The New Year, My Ohio Series and the Hero’s Journey

The Crash

The new year is just an arbitrary date — not a real thing, not something that can change your life. If you’re in a Western European-derived country, then you use the Western calendar. In which Pope Gregory XIII built a new calendar to update the Julian calendar (which had an issue with equinoxes), and western Europe (and by extension, the US) adopted the calendar…

But the truth is that years and months and days and hours and minutes are arbitrary measurements, best guesses by a multitude of civilizations all over the world at marking time using different methods, usually outside the measurement of the speed of atomic decay of hydrogen or cesium atoms.

January 1st is a roll of the dice. The first day of the  “new year” could be on the first day of spring, the summer equinox, the winter equinox, the date of the birth of the favorite person of the guy with enough power to memorialize that date for the life of that civilization…

Point is, the day itself…? Just. Doesn’t. Matter.

It’s one more wake-up call in a lifetime that you hope will be long, and that you hope will be good, and meaningful, and full of joy and excitement (of the right kind).

But humans in general seem to like to take stock. To look back at where they’ve been, to look forward to where they might want to go… and to see where they are.

That taking stock, for me, did not happen on December 31st, or on January 1st this year.

It happened when, after MONTHS on a revision that would in most cases would have just take me a couple of weeks, on Monday, January 6th, I crashed the novel Dead Man’s Party into a ten-ton block of iron at about a thousand miles per hour.

It happened I came face to face with the true nature of the villain I’d built, and realized that day that while he was perfect for the role he held, and absolutely true and right for the story, I could not write him. And I could not remove him — he was perfect for the role, perfect for the book. He was simply the wrong character for me. I could not write him and find any joy in the writing.

It was a true dark night of the soul, and I was stunned by my vehement reaction to the story Dead Man’s Party was becoming.

I stalled, froze, locked up.

Matt kicked me out of that locked-up, shut-down state by asking me, “Why are you doing this to yourself? The Ohio Novel has been sitting on your hard drive for six months? Why don’t you work on that?”

And my daughter Becca said, “Why don’t you take a think week? Figure out what you need to do?”

The Think Week

I took a Bill-Gates-style Think Week, (in-house, no vacation) in which my theme was simply to define what I wanted my writing career to be. The last decade, it has been heavily non-fiction, but last year I wrote three first-draft novels while also writing the massive How to Write a Novel class, and realized that I am burned all the hell out on nonfiction, and that I want to take a run at making my fiction my full-time job again, this time as an indie, and to use THAT experience to build the support of my non-fiction classes around the fact that I’m a full-time pro indie fiction writer.

Walk the indie walk, in other words, and not have the majority of my credibility come from the thirty-some commercially published novels — because going commercial is simply not the best choice for most novelists.

And while I took my think week, and decided to pass Dead Man’s Party on to my son Mark, I revised my first Ohio novel. Start to finish, read-through AND write-in. In three days. My previous personal best for an author’s revision (as opposed to an editor’s request for revisions, which usually takes a week, best case) is about two weeks. And that was grinding.

I did not experience a single moment of grinding on this, a single spot where I didn’t know what to fix or how to fix it. And I loved the book on the read through, and loved it even more on the write in.

Three days is by far is the fastest I have EVER revised a full-length novel.

Doing that revision, I realized a couple of things.

The Ohio Series is what I want to be writing through at least five books.

To do them well, I need to do them exclusively, and stay deeply embedded in that world.

So between Monday, January 13th and today, I have been building the overall themes of the Ohio Series (it won’t be called that when it goes on sale, but it’s going to have to be Amazon exclusive when it launches, and I want to do either a three-book or five-book monthly release of the novels, which means I’m throwing everything I have into this.

The Ohio Series

I built a Hero’s Journey type-in revision outline for the first Ohio novel, and Hero’s Journey outlines for the other four books in the series — books 3 through 5  this morning.

I’ll now transfer the Book 1 HJO (Hero’s Journey Outline) to my Scrivener chapter notes, and do the type-in revision from the manuscript. Put the Book 2 HJO into the notes of the next novel manuscript, and start writing that one. Revise. 

Write the third. Decide if the end of the midpoint novel of the series is a good place to put everything that I have on sale… OR wait until I have all five done.

I’ll be updating How to Revise Your Novel during this process, and will no doubt have some nice examples of my accelerated process to bring to the class update… but that’s going to have to be in small steps, and will not be done at the blinding one-lesson-per-week pace I maintained while building of How to Write a Novel.

At this point, I revert to being a novelist first. And that means fiction first, and lots of it. My first two hours of the morning, Monday through Thursday. More if I can streamline my schedule.

So… to sum up…

Things are changing. And I’m glad.

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16 responses to “The New Year, My Ohio Series and the Hero’s Journey”

  1. Michelle Brumley Avatar

    I’m still catching up on your AIARWIP podcast (on “Perfectionism: Part Two – Revision” today). I decided I needed to listen to the show to help my brain reset so I could get back to writing today, too. I wanted you and co-host to know that your voices, your wisdom, your laughter and your joy together at helping others–helps me, and I know that you’re doing the right thing here to help yourself and your writing. I have a lot of episodes to get through, but I wanted to drop in and leave a note after I read this blog entry.
    I look forward to your new adventure, and will be following along 🙂
    I’m on IG as bloodgate_heir and now you know me as Michelle!

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      Thank you, Michelle. I’m so happy to hear that you’re finding the podcast helpful. 😀

  2. dragon Avatar


  3. Tom Avatar

    Holly, the stupid Convertkit email sign-up drop-down is obscuring your post and I can see only one line of text under it. I’m already on all your lists. Make it go away!

    1. Holly Avatar

      It took me having the ConvertKit folks coming in and clearing the thing out, but it is now well and truly gone. Thank you for letting me know that everything I tried still hadn’t worked.

  4. Margaret Fisk Avatar

    It’s hard to realize your characters aren’t the headspace you want to inhabit for the length of a book, but sounds like you fell down that pit and came out smiling on the other end. Look forward to reading this Ohio Series when it’s ready.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Yeah. That was rough, because I loved the raw first draft of Dead Man’s Party, but when I asked the core questions about the story and the characters in it for the revision, I realized it would be a really good book if done right — but that I was not the person to write it.

  5. Mary Avatar

    This is so inspiring, Holly! I am just beginning your How to Write a Novel class and am so looking forward to continuing to learn from you. I took HTTS years ago, but never really really did anything with it. Absolutely every time I read a post or hear your (and Becca’s) podcast, I am inspired. Thank you for your amazing honesty.

    1. Holly Avatar

      😀 I’m glad I can help. Writing novels is the most fun you can have all by yourself. I love it beyond words, and if I can help other writers connect with that joy and excitement, that brings me joy.

  6. Tara Ranee Avatar
    Tara Ranee

    The best part about epic crashes is reading the follow-up on how the survivors moved forward and built on their experience. While I’ll be looking forward to your Ohio novels, I’m also curious now as to what Mark will end up doing with Dead Man’s Party.

    Welcome to life in the almost Mid-West. (Ohio’s such a strange state – doesn’t know if it’s East or West) I have kin buried somewhere near Reading and will be making a point SOME day to visit the grave on my way to my Patriot’s place in New Jersey, but for now I’m ensconced in snowy Missouri.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Hi, Tara.

      I’m actually from here. Was born in Lisbon, lived in Gnadenhutten, New Philadelphia, outside of East Liverpool — and then got dragged away from here kicking and screaming when I was ninteen. This is the place I have loved all my life, and now, at the age of almost sixty, I came home… and it’s still home.

      I have discovered that I was absolutely right to not want to leave, and absolutely right to want to come back. And, having lived a lot of other places in my life, both in the US and abroad, I’m with Dorothy on this one.

      There really is no place like home.

  7. Amy Avatar

    As a reader and a big fan of your fiction, I hope you put the Ohio series on sale at the midpoint rather than wait until you’ve written all five. I’d love to start reading that series sooner rather than later – definitely looking forward to it! 🙂

    1. Holly Avatar

      While, as an ardent reader myself, I totally understand that, as the writer, the statistics of finding a readership for a new series by a brand new author (and this will be coming out under a pseudonym) is mean.

      Here’s the gig — If you bring the books out one at a time as you write them, they’ll die.

      If you bring the books out once a month when you have three written, you have some home.

      If you bring the books out when you have five books written, you are giving your books the best chance to succeed under the new pseudonym.

      It’s hard to wait. I have the first one almost finished in the “editor’s revision” (the final stage) at this point.

      But I want these books to succeed, because I have more of them I want to write if the first five do well.

      So… I’m committing to the first five books all at the release of one per month. It’s gonna be a while.

  8. emmiD Avatar

    Crash, burn? Nope. Phoenix rising from the ashes!

    I nodded throughout your calendar discussion. My yearly re-set always happens in November. I do a lot of thinking and winding up during the first three weeks, then I set a new plan in motion on the last Sunday/first Sunday of Advent. Back in 2012, when I decided to seriously pursue the indie route, my re-set happened in November. I tracked back several years and discovered that pattern.

    I greatly admire your decision to abandon that novel. That’s a really true hard decision when considering time, effort, and thinking. I hope you write more on how you encountered the wall, tried to work around it, and then crafted your re-set during the Think Week.

    The Ohio story has intrigued me from the beginning. Can’t wait to see it reach publication!

  9. Eileen Mueller Avatar

    Great choice Holly! Go for it.

  10. Tiffanie Avatar

    Congratulations! Good job figuring out what the issue was, and being brave enough to take the plunge! (It’s so hard to “lose” all those words and thoughts). I’m proud of you. You got this!

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