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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450 responses to “Help me build the How To Think Sideways Surprise”

  1. Robin Mitzelos Avatar
    Robin Mitzelos

    The hardest thing for me right now (it changes often) is POV. I have the unfortunate habit of drifting when i really get into writing a scene. I will often get into the thoughts and ramblings of more than one character during a scene rather than sticking to one. I look up and afterwards my POV is all over the place and hard to realize exactly who is talking or whose thoughts are being shown! So I guess I need to stay more focused.

  2. Ilargi Avatar

    My biggest problem is world-building. Most of my story ideas stem from fan-fiction daydreams, the vast majority of which are fantasy. Since it would be plagiarizing if I used the places described in the original work, I find myself faced with the task of creating a new setting that works with my plot — without being too close to the world it was first set in.

    For example, I have a story that is currently set almost entirely at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters from X-Men. I have written down various scenes and done extensive characterization, but I’ve come to a sort of standstill because I don’t know where my story takes place.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to do all of these things for aspiring writers. We really do appreciate it.

  3. Bob Fox Avatar
    Bob Fox

    I think I have experienced almost all of the issues mentioned above at one time or another. Writing really good characters to be is the Mt. Everest of writing right now. I know I will get it someday but the climb can be daunting.

  4. Keith Avatar

    For my first and current novel, I have finally finished plotting it out. I have doubts that it is compelling enough for readers to enjoy. I’ve sort of fleshed out the main characters and which Point of View I would like to take, but I’m struggling on the right way to open the story. Should I start it off excitingly with very little insight into the characters or show some preliminary scenes of the main character and what type of guy he is. Perhaps doing that and forgoing the exciting beginning would make his true transformation with more impact by the end of the story. But on the other hand, would it be best to grip the reader in the action and not worry so much about showing insight into the main character? Dilemmas, dilemmas, what to do?!

  5. Vista Avatar

    Hardest part of writing a story? Coming up with the perfect ending.
    Hardest writing technique? Coming up with a perfect metaphor that engages and connects with the reader.

  6. Renee Benzaim Avatar

    I have to really make myself focus when I’m doing the revision because, by then, I’m anxious to finish. Lesson 25 was a big help and the first system for revision that I could do without too much impatience.

  7. Lee Avatar


    The actual hardest part is sitting before the blank page of a new project. lol

    You’ve done the research, assembled the cast of characters, set the world.

    Sit down before the blank page and POOF! You freeze.

    Then you go WTF? What happened? You’re ready for this. Freakin’ type the first word you idiot!

    That’s pretty much it.

  8. Jess Avatar

    Definitely “plotting”; sitting down to try and shape the story before I’ve started reading it. I am not good at thinking up a story *before* I have started the process of writing. I find as I write, things develop that I never anticipated, and it is these new surprises that I love the most about writing.

    That said, as a “pantser”, it means I wind up with a lot of stuff I then have to throw away. I can generate material, but then shaping the story (it almost turns into sculpture at this point!) is also difficult for me.

    1. Jess Avatar

      er, before I’ve started writing it…

  9. Jennifer Avatar

    Fear is the hardest part of writing for me. Fear that it won’t be good enough or that no one will ever want to read what I write. After that plotting and planning a novel so I don’t get stuck in the middle.

  10. Anne Buzzini Avatar
    Anne Buzzini

    The hardest part for me is keeping my confidence up. That Inner Critic/Editor is a harsh taskmistress with a fierce whip. Ideas I have by the trainloads but the execution I can’t seem to have enough time or practice or _____(fill in the blank) to master.

  11. mullet Avatar

    Revision. In spades.

    Description. I know what my aliens look like but after three short stories and three edits on my first chapter, none of my readers are sure. The Right details seem to elude me.

    1. Jess Avatar

      Me too. I find I tend to “under-describe” rather than over-, and this often results in terse, weird, prose, hehe.

  12. CarolinaC Avatar

    Keeping a decent schedule and continuing motivation on a day-to-day basis. When I’m excited, everything goes wonderfully, but it’s easy to get bogged down and start putting things off. Or to get distracted!

  13. Evelyn Avatar

    The most difficult part of writing is plotting. I don’t know if I’ve hidden the clues in the most unassuming places and whether they are effective enough to not cheat the reader, while ensuring I have a plausible story. Phew! That run-on sentence was almost more difficult than my reason.

  14. Vanessa Wells Avatar
    Vanessa Wells

    Editing…even with HTRYN it’s still hard.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Revision is ALWAYS hard. After 34 novels and a bunch of short stories, it’s STILL hard.

      Doing it well is the only objective I’ve found. I don’t know a way to do it easily.

  15. Carlene Eye Avatar
    Carlene Eye

    Plotting. I know the story, I want to write it–but if I try to following any plotting guidelines I get tangled up and totally blocked. Cannot see All the fancy plot points, pinch points, etc.that plotting schools seem to think every story needs.

  16. Ivye Avatar

    I really have trouble avoiding procrastination. I so want to write, and then everything- but everything – will do rather than sitting with my laptop and actually doing it. I’m halfway through a novel, and have a couple of plot problems – nothing really major, it just needs some tweaking and a little further research to clarify a point or two. Why, I am even sure the further research could yield unexpected details that I could use, but no. No research, no plotting, and I write in small, half-hearted chunks because I know there is work to do before I can write on. So research and plotting become alibis for not writing, and I am thoroughly miserable. Stupid-miserable, of course.
    So yes, not sinking in procrastination pits is the hard part for me.

  17. Ann Avatar

    One big problem is spreading myself too thin. I’ll be working on one project and everything is going great, and then I’m off on a tangent because something triggered a memory and its: “hmmm…that would be a great story….” And there I am with one story waiting to be finished.

    Another big wah is not knowing when to stop and say “the end”. My current WIP is supposed to be ONE novel. My husband (almost as mean a critic as I am to myself) suggest it was a trilogy several weeks ago. The prof. In the research class I’m taking loves my story (and my writing — yeah!) and suggested a trilogy. And I still don’t have a good ending, because I come up with an epilogue that would make another good story.

    (Waving hands) Hiya, Holly!! It’s been years since that Stellarcon. Can’t make it this year because I’m having surgery on Friday to repair that horrid left ankle. If I find a publisher for the book or a producer for the screenplay I might make a few cons this year. Mel says hi!

    Ann Melrose

  18. John W Dye Avatar

    Generally: Starting.

    Specifically: The first three chapters. It takes about three chapters to snag a reader’s give-a-damn, and those three chapters also serve as the foundation–maybe “launchpad” is a better term–for the story that’s to come. I’d argue that writing that initial ~15,000 words is just as complicated and brain-grinding as the rest of the novel combined. You’ve got so many moving pieces. You have to establish an intriguing (likable?) protagonist, articulate a conflict that resonates with the themes, generate sympathy, build the world, reticulate splines… And it’s all done cold; you don’t have the familiarity with the work that you get to lean on in later chapters.

    Close second: Everything Else. But if writing wasn’t so hard, it wouldn’t be so interesting to me.

  19. Mim Avatar

    I can’t make myself finish a novel. The beginnings and ends are a joy, perhaps because I have a specific time goal and a built in community with NaNoWriMo, but the ends I have to do alone and I just can’t motivate myself. The manic urge is gone. There’s no push to do it now, do it any way at all just so long as it’s done. I would say writing without a sense of accountability is hardest for me.

  20. Carolyn Paul Branch Avatar

    I have six unfinished novels and an unfinished memoir. My problem must be endings because none of them end. I started another novel last month and stopped after three chapters because it was so discouraging knowing it would just be another one I couldn’t finish. I like to enter those first chapter contests and often win, so I know I start out okay.

  21. Catherine Avatar

    I have the most difficulty filling in the story. I have the whole story figured out but what I write is more like a really long synopsis. I can’t seem to write “B story lines” or subtext or anything like that. I describe my storytelling like a necklace, the main beads (what Holly calls the candy bar scenes) come easily but the findings and connecting beads are hard.

  22. billpolm Avatar

    Scenes: as in making sure there is sufficient conflict in each and a twist at the end (that’s really two).

  23. Realm Wright Avatar

    Character bios come very easily to me, but when it’s time to give them a voice I’m crippled. How do you come up with good dialogue and banter? How do you keep in it line/tone with a given character’s personality?

  24. C. E. Bahnsen Avatar

    Everything about the writer’s life!

    Right now I’m ill and very fatigued. I can only write a little every day. It takes forever to get a scene done, let alone a whole story. I end up going through the scene a million times in my head before it actually written.

    I’ve heard some people use dictation software, but trying something new takes too much energy ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. P.I. Barrington Avatar

    Two things plague me: procrastination and a decent premise. Word count is always my bane too.

  26. Zemion Avatar

    Do I get two shots at this? I answered once and then realized that I do have a serious problem when I’ve drafted, and revised, and edited, and polished a story and find that critiques all tell me that something fundamental doesn’t work. After putting everything I have into getting the story to that point where it feels complete to me, the thought of going back and having it all to do again makes me want to work on something else. How do you work yourself up to reopen something that to your own mind is already done and complete?

  27. Misty Avatar

    With every project, I’ve noticed that there’s a kind of inverted bell curve representing my confidence in the project. The hardest part comes at that inevitable point when I become absolutely convinced that the project is stupid, I’m not saying anything worth saying, and I should just scrap it and learn to love flipping hamburgers!

    The hardest thing is not trashing the project at this point. Sometimes I don’t make it past this. But usually, if I can make myself keep working on the project, I eventually find its center and fall in love with it all over again. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Maureen Avatar

      My finished, first book, has been complete about six times. It is only complete when you have done eveything you can and you are happy with it.

  28. JanMarie Avatar

    Picking just one topic/story line out of the oodles floating around in my head and getting focused/started is the hardest part for me. Once I get going the rest just seems to flow fairly easily.

  29. Jenn Avatar

    The hardest part of writing (fiction) for me is to write a character’s perspective that differs from my own. Different from injecting my own experiences and knowledge into my writing – this is a problem that involves making a character’s thoughts and actions authentic and unique without injecting too much of my own personality into him/her.

  30. Michael Avatar

    I think the hardest part for me, is between the end of the middle and the beginning of the end… It’s always the major snagging point. Like I have everything set up and outlined and when I get to that part of the book even if I know how its supposed to go I get snagged. Thanks Holly.

  31. Erin Z. Avatar

    Revising is my biggest weakness, and finding the motivation to do it. HTRYN has helped, but I still sweat bullets after finishing a first draft.

  32. TaflinM Avatar

    I have huge amounts of trouble when it comes to describing scenes. Either I end up giving an long, dry and clinical overview, or just a few hurried sentences which don’t show that much of the characters or the room.

  33. Elizabeth Poole Avatar

    My issue is similiar to what some other people have said.

    Every time I get about half way through a first draft, I get ideas. MUCH better ideas. Plot changing ideas. This is a good problem to have, except that I can’t always just pretend I wrote the beginning the right way. I try to rewrite my outline to match the new stuff, and go through the beginning of the book and envision how the new stuff would change things, but this doesn’t always work out because a lot of character stuff comes out as I am writing the scene.

    So I need some alternate methods on incorporating new ideas into a preexisting draft. My current methods of “rewrite the thing all over” or “sally forth through the middle, but stop before the ending because I can’t tie up threads I haven’t even started” isn’t working out so well…

  34. John Iovine Avatar

    Grounding characters in place and setting — scene description and character action is a struggle.

  35. Nycole Crow Avatar
    Nycole Crow

    For me its the last half. The homestretch. I usually have wonderful inspiring can’t make my fingers type fast enough beginnings. And that momentum carries me through the first half or so of my book. And then I just get stuck in the mud. The middle becomes mundane and usually and I end with an end. Nothing amazing or triumphant just the end. Because I’ve lost all my steam and don’t know where the story should go from there or how to fix the fact that the story has gotten stuck in the mud and just trudges through until my brain decides enough is enough so this must be the end.

  36. Fran Avatar

    I fall in love with my own characters! Soon I can’t bear them to suffer, so that’s my conflict gone and the plot stops. I’m left with the dear characters just walking about and talking. Oh, and they also duplicate themselves. When I have one perfectly good older woman with attitude/soft-hearted villain/hard-pressed single parent or whatever, another one often barges onto the scene. I like to think Will Shax suffered from ‘twinning’ too (but I’m wrong, obviously).

  37. Tannis Laidlaw Avatar

    The single most difficult part of writing for me is throwing out some ‘darlings’ – eliminating some good writing (sometimes REALLY good writing) that must go for the sake of something important (the book is too long or the writing is in what turned out to be a blind alley or I found out something that makes this bit of writing irrelevant). Arrgghhhh.

  38. Judy Avatar

    Hardest part is the middle. My readers get bored and want to quit reading but they can’t because they are family members. Lol. But I tend to ramble on and on even with an outline… Beginnings and endings are easy.

  39. Tronix Avatar

    Hating my work is usually the one for me. I get nostalgic and critical of what I write, comparing it to all the inspirations of the past and the good writing I see everyday. I complain that I’m not being true to the genre, then in the same breath I say I’m being corny and aren’t pushing the envelope enough. Ah well. I do regardless.

  40. leonard kienzle Avatar
    leonard kienzle

    Its hard for me to start daily – as I’m not sure I’m going the right direction or if the work actually pays off.

  41. Felicia Avatar

    I have a lot of problems with description and exposition. I tend to write very action and dialogue heavy with very little rooting the reader in the setting and allowing them to call up an image in their minds. I have a hard time imagining the scene myself.

  42. Kristen Avatar

    Setting realistic goals and not overdoing it. My novels are too long, too complex, and have too many characters. My world building goes on for months. I push myself to produce too many words and stress myself out.Moderation is what I need.

  43. Laura Avatar

    My big ones are

    1. Exposition. I don’t do enough and I confuse the reader. How to know how much is enough. This goes for description and explanations.

    2. Foreshadowing. Again, I’ve got too little. How do you know you’ve set up the Big Twist enough without spoiling the surprise?

  44. Lara N Avatar

    The hardest part are the interruptions by family/life. Then when I finally get back to my writing, trying to re-capture the inspiration. (That’s why I always try to outline as much as possible when I first start a piece.)

  45. Cheryl Avatar

    Two things:
    1. Bums on seats actually making myself sit down and write. (The motivation course really helped and I revisit it every now and then… thanks Holly)
    2. Someone else said – I get a great opening scene and a great ending or general idea and a bit in the middle and then I stall. And if it gets tough I tend to get going… away from the writing!
    So, just the plotting and the actual writing, for me! haha

    1. leonard kienzle Avatar
      leonard kienzle


  46. Tracy R Avatar

    The hardest part for me, even with the Sweet Spot maps, is generating ideas that incorporate my sweet spots, or even ideas that don’t. Story generation is a real stumbling block for me.

  47. Carol Flynt Avatar
    Carol Flynt

    Plotting is the hardest part for me — creating sufficient conflict to keep a story going.

    There is another part that is hard for me, though. I have great difficulty allowing my creative self to come out. It’s almost as though I can’t give myself permission to write.

  48. Tamar Avatar

    Revision is the most difficult for me. You reach that point that you thought was near the end, but it turns out you’re only halfway there–or less–and it starts to feel like that sense of accomplishment you had before was a total illusion. I get there and I don’t know what sucks and what doesn’t. I end up mired, discouraged, and confused, not sure when to bring beta readers into the process or if I should have done it six major changes ago, etc..

    Second-worst thing for me is characterization. It’s hard for me not to end up with stereotypes.

  49. Nancy Avatar

    Similar to what I’m reading from others, it’s that dreaded middle, where the story wanders off down the wrong rabbit hole and becomes something completely different (and not a “good” completely different). I keep trying to use the note cards concept from HTTS, but always get stuck on that “twist” concept. There’s some part of my brain that just doesn’t “get it”.

  50. Bethany Avatar

    Getting my ADHD to work for me instead of against me is always a struggle – organizing relevant ideas into some kind of order without all the other shiny non-relevant ideas (or ideas that just plain take over) to distract me, combined with a lot of self-doubt and frustration that the actual process of plotting writing is so much slower than anything happening in my head. Also, I am really, really good at isolated scenes…it’s putting them together and making the causality/internal logic work as well as I want it to that is difficult.

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