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. Vany Avatar

    I believe to be an organized person, however, this past year I’ve been pulled in four different directions with obligations…and no, the consideration of my working hours are not respected. If I had an extra limb, that too would be yanked. Management of TIME has sent my consistency in my writing in an anguished downward spiral. I’m spinning out of control and am at my last option for no interrupted work…writing between 3-6am. With my luck, stray cats will lodge themselves on my balcony attempting to be the next American Idol! Is that the smart thing to do since I’m no night owl?

  2. KathrineRoid Avatar

    I just decided to join you guys. Maybe making decisions like this at 10pm isn’t the greatest idea. Maybe decisions made at 10pm are always the greatest idea.

    Now to use Holly’s HTTS Ultra pre-launch gift and conquer the blinking cursor…

    1. KathrineRoid Avatar

      What on earth— I’m sorry, this comment of mine went to the wrong post. Please delete. πŸ˜›

  3. Rachel Kenley Avatar

    Along the lines of moving the story forward, it’s coming up with strong external actions and conflicts I find the hardest. Internal conflicts and goals? No problem – my characters are troubled… but what to keep them moving forward so they can solve their internal challenges.

  4. Rob Avatar

    My main obstacle has always been prose styling (syntax, cadence, and diction). I’m quite strong with plotting, thematic development, characters, dialogue, etc, so the typical problems that most writers have don’t really bother me. Instead, it’s the actual words themselves that make me cringe when I read the stuff I have written. The voice/style is often inconsistent. Some paragraphs read exactly like how I’d want my writing to sound, while others seem like they were written by a different person–someone with limited vocabulary and a boring voice.

  5. Mairi Melanson Avatar
    Mairi Melanson

    Believe it or not, for me the hardest part of writing a coherent story is keeping the parts together. Paper notes and drafts get spilled/mixed/stolen/ruined, electronic devices crash or get co-opted/overwritten for the kids’ schoolwork, online storage gets hacked, passwords get lost/corrupted … the only thing that makes it less frustrating is knowing where these security issues come from and the effect on my writing is just symptom.

  6. Christine Avatar

    I am a self-saboteur. The very hardest part of writing for me is trying to tune out that inner voice that says I am unworthy and incapable. The constant need to edit and question what I am doing occurs at all stages of writing. Deadlines help.

  7. Doug Glassford Avatar

    From what I can see as I read the previous posted comments, my issues with novel writing are similar to those above. Middles that sag and drag, and outlines that are either too rigid or too loose. I have yet to find the porridge that is just right for me.

  8. Rika Avatar

    Plotting. Getting from ideas for characters, or scenes, or beginnings, or even beginnings-and-middles to a complete outline/story.

  9. Christiane Avatar

    I find the setting to be a really tricky part for me, and it really keeps me from getting to the writing part. How am I supposed to write a story if I don’t know or like the place it all happens?
    I also have a difficulty with choosing a genre. I may have started on a historical romance and suddenly I find myself thinking: maybe I should write a fantasy novel instead… or a psychological drama, or maybe even a screenplay! So frustrating! O.o

  10. athenenike Avatar

    I write historical fiction and find myself getting bogged down with the details, which I know are important but end up impeding my progress on the whole. So I am writing along and then stop for a day while I find the correct type of stone that would be in a certain ring.

    1. dancingcrane7 Avatar

      A quick suggestion? When you get stuck like that, insert (find proper __ for this __), mark it in whatever way works, make a note to yourself on a separate To Research page, and keep on writing! When you come to a natural stopping point for you, when the muse slows down and you need a break, take your To Research page, and go for it!

  11. Patricia Avatar

    Really, and I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but simply finding time to sit down and write is the hardest part. As a new mom, I am still trying to get the hang of juggling a lot of things, like Baby, Hubby, and the house work. I know that you were writing while raising your children, and under a lot more stress than my current condition- I have a loving Hubby who provides and cares for us both, and even if he lost his job we would not starve. We get plenty of eggs from our chickens and meat from axis deer running about (no season on these, they’re exotics and considered pests). πŸ™‚

    I suppose my question is, “How did you do it?” I look at my current work in progress and it’s like staring up a steep mountain side, its peak hidden in clouds. Every time I take a step upwards there is always something to drag me down again, like dishes, the bedroom’s a mess, Baby needs to nurse again…etc.

    Thank you so much for doing this. I love reading both your resources on writing as well as your fiction, and I am excited that you are writing fiction again.

    Take care,
    – Patricia

    1. Stephanie Black Avatar

      I got through my first novel with two babies and a hubby in tow by writing during their nap times while my hubby was at work. Sometimes I only did ten minutes a day, or a week if it got really crazy, but it was enough and now I’ve got said novel on Kindle πŸ™‚ It did seem like a massive mountain to climb, but I thought of it as something I wanted to do that helps me keep going. Its a huge adjustment, so I wish you luck!

    2. cily Avatar

      I have the same question for Holly “How did you do it?”
      I have two children (1 years old and 3years old) and my Hubby and the house work.
      I would like to write a novel but it’s impossible, i don’t have enough time.
      Now I’m writing short stories.
      It’s easier to mantain the full control of the caracters and the plot.
      It’s possible to finish the work.
      And I like to take part to contests so I have deadlines.
      Though it’s very hard and sometimes I write few words and even a short story of 3000 words seems very very long!

  12. Stephanie Black Avatar

    Authenticity in intense scenes. My critic always likes to tone things down, which makes the ripper scenes flat!

  13. Sue Avatar

    Biggest writing problem?

    Details like description and emotions. I begin with telling that quickly transforms into talking heads. Grounding them and giving them emotions would be great!
    Oh, and I want to write a polished manuscript the first time. You know, what I see in my head MAGICALLY transforms onto the page and there’s no blood, sweat, tears, or “That’s not what I meant!” angst.

  14. Mary Avatar

    Middles as well. And honestly even the middle of scenes do me in….

  15. Kathryn Kistner Avatar
    Kathryn Kistner

    I see story bits-and-pieces as pictures in my mind. But they are JUST bits-and-pieces. Not all of the bits are appropriate for what I’m working on just now. I don’t want to lose those cool ideas, but don’t know how to keep track of them for future use.

    Also, with historical fiction, I worry (greatly) about mentioning enough to place the characters in the flow of that period of history without it being unreal to someone who knows every tiny detail of THAT period in history.

    How much fiction can history tolerate? Can a castle be “made up” without destroying the “realness” of the period? Can a town exist that never existed and still come across as real to a history buff? Can I call an existing town by another name, and have it be taken as real?

    1. Christiane Avatar

      I second this. Although historical fiction is probably the genre I most want to write, I’m terrified by the amount of research I’ll have to do. I’d like to know the bare minimum that one should know before beginning to write, because I fear I’ll end up researching for years without ever getting to the writing part…

      1. Tom Saine Avatar
        Tom Saine

        You could just write your story and completely ignore history altogether. There is plenty of precedence for that approach in the movies coming from Hollywood; both currently and in the past. They just make their movie little, and history be damned.

        1. Kathryn Kistner Avatar
          Kathryn Kistner

          Tom, I’m not following. How do you ignore history for a historical novel? Not MENTION the events of the day? Not describe clothing appropriate for that period of history? Leave out everything that helps to place us in that period of time? Please help me understand what you mean.

          They just make their movie little? What does this mean? I’m open to new ideas… once I can understand them. Thanks.

          1. Tom Saine Avatar
            Tom Saine

            I’m just saying that almost all historical movies play fast and loose with this type of detail. Some research is put into sets and costumes, but not a whole lot. However the historical facts are bent, twisted, and corrupted to match whatever story the director wants to tell irregardless as to whether such things actually happened or not.
            Especially dialogue, Hollywood can really murder dialogue. Characters in past centuries using phrases that are clearly 20 or 21st century. Thus we have dialogue coming from a pilot in “Red Tails” that was from a Dr. M.L. King speech and would never have come from the mouth of anyone in 1945. Just one example.

            1. Kathryn Kistner Avatar
              Kathryn Kistner

              Thanks, Tom. I got it. I just finished reading novel from a MAJOR historical novelist, and she used the word weird **AT LEAST** 40 times in the first 65 pages (sometimes four times on a page). Nope. Wouldn’t have happened in 1638. Totally turned me off. Not authentic-sounding enough. For more authentic-sounding words she could have used “peculiar”, “queer”, “odd”, or “unexplainable”… NOT weird, for goodness sake! LOL!

              1. Tom Saine Avatar
                Tom Saine

                I’m glad.
                I would suggest that you just write your book as you want to. Give the finished manuscript to someone else that likes the time period you are writing about and let them read it. If they bring up questions, concerning historical setting, historical dress, or language, then address those specific concern, otherwise leave it alone. Hope this helps πŸ˜‰

              2. Kathryn Kistner Avatar
                Kathryn Kistner

                Tom, no “reply” link available to your post… This would also help keep things from getting too bogged down with too much detail! I like it! Thanks.

              3. Tom Saine Avatar

                I don’t know why there wouldn’t be a reply icon – I was in the process of adding an image to my profile, maybe that has something to do with it.

              4. Tom Saine Avatar

                Again no reply icon – I don’t understand why. Click in my name and it will take you to my website.

              5. ByTheFarmstead Avatar

                I’m not so sure that not doing the research is a good idea as the some detail needs to be an organic part of the story. Too many period books are not anchored in the period in the last decade or so.

  16. Liana Mir Avatar

    My issue is finding the core of a story and sticking to it. I write in storyworlds, all of which contain endless characters whose story I know well. But. The story I’m writing needs focus that shaves off almost everything I know about everybody. Finding and keeping that core from opening to ending is hard for me. I often succumb to sprawlβ€”and lose the story if I can’t rein it back in.

  17. Deirdre Murphy (@Wyld_Dandelyon) Avatar

    Shifting gears from the day job to writing is the hardest part.

  18. LKT Avatar

    I have two issues: (1) Conflict; and (2) the Middle.

    For the first, I’m still struggling with the difference between giving my character true conflict, or just a bad day. (Apparently I’m really good on the sucky day, not so good on the conflict)

    For the second (apparently similar to a good chunk of responders), I know how I want to start the story, and how to end it – what happens in the middle starts to mesh into this great big pile of goo.

    Fun Times πŸ™‚

  19. Z Avatar

    Well, I’ve got a big problem with sitting down and actually writing – procrastination is big here. But if we’re talking about the actual writing process – perhaps the rewriting, and the idea development. Something I’m struggling with right now is writer’s block; it’s not like I don’t want to write, I can go forward in my story until I figure out this one aspect of it all… So if you had any tips for that, it would really help.

  20. tom Avatar


  21. ~ Avatar

    I’ve trouble with realistic dialogue (with the subtext I’m aiming for) and getting the first words and plot details down.

    I’d love to get a hold of that subtext short course! But it seems it’s been discontinued? I can’t find anything about it on the HTRYN (<-Wasn't it here?) or HTWS pages and I joined HTTS a month after it was given out because, well, Christmas money.

    Just something that's been on my mind for a while.
    Regardless, I'm really looking forward to the surprise!

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      I’m upgrading Subtext and Dialogue. It’ll be available again soon. πŸ˜€

      1. ~ Avatar

        Great, thank you! πŸ™‚

  22. Kelsey Avatar

    Nailing my heart to the wall.

  23. Lizabelle Avatar

    My biggest problem is confidence. I can write, if I don’t think too hard about what I’m doing – but it feels so arrogant, almost, to take my writing seriously and hope/believe that anyone else would want to read it. And yet if I don’t take it seriously it will never be readable/read, so I have to push on. But it’s tough.

    1. Patricia Avatar

      I understand exactly what you mean, and I suffer from this greatly. It’s almost as if I am afraid to love my own writing, to speak nothing of actually being proud of something I’ve written, because what if it really is awful? I am so paranoid of becoming one of those people who are proud of rubbish that I hardly allow myself to enjoy what I have written. But then, if I don’t like it, who will?

      Maybe this is a task for Holly’s exercises for Safe, Victim, Perfect, etc…and we can encourage each other to keep trying. πŸ™‚

  24. Jennie Avatar

    I would have to say the synopsis and query letter have been the hardest part of the process for me. Even with all the great advice from HTTS and HTRYN, I am floundering. I have a multiple protagonist situation and lots of very tied-in subplots (just like I was taught!) and trying to narrow that down to two pages is killing me!

  25. B Avatar

    I’m good with beginnings/setup, but when I get to the middle where things need to start happening I get stuck in a spiral of all the possibilities I can come up with and being unsure of which way is the best way. I don’t like closing off options so I just stall out and don’t choose anything. I’ve been told to try and envision how I want the story to come together all the way to the end but I have a really hard time with that.

    I also have a hard time ensuring that my characters all have their own distinct voices because when I reread it they all sound distinct to me but I’m not sure it carries over to the reader. Incorporating more senses than just sight and sound is something I find really hard too. I know it fleshes out the world more but it’s hard to incorporate easily.

    I’m a pantser/discovery writer so when I get an idea I’m usually scribbling it out and seeing where it goes. I’d like to be able to refine it and know if it’s something I can make into a decent story before all the scribbling happens. The Sentence is hard for me and I’m never sure if I’m getting all the right things into it.

  26. RolyPolyKitty Avatar

    At times I am overwhelmed by all the choices I can make to move a story along. How can I decide the best course of action? Do I go for surprise or the obvious? Is there a formula for this? I suppose surprise is usually the best answer. Maybe I need to go back to making an outline. Any suggestions are welcome.

  27. Chrissy Avatar

    The hardest thing I find about writting is finding someone to edit/review what I have done. I have my first draft finished and would like some outside opinions that could help me fix the issues I have (I now I have several), but can not find any. I have looked up writters groups, but they want too much money to join.

    1. ByTheFarmstead Avatar

      YES! Extreme budget limits means no writers’ group or editing service. I had two betas, but they moved on due to RL. So I’m second guessing everything, to the point where I manage to put the brakes on to stop the sporal. But I don’t move forward either.

    2. Marcia Richards Avatar

      If you have writer friends, you can ask them to Beta read your story and let them know how in-depth you want them to make their comments. Also ask someone you know well who you respect for their intelligence and thoroughness in other areas.
      Check for critique groups in your area or online.
      Lastly you can just hire a pro editor,which will be needed in the end anyway.

      1. Chrissy Avatar

        Alas, I have no writter friends. I do have my dad but he lives 6 hours away and I have no way to get him a copy (his computer died so no internet and it is way to expensive to mail 200 sheets of paper at this point,Lol). Right now I just need someone to read it for me. I know I am short on word count (only have around 40,000 word), and I need to put in some filler, but I am kind of stuck on where to go from here. I need some outside help from someone that has not seen the story. I myself am the kind of person that can not re-read a book within a few months as it is too fresh in my mind. As I am the writting this one it is just as bad, I see something that I think needs changed, but can not figure out how to change it as I can not find a way that is better than what I out in.

  28. Mickey Avatar

    I have a hard time staying on task, especially when I get an idea that may be worthwhile in a different area in the story. I eventually end up with a bunch of paragraphs that are vital to the story but have a difficulty putting/linking them together coherently.

    First person narration is difficult, especially when trying to not use “I” or “me” every sentence.

    Finally, what to do with the drafts of manuscripts after they are done and I am content with the work. Therefore, finding editors/just editing by myself, getting others to read the story, publishing, etc. Without being able to gain access to the next step and getting feedback, it’s hard to predict if I am good enough and should continue writing.


    1. Chrissy Avatar

      I have this issue as well. I have about 4 books that I would like to work on. I have the first draft of one finished, but halfway through it I had an idea for a different story altogether. I found that if I keep all my ideas in the same folder on my desktop it helps. I have a subfolder for each of my ideas so I can keep them separate, but sometimes they do find a way together in the same story.

  29. Vicky Avatar

    My biggest issue is that I write what I consider to be a stellar scene, rich with imagery, dialogue, and conflict (it’s very entertaining to me, anyway), but then I fall flat. I cannot lead up to the scene, or lead away from the scene. I can only paint pictures here and there of things that interest me, but lack the ability to connect them. It’s like the difference between flipping through photos on the computer and watching a movie.

    Then, of course, is the fear that no one will relate to what I’m writing, leaving them bored. I’m also afraid that I will reveal too much about myself through the conflicts and resolutions.

  30. John Green Avatar

    I’d say the biggest problem I’m having is finding that balance between developing the characters and keeping things moving storywise. I got stuck experimenting with shifting things around time-wise (like Highlander) but it’s also proving difficult.

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