Think Sideways—Here’s What I’m Putting Together

Thank you so much for the comments on the Think Sideways demo video. Your suggestions have been hugely helpful.

  • I now have an earclip headset with a microphone that only makes me look a little like a Borg.
  • In order to eliminate the handwriting time-lag, I’ll prewrite sections of the whiteboard and do closeups using Photo-to-Movie, which I’ve owned for years and have been looking for a good excuse to put to use. I’ll add in drawings in real time. I like live drawing because of its immediacy, and the fact that it lets you engage directly with your viewer.
  • There will be a few clips of me, but frankly, watching people talk in videos is dull, and I hate seeing myself talk, so you’ll see me for intros, and maybe conclusions, and that’s about it.
  • PowerPoint slides are what you do to people you don’t like. They induce comas in lab rats. They deplete oxygen in rooms, causing CO2 overload and unconsciousness in those nearby, and are under investigation by the EPA. The Geneva Convention lists them specifically as a means of torture, and prohibits their use. (Okay, I just really hate them. No PowerPoint slides.)
  • I will, however, look into Keynote. I make no promises. In general, canned slide presentations bore me.

What “How To Think Sideways” Will Be

The videos, however, are simply a small portion of what I have planned. I’ve mentioned before that this is going to be a big course—the first one I’ve ever done. So far, I have 32 pages of just brainstorming notes. That doesn’t include example lists, demo lists, exercise lists, and so on.

I owe Thinking Sideways for my career, and for a lot of other things that have worked out well in my life. It is the single most important skill I have. Well, collection of skills. From an ungodly number of entries; data points; questions to myself; and dissections of how I got from Point A to Point B in sticky situations, through complex problems, and past just plain hard times, I’ve winnowed out 18 specific problem-creating, problem-complicating, and problem-solving skills I’ve used to create characters, develop and write books, plan series, change genres, maintain a business while maintaining creativity, and help my kids grow up right. (The first lesson, in fact, will start with my two older kids and me sitting in an interrogation room in the Fayetteville police station in December, 1994, after the two of them caused a 15-man undercover police stake-out at the Cross Creek Mall. They were at the time 9 and 11 years old. This is, believe it or not, completely relevant to both writing AND thinking sideways.) You’ll learn and apply all eighteen of these skills.

I’ve also figured out and will teach you five ways I combine those skills to find new angles of approach to particularly tough problems. AND four thought patterns you must lose immediately in order to be able to think sideways. (I had to rid myself of all four of them, so I know that it can be done, and I know how to do it.)

I figure (please correct me if I’m off base here) that what you need from a course like this would be:

  • Usable skills
  • applied to salable projects
  • presented in a fluff-free, entertaining, and immediately applicable fashion
  • for a reasonable price.

So at this point, I’m planning on 24 weekly lessons that will teach you the skills you need to:

  • Develop both creative ideas and salable ideas, and recognize how to put the two together;
  • Develop presentations that will appeal to agents, editors, the marketing department, and finally readers, (who never get to see all your hard work if you can’t hit the first three);
  • Write the book while maintaining quality, delivering what you promised, and hitting your deadline;
  • Identify the key marketing components of your work and present them in the best possible light to the people who need them, while letting those people do their jobs;
  • Connect with your audience (or know when you shouldn’t); and…
  • Move on to the next project, while dealing with the numbers, either good or bad, and success or failure of the previous one.

You will create a project as your course homework. (Well, you will if you DO the homework. That’s entirely up to you.) You’ll start applying the techniques immediately, and you’ll either write a novel, a nonfiction book, a series of short stories, or some project unrelated to writing—the techniques I’ll be teaching are applicable to any sort of creative endeavor.

What ” How To Think Sideways” Will NOT Be

With that said, this course WILL NOT teach you how to write. I have a bunch of courses already written that teach the essentials of plotting, characterization, worldbuilding, scene development, and organization. HOW TO THINK SIDEWAYS truly is a course that teaches thinking: creative problem solving directed toward problems of creativity. There will not be any “how to write a scene” or “how to create a character” or “how to plot” walkthroughs included.

The course will not be one-on-one. In order to keep the price down (and because I just don’t have the time to answer individual questions or read and crit projects) it will operate in the same do-it-yourself format as the small courses I offer in the shop. I will put everything I have into making sure you have clear demos, lots of examples, easy-to-follow instructions, and good direction for your project, but my assistance will be limited to technical issues: making sure you get working copies of each lesson, and tracking down and fixing bugs that you find.

I may offer separate tutoring, but this would cost significantly more, would only be open to a handful of students at a time, and I’m not sure if I could do it at all because of the possibility of tutoring cutting into my writing time. I have not yet committed to this idea.

Seats Will Be Limited

For the first class, they will be severely limited, because I have not done something of this nature before and I’m not sure how much time technical support will take.

I do not know how often I’ll be able to open registration, either. Depending on the amount of work involved with maintaining the course, doing necessary upgrades and technical fixes, and so on, and depending on my book deadlines, it could be twice a year. Or once a year. I don’t know what to expect yet. I do know I need to put together another proposal for Scholastic when I finish THE SILVER DOOR, and I need to write “C”.

So those are the caveats. I know this course won’t be for everyone. I am making every effort to make it suitable for writers from Absolute Beginner to Pro Who Needs A New Genre, but with lessons at one per week, it will be pretty intensive—a lot of things to learn, a lot to apply.



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16 responses to “Think Sideways—Here’s What I’m Putting Together”

  1. driftsmoke Avatar

    It really sounds intriguing. People have asked some good questions. The questions I have are mostly reruns, but I’ll post them anyway.

    1) Will we be able to download the videos so we can watch refer back to what we learned any time?

    2) How much does it cost? Will the course materials consist only of the videos or will there be written stuff to download, too?

    3) How much time (ballpark estimate) do you think the average person will need to dedicate to the course each week?

    Holly, you have some really cool ideas. I don’t know how you do it all.

  2. LisaM Avatar

    It sounds very, very good to me! Can’t wait!!

    24 weekly lessons with homework DOES sound intensive, however. Your courses are so interesting and there’s so much to learn, that I like to be able to immerse myself in the content for as long as possible. I could do that AND get quality homework done comfortably in the timeframe of a lesson a fortnight. This is important for me, especially if each lesson is going to build on the previous ones. I want to be sure I’m getting as much out of the course as I can.

    Do the participants get to download the 24 videos (and so have the option of viewing them whenever we want on our computers), or do we log on to a site to view them as they’re posted up each week, replacing the previous week’s video?

    Thanks, Holly, for all your hard work. All the best with “C” and the new proposal. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. ekcarmel Avatar

    I should have known that coming from you, Holly, this course would be better than I imagined. You DO NOT disappoint! From beginning to end it sounds fantastic. I like the idea of four thought processes to lose in order to think sideways. I know I’ve been missing something. My husband is a person who is very skilled in thinking outside the box (or sideways)- something I’ve tried to learn from him, but he isn’t the type to articulate HOW he does it. I’ve got a feeling your course will help me in both writing and everyday life – more than you already have, that is. Thank you for all the time and energy and ingenuity you put towards helping us up-and-comers.

  4. djmills Avatar

    No Meg, I’m ex NSW. I now live in Brisbane.
    You can email me at

  5. meg Avatar

    what they sais again. boy am i original! Maybe that’s why I need a course like this.
    And hey to another aussie, djmills!! Not in NSW are you?

    Thanks again Holly ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. djmills Avatar

    I love the sound of the course and want to sign-up now no matter what the cost.

    How big would each weekly download be? I ask because in Australia we don’t have the fast broadband internet that you all take for granted in USA.

    Could I still take the writen course without the movie parts if too large to download here?

    Also, could I help with the workload once I have done the course to remove some of the workload from you? Editing? Testing? Responding to tech questions? Write a help file? Whatever?

  7. jessiegirl21 Avatar

    I think i understand the multi platform format, and the lessons/class format. I’m not even worried about price, but i guess my concern comes in that i shy away from “classes” online where participation is required. I enjoy learning and teaching myself. i guess i’m just wondering if it will be possible to offer it at two levels – standard (support free; content only) and then gold (with support/class structure). I’d even go for downloading it one week at a time, i’m just one of those people who would be less likely to purchase if it only came in class format.

  8. Deedlit Avatar

    Everything you’ve planned seems good so far and well thought out.
    Just a couple of questions: how long will each weekly section be?
    Is it something that you have to do in real time? Or will each part be available to view when you want to? If not, it could make it difficult for people in different time zones to participate.
    And yay for no powerpoint slides! I have to use them everyday in my teaching (we have technical equipment that we HAVE to use!) and I hate them! LOL

  9. coraa Avatar

    I just have to say thank goodness for no powerpoint slides. I have to work with those in my day job, and boy do I dislike them.

  10. WanderingAuthor Avatar

    Sorry; I don’t mean my previous comment to seem critical. I might well be missing something. If so, I can’t figure out what it is, so I wanted to at least ask why from my viewpoint.

    I do understand your writing schedule takes precedence; you’re doing a lot in offering all you are to us anyway. So if I’m missing something, just ignore me, or point it out (I don’t mind looking like an idiot – I’ve done it enough in my life ๐Ÿ™‚ but don’t let my quibbles interfere with your writing.

  11. WanderingAuthor Avatar

    I have several thoughts. First, I want this course. It may not be a writing course, as such, but it is clearly a course any sane writer would want. Besides, after your comments about the first lesson, curiosity alone will force me to learn more. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like a few other commenters, I am worried about the price. No doubt it will be worth more than you charge, but that doesn’t mean it will fit my budget. :-/ Well, there’s only so much you can do about that, but since others brought it up, I thought I’d add my two cents worth.

    My key concern is this: limiting course participants will make it harder to get in, and force you to charge more per course. Since your involvement will be limited to providing working copies and fixing bugs, I don’t understand the need. The bugs will be there no matter how many people take the course; fix them, get one working copy, and it takes no more time to distribute it to 1,000 people than to 10. That is the beauty of digital copying. If you are afraid of all the e-mails reporting the same bug, just set up a “bug tracking” database, similar to what software companies use. I may be missing something, but I had assumed you needed to limit the course because you were planning to provide personal feedback. As I say, a single working, bug free copy duplicates easily; extra bugs crop up due to different OS or video software and even 10 members could use such a spread of ‘ware they’d be as much of a headache as 1,000 or more.

  12. shay Avatar

    the first video has already helped me with some plotting and coming up with story ideas for the novel, so for that i say thanks! and i look forward for what is to come =)

  13. Kerr Avatar

    This is well thought out Holly.
    What will be your criteria for getting into the course? And, what will the price be?
    Thanks for another wonderful effort.
    I can’t wait!

  14. dialyn Avatar

    The concept seems very interesting, and probably something I’d normally be interested in. I would be concerned about the price, but I also don’t think I could manage 24 weeks of lessons (sometimes I can’t even finish a four week class). My other problem is that I hate trying to learn anything by videos, especially on my computer. So, while it sounds overall like a great idea, it’s not going to work for me. On the other hand, if a book comes out it, I’ll be in line to buy it.

  15. Jess Avatar

    That’s a very helpful set-up.

    My biggest concern is, of course, price. : I know, I’m a killjoy.

  16. alisons Avatar

    This sounds very clear and very helpful. I couldn’t comment on the video yesterday because our internet connection was down, but I agree with everyone who did – I’m running XP and Firefox on a 4 year old Dell, and it ran perfectly but was slightly soft on the volume; I too enjoyed the interactive presentation but found the pace a bit slow at times. Overall it sounds like an excellent idea – thank you.

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