When I started my first novel, I made a horrible discovery.

I realized that even though I had a great grasp of grammar and diction, I knew nothing about storytelling.

So I went to Half Price Books (in Houston, in the Village). That one right there.

hpbvillageI combed through their reference section and found half a dozen books that I thought would help me. A book on dialogue. A book on setting. A book on scenes. Books on plotting, character development and revision.

I thought I’d covered all the bases. What else could I possibly need to know to write a novel?


It took me a week to devour those six books. The next weekend, I sat down to write again.

And realized that I still didn’t know where to start. I had all these new theories and concepts floating around in my head, but I couldn’t seem to tie them to the story I wanted to write.

There must be something else I need to know–something that these books skipped over, I decided. So back to the bookstore I went.

I kept reading. I learned a ton about the theory of writing. Writing terms. Plot structures.

But it took several more years of looking (and reading more than 200 books about fiction writing) before I found someone who could teach me how to be a fiction writer.

That person was Holly Lisle. A well-known science fiction and fantasy author with decades of experience, Holly had taken the time capture the lessons she learned along the way.

Those lessons weren’t just about the craft of writing–although they included plenty of that. They were also about the mental game of writing. How to keep your creativity flowing. How to know who you are as a writer. How to get unstuck. How to find the story ideas and characters that don’t just amaze your readers, they also amaze you.

I’d learned a lot about how fiction works by the time I found Holly. But I hadn’t learned how to be a writer.

Most important, I hadn’t learned how to connect all the abstract concepts about how fiction works with the stories I wanted to tell.

Holly taught me how to use structure not as a formula to follow, but as a jumping off point.

She taught me what to do when I realize that a story has gone off the rails.

She taught me how to edit without losing my mind.

I owe her a lot.

Holly’s a pantser who has a gift for teaching both pantsers and plotters.  When I do the exercises in her courses, I’m always amazed at how deep they take me.

I’ve taken every course she teaches. If she releases a new one, I’ll be in it the second it opens.

I’m working through one of them right now for a third time, and I’m learning new things that I didn’t catch the first two times through.

If you haven’t taken a course from Holly, I’d like to introduce you a few of them:

If writing feels like being adrift on an ocean where every wave throws you in a different direction…this course can help you find your compass. I know, we creatives don’t tend to like the word “discipline.” But when Holly uses the word, she isn’t talking about being harsh with yourself. She’s talking about tapping into that deep motivation that anchors you desire to write and keeps those waves from throwing you off course.

She’s a pantser with decades of experience, and her approach to editing makes digging into the messiest first draft a manageable task. If you struggle with editing at the level of story–not polishing words, but figuring out why even though most of the pieces are there, the story you wanted to tell just isn’t working–I can’t recommend this course highly enough.

I don’t know why there’s no course image for this one. 🙂 This is an outstanding course that takes you through the 192 different types of series, the implications for each type on the stories you can tell within them, and how to plan out a rock-solid series ahead of time. I use this one as my blueprint every time I start a new series.

If your readers keep telling you that your dialogue is “on-the-nose” and you don’t know what to do about it…this class will teach you what to do about it. Dialogue is one of the first things that engages readers in your characters (or, if you’re doing it wrong, it’s one of the first things that puts readers off). You must learn how to write great dialogue if you want to succeed.

She’s got lots of other courses. The one I’m retaking right now is How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers. It’s a six-month course that will teach you how to develop the mental resilience and creativity-management skills to go pro. The next opportunity to take it won’t come around until 2016, but you can sign up to be notified when she’s taking registrations here:

If you’re serious about your fiction, do yourself a favor and learn from one of the best writing teachers around.


Disclosure: the links in this post are affiliate links, and I will receive a referral fee if you decide to invest in one of Holly’s courses. If you’re uncomfortable with using an affiliate link, you can buy her courses directly at howtothinksideways.com/shop.