the reasons why… and you’ll also learn how to finish your story this time. You can do this!


Then you’ll take a necessary, though grim, detour to learn your options in…

Lesson 21: How to Fix (or Otherwise Deal With) Your Wrecked Story

You can be good, know techniques, have mad skills, and still—if you write long enoughyou’re going to end up driving at least one of your novels into a wall at top speed.

So in this lesson you’ll:

  • Learn how to identify a wrecked book (as opposed to one that is just healthily bruised and banged-up)—because if you don’t know this, you can kill healthy books while trying to “save” them… and you can also spend months or years trying to resuscitate one that’s “dead, Jim.”
  • Find out—if the book truly is wrecked—how to salvage everything salvageable, because even in the worst of badly trashed novels, you will still have some amazing gems you can pull from the rubble.
  • Save everything you can in a form you can use, and get writing on the good stuff, instead of moping, dithering, or endlessly revising the unfixable. It sucks to lose one. It would suck a whole lot more to let the one you lose be the end of your writing career. So learn how to move on, taking all the good, and everything you’ve learned from the bad, with you.

I’ve had to take a few out back and shoot ‘em. It happens. But I haven’t written anything that didn’t leave me with something good I could keep and use elsewhere. Most of the time, I even manage to save a lot. So don’t let a book gone unfixably wrong break you.


With that out of the way, next you’ll explore…

Lesson 22: How To Write The Ending That Sells Your NEXT Book

It’s time to:

  • Write the ending that has gravity, that has passion, that is RIGHT… and learn how to use that ending to sell this book to an editor, and sell the NEXT book to your readers.
  • Learn to read like a writer: With this skill, you can “hire” Stephen King, Pat Conroy, Doris Lessing, Mark Twain, and any other writer on the planet (living or dead) to be your mentor and to teach you what they know about writing… for the price of one of their novels.
  • And you’ll learn the four right times to write your ending (no, you don’t always have to write it when you reach the end of your book, and sometimes trying to do so can be a massive mistake).

Nailing the ending…

If you can do that, if you can crank up your story to the point where the reader will miss his bus stop because he’s reading your words and the whole rest of the world has fallen away…

If you can do that, you’ll win that reader to your next story.

Meanwhile, reading like a writer allowed me to move from writing fantasy and science fiction to writing paranormal romance, and to sell (for a pretty good chunk of change) the very first novel I attempted in that genre. And then three more in the same genre. While simultaneously writing YA fantasy, another genre I reverse-engineered using the “read like a writer” technique.

I want all my endings to
sell my next books!

Finally, Section Six: Sideways Thinking on Revision

In this section, you’ll learn how to work with the folks who will be editing, designing, and marketing your book (whether you’re indie publishing or publishing commercially), discover how to plan your revision (no, you don’t just print out a copy of your manuscript and start scribbling on page one), learn how to keep the parts of the book that must be in there for it to be the book you wrote, and develop a process that will allow you to consistently hit deadlines.

And then how to do the whole thing all over again. And again.


First, you’ll explore…

Lesson 23: How To Work With Editors, Agents, and More, And NOT Wreck Your Book

In this lesson on publishing COMMERCIALLY, you’re ready to:

  • Discover the simple, critical, but frequently-ignored rules that will either make the business part of your writing job a pleasure, or a nightmare.
  • Learn when to go along with the publishing process, and when to put your foot down… and why sometimes you might have to—in the end, it’s your book and your name, and you will have to decide what sorts of changes you can live with, and what changes you have to fight with everything in you.
  • Uncover the difference between what would be cool and what would be salable in things like cover copy, cover art, and book layout—and understand why getting out of the way is sometimes the best way NOT to sabotage your book’s chance of success.


From there, step into the INDIE frontier…

Lesson 24: How to Self-Publish Professionally On Budget and On Schedule

Here you’ll learn:

  • How to set up your boilerplate for your copyright page, why you need it, and why it’s not something you need to dread.
  • How to design your book template (especially useful for series books)—save yourself time, create a consistently professional product, and give your readers books they’ll enjoy reading.
  • How to select appropriate fonts for your work—and if you’re thinking FONTS!?, don’t panic. I give you demos and reasons WHY here, not jargon.
  • How to set up your manuscript for your print version—This initially drove me insane, to the point that I did over twenty versions of the reprint of Fire In The Mist before I finally got a keeper.
    Skip all that really big fun with my checklist.


Next, you’ll charge full-bore into:

Lesson 25: How To Plan Your Story Revision (Yes, Only ONE)

Now it’s time to:

  • Learn why the title is Revision, NOT Revisions, and why one revision almost always yields better results than three, or five, or a dozen… (or more)—not only is this great for your deadline, but it actually yields better fiction than fiddle-farting around with the book for five years while you make up your mind.
  • Discover what’s to love about revising, and uncover the technique that will let you do this sanely, in a focused and organized fashion… and that will actually add to the book’s richness, passion, and depth even while you’re calm, cool, and collected.
  • Organize your work to get the most done in the least time… while still getting the best results—the mark-ups, techniques, and walkthrough here will turn what can be a nightmare into an adventure.


After that, you’ll move on to…

Lesson 26: The Art of Revision: How To NOT Fix What Ain’t Broken (While Fixing What Is)

It’s easy to mistake what would be interesting (but pointless) to do for what you need to do, and as you close in on the end of your course, you’ll:

  • Learn how to limit changes to the necessary, and avoid fiddling with (and screwing up) everything you got right in the first draft—countless potentially great novels have hit the shoals when their writers have failed to understand the difference between can I and should I.
  • Find even more bits of brilliance you never suspected you had in your story, bring them out, and make them shine—revision is the point where the story you have in your head and your heart either matches the story on the page—or fails miserably to meet your own expectations. I’ll show you how to make it the book you dreamed it would be.
  • Create a better story than what you set out to write—because once you learn how to make your book reach your expectations, you’ll discover all the ways you can make it exceed them. (And these are the moments when you find yourself sitting there with your heart racing, with you fingers trembling, with tears welling in the corner of your eyes, wondering, Did I just write that? And where did it come from?)


From there, you’ll go to…

Lesson 27: How To Deliver What You Promised And What Your Editor Wants On Deadline

Now it’s time to find out:

  • How to know what your editors want, and how to make what they want work with what you want—because most of the time, you and your editor will get along beautifully, and will both be aiming for the same goal… but misunderstandings can still lead to more work and messy rewrites for you.
  • How to know when and why to bow gracefully to requests for changes you might not want to make, but for which you can see a legitimate purpose.
  • How to do the edits that will meet your editor’s needs and your needs at the same time—because win-win beats the hell out of “I’m going to throw a snit fit so awful you’ll rue the day you ever bought my book… and think damned hard before you ever buy another one.”
  • And finally, learn how to tell when requested edits are NOT benign or in your or your book’s best interests, and learn when to fight like a bloodied, cornered tiger to save your novel when you have legitimate right on your side. You need to know this. You don’t ever want to have to use it, but if you don’t want to end up despising writing, despising publishing, and hating life, you MUST know this. Just in case.


Now, on to writing in the age of instant communication and direct contact with your readers, and…

Lesson 28: How to Deliver What You Love and Your Readers Want Time After Time

Mistakes here can wreck you, so don’t make them. Learn to:

  • Establish healthy, necessary boundaries between you and your readers; establish the dividing lines between what you want, what your readers want… and what your readers THINK they want.
  • Establish the rules for doing what’s good for you and your work, and avoiding doing what seems good, but is unbelievably destructive. I’ve done both, and you’ll find out my mistakes as well as my moments of inspiration and grace.
  • And lay out the structure you will use to build your healthy, sustainable self-publishing career, instead of one that will eat you alive.
  • And while this lesson is aimed primarily at indie-publishers, if you write commercially, but also blog, Twitter, or use any other social media, all the spectacular mistakes I made can be yours, too. So this lesson is for you as well.


And in the grand finale, you’ll get to the big, secret, “you’ve got to be kidding me” skill that has been the keystone, the bedrock, the foundation of my entire career… as well as every other success I’ve had in my life.


You’ll learn…

Lesson 29: How To NOT Be A One-Book Wonder: Learn to Produce Repeatable Results

In your last official lesson, you’ll learn the specific, precise, plug-and-play details of the system you will go on to use to:

  • Write good book after good book without burning out, making every one different and every one better—because you and I have both read countless pro writers whose careers started with a bang and then fizzled into “every book like every other” sameness—and you don’t need or want to be one of those writers.
  • Build your readership through consistency—because once you know your exact steps for YOU to be a good writer (this is personal, individual, and unique—but you’ll have it by the time you finish this lesson), you can deliver great stories to your readers time after time after time.
  • Be worth their money. Give them something that matters to take away from what you’ve done. Earn your following with quality writing and consistently great stories.
  • Take readers with you from genre to genre (within reason)—odds are pretty bad that you’ll drag your male SF readership with you if you move over to romance, or carry your female romance readers with you if you start doing gritty guy westerns… but you have a lot more latitude for your career than you might imagine—and when you deliver the goods, a surprising number of your readers will brave new aisles of the bookstore to track down your latest work.

I want a career!
AND reproducible results!



Dear Fellow Writer,

How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School For Writers isn’t going to be a perfect fit for everyone, and I won’t pretend that it is. If any of these describe you, you’re going to be disappointed:

  • I don’t promise magic, just a system that works
    Don’t buy How To Think Sideways if you are looking for a magic bullet that will let you sell everything you write. I still get rejections. Every writer who does this for a living does.
    (I amend this to note that if you indie-pub, you don’t get rejections from publishers, editors or agents. You can, however, get them from readers).
  • I don’t use OR TEACH with cookie-cutter templates
    Don’t buy if you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all system that will plug you into a generic career stamping out cookie-cutter book after cookie-cutter book. This course is about teaching you to create your career writing books you love, not about teaching you how to become a faceless bottom-end ‘product’ producer for publishing’s most poorly paid and least respected cash generators.
  • I do not promise that you’ll become a bestseller
    If the only writers on your map are New York Times bestsellers, and the only career you’ll be happy with is being the next Stephen King/ J.K.Rowling/ Stephanie Meyer, you are not gonna be happy with me.
  • I don’t teach anything like “The One True Way”
    The book market is going through some rapid and strange changes, and the definitions of “writer” and “publisher” are changing. Yes, I’ve sold 32 novels to New York publishers, yes, I’ve been published in a lot of foreign countries and have been translated into a bunch of other languages. But I’ve also self-pubbed frontlist and backlist fiction, and a line of writing books, and I have been paid better and more consistently from my self-publishing work than from my years with commercial publishers. I’m equally proud of both my publishing tracks. If you think new markets aren’t worth pursuing right along with old markets, you don’t want this course.


…While there are wonderful opportunities all across the publishing spectrum, the writers who succeed long-term are the ones who work hard, learn their craft, constantly test themselves, and who above all else persist.

If you’re looking for “instant” or “easy”, you’ve picked the wrong career field, not just the wrong class.

This class is for the writer who wants to write, the writer whose idea of fun connects with time spent in front of the keyboard, coming up with cool ideas and bringing them to life, and then finding places to find the readers who will love your stories as much as you do.

If at any point you’re not satisfied with what you’re learning, you can quit.

Right then, right there.

If you quit after receiving and reviewing the first lesson of ANY monthly payment, let me know through the HELP DESK Student Support system that you’re canceling, and I’ll walk you through canceling your subscription and send a full refund for that month.

If you quit later in the month, you’ll receive a pro-rated refund for the lesson you just received that you don’t want, and any other lessons for the month that you have not yet received.

And that goes for quitting during ANY month, not just the first month, not just the first six weeks.

So… What do you get when you join the How to Think Sideways class?


Each week you’ll receive a lesson, and at least one technique. Some weeks, because I found out I had a lot more to teach on a specific topic than I’d planned, you’ll receive several techniques.


You’ll also get six section movies to get you started with each new section topic. (These come with transcripts.)


You’ll receive copies of some of my manuscripts in multiple drafts, so you can discover how a pro writes and revises. Along with some of these, you’ll get commentary on why I did what I did.


On the really wrecked books, I’ll walk you through the places where I went wrong in a big way—and what I did to fix my errors.


Because back when I was just getting started, an established pro let me read a stack of her finished first-draft manuscripts, and holding them, seeing how they were put together, and reading through what she had written before any editor had touched it, something inside me clicked, and I understood what professional writing looked like. I want you to have that same opportunity.


You’ll get full access to the exclusive How To Think Sideways writing forum, where your fellow students and course graduates work together to help each other find new approaches to tough lessons, and to reach their writing goals, and where you can network with other truly dedicated, focused writers at all levels of writing, from beginner through pro.


If you prefer to work alone, you can do that, too. The course is self-directed and work-at-your-own-pace. Finish in nine months (or eighteen), or take as long as you need. And if you don’t want workgroups or discussion boards, you’ll still get full value from the course.


With ownership of THIS class, you’ll receive the Big Class Student’s Discount, where you get 20% discounts on all my other classes over ten bucks.


Both I and my moderators who have taken the class respond to questions in the forum, as do students who have graduated and gone on to publish. If you need help figuring out a lesson or technique, you’ll get it.

I don’t recommend that you print out everything. But I have, just to make sure I had a clear idea of what I’d created… and you’re getting a mammoth amount of information, examples, techniques, demonstrations of what to do and what not to do, with no fluff and no filler.

And even that’s not all.

I’m creating this series exclusively for How To Think Sideways:

  • 29 quick, simple workshops
  • In audio format with worksheets (and transcripts if you need them)
  • Designed to get you past the worst sticking points writers have.

I asked my writers “What is the SINGLE WORST PROBLEM you have with your writing?

My students gave me 432 “worsts.”

And because my students include beginners, writers with a few indie books under their belts, commercially published writers and other seasoned pros looking for ways to build the careers they WANT… these “worsts” covered the FULL RANGE “worst problems writers can have.

And the problems winnow down to a much smaller number, because no matter what you’re struggling with, you are not alone.

These are problems I’ve had, you’ve had, other writers you know have had—and many writers struggle with them for years.

They’re problems conventional wisdom suggests are simply “part of writing”—but I have news for you.When you’re living on your writing income, your deadline is breathing down your neck, and your kids are not going to eat if you don’t write, you don’t have time to mess around with conventional wisdom.

You need something that get you writing again, and do it in just a couple minutes. Nothing works EVERY time, but all of these have worked for me, and I’ve discovered that if you have enough tools in your toolbox, you’ll find SOMETHING that will fix the damn problem.

(Voice of experience here—every problem has a solution, and usually the solution is the problem itself, stood on its ugly little head.)

I have fallen down every one of these holes. I got myself back out, and I hit my deadlines. Now I’m going to show YOU what worked.

So here, in no particular order, are the high-speed, maximum-intensity workshops you’ll be getting—crunchy little morsels you can plug into your worst writing problems instantly—no theory, no fluff, just the fix you need whenever you need it:

Get Beyond The Blinking Cursor

Get words—good words—on the page in just minutes, without anxiety, without dread, without second-guessing yourself, without struggling for the ONE perfect word, or sentence, or paragraph your mind insists you must have.

No. More. Wire. Hangers.

Or any other picky details, world-building procrastination, backstory bingeing, character indulgence, costume mania, or the rest of the fun distractions you’ve been chasing so you can tell yourself you’re working while you avoid writing. Do this, get story words now.

“But I’ll Never Be Shakespeare…”

Stall out because you compare yourself to writers you aren’t and never will be? Here’s a quick and dirty solution to stop THAT little problem dead in its tracks.

Write A Starter Scene That Doesn’t Suck

Smack your inner critic over the head with this one mean, fast sledgehammer, and get on with your words before the bastard wakes up.

Defenestrate The Dwindling, Superfluous Self-Aggrandizement Of Perambulating Verbosity

Description dragging your story through frozen molasses? This quickie will pitch the blather out the window in a hurry.

“I Don’t Love You Anymore… I Don’t Know If I EVER Loved You.”

Keep leaving your unfinished stories at the altar so you can run off with that hot young idea that looks so much better? “Hang on for one more day” with THIS short exercise.

“I Can’t Make Myself Write.”

If this is your problem, I have a fix. I call this one the “Ice Water” exercise. It’s a shocker.

Cure Hummingbird Brain

Write, delete, backup, fidget… New idea—”Hey, that’s cool,”—new character magically appears… “SQUIRREL!”—glass of water, check the email… Sound familiar? This frikkin’ defines me. Here’s how I fight it—and win—every damn day.

Fix Day-Week-Month Stalls

You’re moving along at a steady page, getting your daily word count… until you hit a story problem. And you stop to figure it out… only the quick stop turns into a day… a week… a month… This one is an EASY fix.

Write Interesting Plot Ideas

Plotting out your story in advance and all of a sudden, you’re faced with characters and story going nowhere fast? Take only a few minutes, and stir your anthill with this BIG stick.

Conquer Wild Bob, The Plot Destroyer

So you have this out-of-control character, and he insists that your story is going to go HIS way, in spite of the fact that HIS way bears no resemblance to the story you want to write. You have some new alternatives to get him to toe the line.

He won’t like them.

But you will.

Create Lightning Conflict for Every Situation

Struggling with what conflict is, how it works, or how to get it into your story now? I once plotted an entire novel using JUST this trick. (Deadlines, again, and howling desperation).

Hammer Out Human Dialogue

While consistent dialogue problems come from story issues rather than a failure of technique, and call for a more comprehensive fix, this quick trick can help you get your folks to sound like real people for the scene you’re writing.

Stop Rushing Your Stories

There are a lot of reasons for rushing. The need to eat is a big one, and can’t be fixed by this technique. But if you’re galloping to the end of the story for no reason but to start writing the next one, my “tunnel” will help you take the time you need to do the story right.

Break the Perfectionist Freeze

Can’t write anything because it doesn’t turn out perfect the first time through? Yeah. I remember that. You may have to repeat this exercise, but you’ll get wonderful first-draft words when you’re done.

Writing In The Midst of Chaos

Writers love the ideal of the silent room away from everything where they can be alone with their thoughts. But I’ve written whole novels at a desk jammed against one wall of a living room with a TV behind me, kids arguing on the couch, cats with the rips tearing through the house… and you can, too. If you can’t get silence or alone time, you can still write.

Fixing Transition Terrors

Some writers dread transitions like vampires dread pointy fire-hardened aged oak stakes. Unnecessarily (for the writers), as it turns out. Two minutes, five quick questions, and you’ll have your transition. And it’ll be a good one.

“So… I’m In the Middle, And I Finished a Scene, and… and… and…”

Lost in the vast desert of your story’s middle. Let’s chop this sucker down to size, and give you the next thing to write, right now.

Make the Time to Write Today

I have to thank my father for this one. It was his solution to all the time crunches he had when I was a very small kid, and it’s worked for me for everything, not just writing. Mix this one with Get Beyond the Blinking Cursor, and you can write every day for the rest of your life, no matter how hellish the day’s schedule.

Write Compelling Description

Ever write like you were flying, have the words just shoot from your fingertips, only to discover on rereading that you have written action, you have written dialogue, but the whole thing might as well have take place in a vacuum? This quick fix will give you immersive, fast-paced description. Fast-paced description? Seriously.

Stop Changing Your Mind Mid-Story

You want to welcome the ideas that help you move your story forward. This is how good stories become great stories. You DON’T want or need to welcome ideas not related to your story, that derail you, that prevent you from finishing anything, and that are in the end, destructive to your success. With this tiny workshop—as long as you USE—it, the ideas that destroy your progress will no longer bother you.

Muzzle Your Over-Controlling Inner Editor

This workshop is a walk on the weird side, a couple minutes of focused fix you can put into play when your Inner Editor (left brain) starts stomping on your Muse (right brain).

Learn Your Plotting ABCs

Have trouble with plotting? Need a quick, simple, no-jargon no-theory way to just get the damned story to roll in the right direction? In this micro-workshop, you’ll learn exactly that.

Gun-To-The-Head Emotion

Do you have a hard time getting characters to react with believable passion, fear, dread, shock, humor, lust, or rage? Need to give your story an emotional jumpstart? You’ll get the quick fix for that.

Speak With Different Voices

All your characters sound the same? Need to give each one a unique voice without resorting to the ear-torturing dialect of novels from the 1800s? This is simple, fun… but don’t let the neighbors catch you.

Pacing: Pick It Up

In this second Pacing Quick-Fix, kick a dragging scene into high gear with a 1, 2, 3 exercise that will both pick up the pace, and make you grin.

Pacing: Slow It Down

Have a scene you know is racing away from you that must go slower? Use this little technique to put the brakes on.

Life Is Short and Art Is Long and Marathons Are HARD

Writing and finishing novels—good novels—requires endurance. Patience. Unrelenting focus for long periods of time. And life has so many emergencies, urgencies, and bumps that can pull you away. SOME emergencies really are… but this trick will help you winnow out the chaff and keep your attention where you want it to be.

Butt In Chair

Want to write, but find yourself polishing the brass scones or folding underwear into 6″ squares (you know because you measured), or mowing your lawn with scissors instead? Okay—this one you may not like… but one way or the other, you’ll come to terms with the issue.

Oh, I SO need these…

I’m adding the Pro Tips as we go. You’ll get one at the end of each lesson—and if I get a bit behind, you’ll get them as I add them. Nineteen are already done. Ten remain.

Remember… as each lesson opens for you, it STAYS open, so if you hit a point where your Quick Fix hasn’t been done yet, when you receive the email that says, “Hey, you have a new quick fix!,” just go to the lesson indicated in the email, and get your quick tip, transcript, and worksheets if the lesson needs them.


When you wrap up the course in nine months (or eighteen, if you’re taking the smaller payments, slower speed version), or at least when you run out of lessons, whether you finish them or not, are you unceremoniously kicked to the curb?

  • What if you haven’t finished your book yet?
  • What if you’ve met colleagues in the Think Sideways community that you’re working with, and you don’t want to pack up everything and move on?
  • What if you finished the book you were writing in the middle of the course, and you’ve started back at the beginning with a new project?
  • What if life intruded and you got all the lessons but haven’t had time to go through them all yet?
  • What happens if something else happens, and plans don’t go as you planned?

Relax. I’ve got you covered.

When you complete payment for your course, you automatically become a permanent member of the How To Think Sideways writing community.

From then on, as long as you keep your email address up to date, you can:

  • Use all your student boards,
  • Download all the newest in-version upgrades to the How to Think Sideways course as they become available,
  • Attend (or download) the free chats,
  • Continue to get the Big-Class-Student Discount on all new courses offered there,
  • Join new Think Sideways groups as they open up,
  • Work with your colleagues,
  • Finish the book,
  • Write another book,
  • Write ANOTHER book…
  • For free. Permanently.

Seriously. This is free as in “free beer,” not free as in “free with strings.”

Everything you could do as a student, you can keep right on doing once you graduate, with no access limitations, no questions, and no penalties if you take off for Tahiti for three months (or a year) and want to join in again when you come back. As a Think Sideways graduate, you’re one of us, and you’re always welcome.

As long as your email address is current, you don’t have to do anything to stay. Just… stay.

Everything will keep right on working as it always has. You’re one of us… and we like “us.”

That’s cool. Let me in.

College students pay tens of thousands of dollars to take writing courses—and tens of thousands of dollars to get degrees in writing—that do NOT translate into careers as novelists.

Writing workshops with pro instructors cost thousands of dollars and last only a few short weeks—or hundreds of dollars for a single weekend.

And NONE Of Those Courses
Will Teach You What This Course Will.

This is my life’s work, my methods, and my creative process laid bare, and you cannot get this anywhere else for any price.

I’ve condensed more than thirty years of writing experience, from raw beginner to full-time pro, into nine months of compact, no-fluff lessons, instantly usable techniques and mini-workshops, real-world demos done on books and short stories I then went on to sell… and much, much more.


Interview with College Writing Instructor
Sandra Jensen:

What writing experience did you have prior to taking Think Sideways?

I published my first essay with Harper’s when I was 19 and have published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, as well as academic essays professionally for the forty years since then.
I have an MFA in poetry, and I teach Creative Writing at a private, four-year liberal arts college ranked in the top ten in the U.S.

I have one published book of poetry; I have won multiple writing prizes; I annually renew my writing with retreats to such nationally recognized Western conferences as Fishtrap and Yellow Bay and have studied with such prize-winning authors as Ursula K. LeGuin, Molly Gloss, William Kittredge, Annick Smith, Craig Lesley, and Kim Stafford, as well as Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, and Ray Bradbury.

What were you hoping the Think Sideways course would do for you and your writing?

When I enrolled in the Think Sideways course, I hoped to learn more about how to plot a novel, and I was intensely interested in deepening my understanding of Holly’s approach to the creative process, what she calls The Muse, what I call The Wonderful One Within (WOW!), which I know is rarely articulated in a clear and pragmatic voice.

I was also interested in learning from a pro how to organize and tackle a really long project like my novel.

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

I was cruising through Lesson #12, reading Holly’s essay on the tools of Sustained Narrative called “When It Rains, It Pours…and When It Pours, It Freezes… And When It Freezes, The Roads Ice Over and Your Hero Skids Down an Embankment,” and decided to work on the exercise she proposed:

I ran my hero over the snowy embankment and fell into a sustained narrative (short story and/or novel chapter) of 9000 words! I felt my Muse was on task, feeding me the plot points in the right order and multiple class lessons braided together to produce an exciting and original piece of fiction in a created world; what could be more exciting?!

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing (so far) from taking the Think Sideways course?

The most important strategies I’ve learned from the Thinking Sideways course have to do with working with the Creative Process or Muse. From “Sweet Spot Maps,” to “Toys on the Floor,” to “Muse Bombs,” Holly never loses the golden thread of this central and vital idea.

Very few writing instruction authors (and I have read them ALL) approach this theme, and when they do, their tone is invariably “mysto-mephisto: the process is so mysterious we can never never know it,” or “holy, holy, holy: the process is so sacred we can never know it.”

Holly’s approach is humorous, pragmatic, dare I say clever, and I want to add insightful and innovative.

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY has thought through the nature and attributes of the Muse like Holly Lisle has. You can go a lot of other places for instruction on plot and publication, but Holly is one-stop shopping for that deeply internal, absolutely indispensable self-knowledge about where art comes from. Am I raving? Then pay attention!

How has the Think Sideways course met or exceeded your expectations?

I took the course because through purchasing Holly Lisle’s on-line writing instruction books, I knew she had the gift of making small, delicate points clear as spun crystal, as well as the ability to hammer bigger points home with useful exercises and explanations.

I’m always looking for someone to learn from, and I felt Holly had something to teach me. It turned out she had dozens of things to teach me.

The sheer intensity of the work has built up over time. Week after week, Holly has thought through some useful angle or detail of writing a long project and broken it down into components and exercises.

I have enough material to inspire and instruct me for many months to come; actually, this is food for my work for the rest of my life. I know that.

What would you say to someone considering taking the course, but not sure if it would be worth his or her time or money?

This course requires you to be willing to change how you relate to your core creativity. It asks you to read, to understand, to do exercises that will stretch your brain like a warm gummy bear.

During this course, you will fall into the deep well of your long project, and you will know you have a friend with a flashlight showing the way.

Age is not a factor–if you are a dedicated, hard-working high-school student, or an octogenarian still ready to set sail on the boundless sea of your youthful imagination–you can change your life with this course.

Sandy Jensen


Single Payment [PRICE PENDING]

  • All lessons, videos, worksheets, and other class materials, delivered weekly in my online classroom

  • All in-version class upgrades

  • All course revisions

  • All new material added

  • Think Sideways Community Access:
    work with focused, dedicated,
    determined writers like yourself.

  • Payment by Credit Card or PayPal


6-Month Half-Speed Subscription: [PRICE PENDING]

  • All lessons, videos, worksheets, and other class materials, delivered weekly in my online classroom

  • All in-version class upgrades

  • All course revisions

  • All new material added

  • Think Sideways Community Access:
    work with focused, dedicated,
    determined writers like yourself.

  • Payment by Credit Card or PayPal


12-Month Half-Speed Subscription: [PRICE PENDING]

  • All lessons, videos, worksheets, and other class materials, delivered weekly in my online classroom

  • All in-version class upgrades

  • All course revisions

  • All new material added

  • Think Sideways Community Access:
    work with focused, dedicated,
    determined writers like yourself.

  • Payment by Credit Card or PayPal

[[Add to Cart]]


Remember This Date

I remember the day I decided I was going to write a novel.

That day changed my life. It took me a long time to go from beginner to pro, but what I learned will help you cut years off the process. I love writing—it is part of the excitement and the joy and the adventure in every day of my life. What’s more, I love my work now more than I did the day I started. If writing is already your love, your passion, and your aching need, you will be stunned by how much richer and deeper and compelling it can get. You will be floored by the brilliant ideas you have inside you, waiting for you to find the keys that will bring them to light. I created this course because I love writing, and because part of my purpose in life is to help other writers like me—writers who are willing to work for their dreams—reach them. If you’re that writer—the writer who is willing to work to reach your dreams—then I wrote this course for you. So remember today’s date. Write it down. You can make today YOUR day… the day where your action changes what you always dreamed about doing into what you actually do. Say goodbye to “Someday,” and make your dream into your reality.

~ Holly

Everyone says “Get A Mentor”… But Did Anyone Tell You Where?

Just about every successful writer will tell you the quickest way to writing success is to find a mentor—someone who does what you want to do for a living and who is willing to show you the ropes. But people who actually write full-time for a living AND who are willing to share what they know aren’t exactly falling off trees. Yet that’s what I’m offering with How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers. Select your payment plan and join us to get the help you’ve been looking for.

— 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