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3 Keys to Creative Longevity: Holly Lisle

A long bookshelf stacked high.

Novelist Holly Lisle is no stranger to creative setbacks.

The worst came after she discovered her ex-husband was a child molester and she went on medication to deal with the resulting depression.

“Prozac completely killed my ability to write,” she remembers.

The publishing industry wasn’t particularly kind, either. An editor once promised to release one of Lisle’s books in hardcover, only to switch employers and say she didn’t need any “midlist writers” anymore.

The “3 book death spiral” of conventional publishing was an obstacle, too. “No matter how well you sell, you are constantly being trapped in a publishing cycle where the second book will sell fewer than the first, the third book will sell fewer than the second, and your contracts die,” she says.

In spite of all that, Lisle has published 33 books since releasing her award-winning first novel, Fire in the Mist, 25 years ago. She also runs several online courses for aspiring writers.*

Here’s how she manages career longevity in a fickle industry while dealing with personal and professional challenges:

1. If it’s not working, change it.

After a year of Prozac-induced writer’s block, Lisle couldn’t afford the medication anymore. She switched to St. John’s Wort, a cheap herbal alternative. It didn’t alleviate her depression much, but it let her write again.

“There are some things that block creativity, that block this connection with your right brain and keep you from being able to think of stories,” she says.

“I was depressed for about a year after I switched over,” she adds, “but I was able to write again within about a month.”**

2. Don’t cling to old rules.

“You think you understand the process, and then the rules change, and this happens constantly,” she says.

There used to be a formula for building a career as a fiction writer: create a name for yourself publishing short stories in magazines, write a novel, get an agent, and sign a contract with a major publishing house.

These days, Lisle prefers finding her own path.

“One of the beauties of indie book publishing is that there is no 3-book death spiral,” she says. Self-publishing has become a legitimate form, especially since conventional publishing has become “so bizarre.” Authors used to get paid advances when they signed publishing contracts. Often, that doesn’t happen anymore, Lisle adds.

“It’s just like you’re rolling toward an objective and you’re swerving out of the way of all the crap that comes at you, and you have to try new things, so that’s what I’m doing.”

3. Switch genres.

“What you have to do is focus on what you want, and then you start looking for alternative ways to get there,” Lisle advises. “For me, it was for awhile writing nonfiction exclusively.”

Now, she uses genre-switching as a way to avoid creative burnout while maintaining a heavy writing schedule.

During the week, she works on a conclusion to her Moon & Sun series for young adults, updating her website, and creating her “How to Write a Series” class. On weekends, she writes paranormal suspenses.

Conclusion: adaptability is the secret to longevity.

Ultimately, when you hit a creative obstacle, Lisle says the key “is just to take a deep breath and roll with it.”

Click to Tweet: When you hit a creative obstacle, “Take a deep breath and roll with it.” – Holly Lisle

What about you? What do you do when you hit a creative obstacle? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.¬†

Featured image: “Stack of books at the bookshop,” photo by Alextype, Adobe Stock.

*Of which I am one. I’m nearing the end of her “How to Revise Your Novel” class, which has pulled me out of Revision Hell and given me a book I love.

**Please note that I do not intend to provide medical advice in this article. If you’re concerned an antidepressant might be affecting your creativity, please talk to your doctor.

PS: If you’re interested in learning about other ways to overcome creative obstacles, you might like the book I just wrote. Click here for a free sample.

PPS: The images in this post contain Amazon affiliate links, which means if you buy a book after clicking one of them, I’ll receive a small commission. The cost of the book won’t increase for you, though.


  1. Pingback: Me, obstacles I’ve faced, and how I’m still writing – Holly Lisle: Writer

  2. I have taken Holly’s free classes and bought her books on character and plot. She’s a winner.
    My solution to creative obstacles is grab a Cadbury Fruit and Nut Bar, eat in one sitting while either reading a book about writing that deals with my current issue, read a novel in the genre I’m writing, or watch a movie and go back to writing the next day.

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