Help me build the How To Think Sideways Surprise

I’m putting together the How To Think Sideways Surprise—the extra course material that everyone gets when they join the new version of How to Think Sideways, ULTRA.

(Legacy students and grads will upgrade automatically and for free—but you can still help build the Surprise.)

I want to make sure the Surprise is spectacular.

To make it great, I need to know this:

What part of writing do you find most difficult?

Anyone—even folks who aren’t considering joining the course, can comment here.

I’ll let you know what the HTTS Surprise is going to be in a week or two.

(And I’ll get back to writing soon. I’m still working from 7AM to midnight every day getting this put together—once it’s done, I’m back to Create A World Clinic. And Write A Book With Me will resume. Clearly I’m not a great pace rabbit anymore, though. :/)

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.

450 comments… add one
  • Rebecca Anne Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:35

    What I personally find difficult is writing decent strong archetypal characters who don’t seem like dead wood on the page and they have the right amount of emotion so that don’t look like emotional wrecks.

  • LaRae Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:32

    I struggle with ‘showing’ not ‘telling’.

    • Lee Feb 28, 2013 @ 22:20

      yeah, that’s a major issue for me as well. I work toward minimizing infodump as much as possible.

      For instance: show characters using a particular tech and seeing its efect as opposed to ‘This device does yadda yadda yadda…’

  • Rebecca Gibson Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:26

    I find editing the hardest bit, perhaps that’s not strictly the answer you’re looking for Holly as I seem to manage to waffle and digress my way through plots and character arcs – but editing for me is hard going, I can switch off my internal critic when writing a first draft but he’s a vicious sod when it comes to editing – and he batters my confidence!

    • Ros Mar 2, 2013 @ 12:59

      I have a hard time with editing too. I usually have a very clear idea – “plot line, if you will” – of where the story is heading, but polishing any draft to publishable standard is difficult. I supppose because I don’t know what ‘publishable standard’ is. I might find it easier if I did – but it’s like trying to find the bullseye with a blindfold on. And I have to also agree with Carlos del Rio. I don’t like talking to people, either. If I have to actually speak to someone to get information, I literally become that quivery bowl of jelly! (Although Americans call it jello) 🙂

  • Carlos del Río Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:22

    For me it’s researching. Not the kind you can do with an internet conexion or by reading books, I like that, but I grit my teeth everytime I need to ask something in person to a stranger. Sometimes I feel like abandoning a project just to not talk to people. Eventually, I grit my teeth and I ask. I wish it were easier for me.

    • DeeDee Mar 3, 2013 @ 5:36

      I find it hard to turn off the editor so the writer can work in peace. I spent years editing and helping others to write so the editor is on auto pilot and the writer fights to keep moving forward. Titles are challenging too! As for researching, sometimes I let the characters take that journey. Really, if I don’t give them the passport, I get caught in the research myself.

  • Jennifer Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:22

    The most difficult part BY FAR for me is creating a plot and/or character concepts that I commit to. For some reason, I have commitment phobia with any of my ideas. I just haven’t found the right one yet that feels compelling enough for me to follow through on it. Consequently, it inhibits me from really getting anywhere at all.

  • Sieghard Maul Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:16

    Starting every Day.

  • Bethany Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:12

    I’ll agree with most of these comments… plotting and middle parts. I think I may be more of a discovery writer than I want to be, but I’m actually wrestling with a new story / novel right now because I don’t know what happens next.

    I guess that’s why NaNo was so great, though. It forced me to just write something and then more ideas came to me. I outlines lightly as I wrote. But my world building ended up being very weak- my characters are weak, too. I didn’t know my world or characters well enough going in. My NaNo is going to have some big changes though- I am working through HTRYN with it.

    OTOH, I know my characters a little better in my short story, but now I can’t figure out what to write next. I know what happens at the end and I know a few things I want to have happen… I’m also afraid of killing my own interest by over-outlining… I think maybe I’m just taking the whole thing too seriously. I need to accept my first draft is the first.

  • Chanel Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:11

    My problems are always the middle – I have a beginning and an ending, but I can’t seem to come up with ideas and sustain my inspiration for the middle part 🙁

  • Lori Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:07

    I have the hardest time keeping my characters in danger and distress, without wanting to rescue them immediately and let them go meditate and pick flowers.

    • Michelle Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:57

      I know exactly what you mean. I have this problem with reading good books, too; if the characters suffer, I want to stop reading. I know I need to read in order to be a better writer, but I find it hard to read anything beyond cozy mysteries or romance novels for enjoyment. And I want to write somewhat dark fantasy!

  • Elinor Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:06

    Writing dialogue is most difficult for me, especially creating a distinct “voice” for each speaker, without sounding hokey. When writing narrative or description I can just blaze along, but I know readers want to hear what the characters are saying because it is so much more immediate. That’s where I labour, and tend to do the most rewriting and revising.

  • Sumana Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:04

    That first line.. Knowing I have 50,000 words left to write, and that first line has to make the rest of them worth it. Plus my annoyingly blank page adds on to the pressure..

  • Claudette Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:02

    The most difficult part for me is the one where I have to juggle the novel work, website work, articles and short story writing, and getting it all marketed, promoted and still have time for a life aside from writing.

    I know. Call me a wimp. I do well with marketing–it’s the time it takes. I do well with the writing. Again is’t the time involved. It always takes me longer than I anticipate, which throws the schedule into a chaos of cascading elements.

    I’m not looking for fool-proof. There’s no such thing. I suppose the issue comes down to finding the doable number of items and needs to juggle without losing track of those sitting on the sidelines, waiting for their turns at bat.

    Any enlightenment would be worthwhile at this stage. I think this is a super idea, Holly. Thank you so much for offering this up for our benefit.

  • Kelly Bowerman Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:59

    Editing. Hate it!!


  • Ro Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:58

    I can come up with ideas for stories, (starting points, situations, opening scenes) no problem and if I know what’s happening I can knit up the words, no problem. It’s finding the actual story that I struggle with. i.e. an interesting series of events that will hold my readers interest. And mine! There must be exercises and stuff which can be done to make this easier! :-/

  • Sandee Wagner Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:49

    The hardest part for me is REVISIONS. I’m fine with suggestions by critique partners, even editorial changes that ‘change happy to glad’, but when a suggested revision requires additional characters or scenes that require weaving multiple things into the mss, I am crushed.

  • Ashley Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:45

    While plotting a novel idea, I get stuck while trying to invent details, and so whatever actual writing I do goes like molasses. I’m sure that the heart of my problem is perfectionism. I say to myself that I don’t want to “waste my time” by writing stuff that will ultimately get tossed, but of course the result has been that I’ve wasted YEARS not writing anything, really. I’ve never been able to craft a plot outline to the level that feels ready enough for the “butt in chair” writing part.

  • Danzier Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:44

    *in a very small whisper* not playing chess instead of writing.

    Seriously, the hardest part is the part where I go from *not writing* to *writing now*. Everything else is fallout, and I can fix that. But I can’t fix not starting, except by starting. Sometimes it’s motivation. Sometimes it’s distractions. Sometimes it’s emergencies (not often, though). Usually it’s just me, sitting down to write, and then not writing. I waste half my writing time just staring at my computer and not moving. Is this even something someone else can help fix?

    • Wendy (estuary) Feb 27, 2013 @ 22:51


    • Melinda Mar 2, 2013 @ 14:54

      ditto ditto ditto (or I wouldn’t be sitting here reading all of these comments when I already left one of my own . . . I’d be writing!)

  • Anne Kiddle Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:42

    Editing. Getting to final draft stage. I keep adding instead of removing

  • Karen Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:40

    For me, the hardest part is reading that first draft, knowing it’s utter rubbish, and then not knowing WHY it’s utter rubbish and exactly WHAT needs to be changed in order to turn it into the thing of beauty that was in my head from the start! Editing grammar, voice, etc isn’t my issue. For me it’s recognising when more needs to be added, or something needs to be cut. I find it far easier to do this with other people’s work than my own!

  • Felicia Fredlund Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:38

    For me, middles are a hard part. I suppose I have three troubles with them.
    1, Keeping my different treads going.
    2, Keeping my different treads interesting (conflict).
    3, Coming up with new threads when I don’t have enough meat.

    These might be partly addressed within HTTS, I don’t know since I’ve only truly done the course up to lesson 9, but I thought I’d share anyway. 🙂

  • Cindy Blair Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:33

    I have issues of not knowing where the story is going. I get a great start and then I get stuck. I tend to write by the seat of my pants, but feel that I need some help with plotting. I have several stories started, but I am having trouble getting anywhere with them.

  • Marti Verlander Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:32

    My most difficult aspect is marketing. How do I catch the eye of readers? How do I draw attention to my books? How does an indie writer like me break through the glass ceiling of the traditionally published books? I don’t care about being trad published, but I do care about sales, which means getting attention.

  • Kathy Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:31

    The hardest part for me is keeping the story equally fresh and exciting the whole way through. I want it all to be fantastic but sometimes my bridges feel a little boring.

  • Derrick Hudson Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:31

    The hardest part for me is dialogue. It seems to be my krytonite.

  • Pedar Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:30

    The hardest part is organizing my workspace so that I can keep track of what I am doing. I am dyslexic and after a while of working, I can’t tell what I have written and what is still floating around in my brain. If I look back at the pages of copy it becomes more confusing. If I have enough workspace I can spread things around into stacks and make a list of what has been written and what has not, and that extends the amount of productive work time before the onset of confusion. What works best for me so far is to work, switch projects, walkaway and come back. I don’t know if there can be a fix for that. Just work to my limit and be thankful I can do that.

  • Susan Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:25

    The hardest part is being consistent about writing — doing it every day.

    The next hardest part, after jumping that hurdle: Making sure all the pieces fit together at the end. HTRYR has been an amazing tool in overcoming this problem. But even so, I find that once I have the finished novel, there are all kinds of little bloobles and blerbles that don’t quite fit where they are supposed to. Inconsistencies, fragmented ideas, character or things that appear either more or less important than I intended.

  • Julia Mozingo Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:25

    I find the hardest part is knowing where to start the story. I spend a lot of time starting a new project because I constantly start and restart the novel before continuing.

    • Marti Verlander Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:34

      Oh, yes! How/where to begin a story is a big bugaboo for me, too! I’ll bet I’ve written more than a dozen openings for one novel, and I finally may have found one I like.

  • Kelly G in ATX Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:24

    I find it comforting that others struggle in many of the same areas I fight with too! My biggest issue is with being overly critical of everything. I’ll get an idea, plot it out, create characters, even a chapter or two with some awesome scenes, sit down to really write the darn thing, and then my inner critic shows up like an unwanted out of town relative. Suddenly it all feels stupid, or poorly thought out, or it isn’t good enough. I start to overthink my plot, or my characters, and then my original idea resembles nothing like I had imagined it. I wish I had enough confidence and gumption to tell my inner critic/editor to shove off and just go with it!

    • hil Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:45

      Exactly. My biggest struggle to the letter.

  • Maureen Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:24

    I do a pretty decent outline but when I begin to write the story I don’t write a thing that I outlined. I never look at the outline again. I also need a stronger punch in my writing

  • Claire L. Fishback Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:24

    Writing the opening is the hardest part ever!

  • henya Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:21

    Good question. I’m struggling with pacing. I seem to be getting there too soon, or not soon enough.

  • Jennifer Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:20

    I write crime fiction & plotting and creating subplots are not issues for me…but, writing a synopsis, articulating your theme, and writing a blurb ( about to Indie pub my first novel…yeaaa!) are difficult. Any help in those areas would be great because there is a lot more writing to be done even after your novel has been professionally edited & is ready to go. 🙂

  • jerry brown Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:19

    I can develop a story with a good hook, a middle and an ending but I wander when it comes time to plot it in an interesting and must-read- more way that carries the reader forward. Not sure if this is plotting problem or an editing problem.

  • Nina Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:19

    The hardest part for me is making myself do it when my mind has been “away from the game” for a while. I can pick it back up pretty easily after I get back into the mindset of writing for a couple of hours everyday.

  • Tamara Madrid Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:18

    The hardest parts for me is description and character emotions. I have great characters, can figure out the plot and come up with endings. But description and grammar seem to be my short comings when it comes to writing.

  • Zemion Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:15

    Once I broke though writer’s block, and piles of fiction of all sorts began accumulating, I was often left feeling overwhelmed by all the editing and polishing needed. It isn’t that I don’t have ways of doing that but polishing for me is based on continual re-readings to get the words just right. This is, of course, after all the plot problems have been taken of.

    Discipline isn’t one of my natural gifts. I can work efficiently, but there’s always so much more calling me to work on it. I may just have to learn to live with the situation. I could have far worse writing problems to deal with.

  • Wyatt Stafford Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:13

    Living with failure is the hardest part. While intellectually I know it is a process, emotionally I flinch at failing. There is a persistent internal struggle between trying again and ‘to hell with it.’

  • Ginger Calem Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:12

    I’m in the ‘struggle to plot’ camp. I do characters very well. My dialogue is great. I can have a huge collection of funny, engaging scenes but … the plot ‘as a whole’ I always feel is really weak.

  • Brooke W. Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:12

    The hardest part for me is the discipline, and finding the time in between being a full-time mom and a writer. I’m still working on that, but it’s hard!

  • Garry Kirsch Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:09

    The hardest part of the writing process for me is the “alone time” – being virtually isolated/cooped up for long periods of time. I just don’t enjoy it, and I see it as the biggest roadblock for me.

  • Becky Burkheart Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:08

    The hardest part of the writing for me is not the edits, but knowing when to stop. Intellectually, I know there is a balance of technically correct writing and personal voice and style, and there is a point to say “no” to continued crit, either external or internal – and call it DONE. I have a hard time finding that balance and putting the final – the end – on something. I know it’s not possible for it to be perfect, but I have a hard time letting something out that I know isn’t.

    • Michael C Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:14

      I concur. It is difficult to know when enough is enough–or not enough–and keeping it consistent throughout the manuscript.

  • SharonW Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:06

    What gives me the most trouble is bringing all the pieces together into a satisfying resolution. Coming up with ideas to start a story is easy. Starting out and creating complications – no problem. Shaping the various character arcs and plot complications so they eventually grow back together instead of going on and on sending out more shoots in every direction – now, that’s hard.

  • Khadijah Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:06

    The hardest thing for me is staying focused on my plot. I dream up these amazing ideas and I start writing…then after a while I realize that my writing is going in a whole other direction than I originally planned. I have too many ideas going on and it gets kind of confusing so I end up with yet another unfinished project. Do you have tips for organizing or planning writing projects? Thanks!

  • PT Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:05

    For me the hardest part is turning off the internal editor. I’ll get a few paragraphs or a page or two out and then destroy it all. I question if the opening sentence is hook-y enough. Am I starting close enough to the real action? What’s my theme and am I laying enough groundwork at the beginning? Are my protagonist’s and antagonist’s needs sharp enough?

    I’ve tried to ignore the beginning and just started with my favorite scene. Doesn’t matter – the same scenario plays out.

    • Cassandra Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:47

      I have this same issue, but take it one step further- I never write any of my ideas down because they are never the same as I imagined them, and I can’t figure out how to get them there without becoming discouraged. When I do get something on paper, I can’t leave it as-is and keep writing the story; I have to try to fix it, even when I have no clue where the story is going. A secondary issue is I am easily distracted by other things and haven’t figured out how to balance writing time with “other” time (work, spending time with my boyfriend, etc.).

  • Sarah Hudson Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:04

    For me, the hardest part of writing is integrating description (in all five senses!) into the story in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow.

    I struggle greatly with this, and often end up using only sight and sound (aka dialogue) in my scenes. Because of that, the story ends up taking place in a sort of formless void.

    I feel like weaving in subtle touches of scent, background sound, and touch would deepen my storytelling and help draw the readers into the world, but I can’t figure out how to do it! You are my hero, so I appeal to you. 🙂

  • Kimberly Rune Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:04

    My biggest issue with writing is I can’t express the picture that is in my head. I have the ideas but when I start trying to type them down I go blank. If I talk the scene out with someone then I can move past it but then I type 200 words and I end up stuck again. I’ve tried plot outlining, synopsis, digital voice recorder, and Dragon Naturally Speaking.

    I love writing but I’m frustrated to no end. Any help would be welcomed.

  • Jane Bettany Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:04

    Getting myself to sit down and get on with it! The problem isn’t a like of time, because there are always a few hours or minutes free each day. It’s more about procrastination and displacement activities. What I need to do is make better use of my time by getting on with the writing task in hand. I think this procrastination is maybe a fear of failure, or lack of confidence in my writing abilities.

  • Ann Beardsley Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:03

    The whole “Show don’t Tell” thing. I thought I had it down pat, I thought I’d conquered it. I’ve read the books, I’ve practiced–but obviously something isn’t clicking with me. I can do the actual writing–Butt In The Chair, Honey (yeah, that’s what it spells)–but I’m left with something that just isn’t compelling enough. And then I get frustrated, and put it aside–even though it’s a darn good idea–and go on to something different. Add wine, rinse, repeat.

  • Clancy Metzger Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:02

    I find the GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict) stuff the hardest in plotting, so then I end up with not enough conflict or in the wrong places or with characters that aren’t strong or are really fuzzy in their definition.

  • Andrea Boyer Feb 26, 2013 @ 11:57

    The hardest part for me is to get started on writing the actual story part. I tend to spend a ton of time preparing, making maps, doing character studies, building worlds, and then when I sit down to actually write, I’m stumped! I have all these ideas in my head for what’s going to happen, but the more I prepare the backstory, the more it all changes until I’m totally overwhelmed.

    • tyrone guess Feb 27, 2013 @ 11:48

      I have that same issue. I am an info junkie and I can find stories in almost any chunk of research…but starting…I feel like I’m trying to eat a whale!

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