How to Avoid Distractions and Create a Career in Fiction: Interview with Holly Lisle

by Joe Bunting | 49 comments

Holly LisleAs a writer, you'd probably like to be more focused, to avoid the distractions of Facebook, email, and, potentially, children more effectively. You might also like to spend more time working on building a large platform, without stealing any time away from your creative writing, of course. And you'd definitely like to get published.

Today, I'm talking to author Holly Lisle about how to avoid distraction, build and manage platforms,  and handle the boons and banes of publishing. Holly Lisle is the author of more than thirty novels as well as several books about writing. You can find links to her fiction and writing instruction at and follow her on Twitter (@hollylisle).

Thanks for joining us, Holly!

So you've been a full-time, professional writer for more than twenty years, and I'm sure you've picked up a few tricks. How do you push through the “butt in chair” parts of writing, stay focused, and keep from getting distracted? 

I’ve developed a great system over the years, which includes carefully defining my goals, working out precise small steps to achieve them, setting priorities and deadlines for each goal and step, and then working my way through the steps.

When I feel good, I have tremendous creative energy, and can do enormous amounts of work by my sticking to my system.

UNFORTUNATELY, I have migraines, which have gotten worse over the years, and in the last few years I have added to the fun by developing intermittent severe vertigo and its concomitant symptom, icepick migraines, (which are just really special,) and as a result, sometimes my carefully planned schedules die an ugly death in the face of the annoying reality that I am not invulnerable, programmable, or separable from the physical demands of my own existence.

When I’m healthy, though, I can’t pretend that I suffer any great difficulty getting butt in chair and getting work done. I love what I do, and doing my work is a constant source of interest, challenge, and entertainment for me. I don’t procrastinate about doing what I love. (Taxes and paperwork are another story.)

What do you think is a good balance between description and story?

This is such a funny question. Writers frequently think there’s some magical percentage of standard description they can tack on to “the good stuff” that will make their work great—or at least acceptable. But what most writers mean when they use the term description is a deadly dull enumeration of the features of a location, character, or important story object… and no matter how you enumerate features, the result is going to be mind-numbing, pointless, and a drag on the story. There is NO amount of such writing that can be shoehorned into a story without damaging it.

I teach what I call “active description,” which is what I write, and which is the only way I’ve found to get people to actually read description rather than skimming over it while searching for the next “good stuff.”

Active description requires the writer to think hard about the objective of the scene he’s writing, create conflicts based on the setting or other descriptive elements, and then write the conflicts INTO the description.

I want to encourage everyone to get your book, Professional Plot Outline Mini-Course, which I loved. Can you give us a brief summary of how you plot your books?

Sure. I figure out the length of the story I want to write, then estimate the length each scene will run (my raw estimations are frequently off, and I find myself having to replot in the middle of many of my books—including WARPAINT, the one I’m finishing now).  I divide the estimated scene length into the estimated story length. The result is the number of scenes I’ll need to write to complete the book.

I then write out one sentence describing the characters, action, conflict, and point of the scene for each scene.  The trick is in finding useful things to put into these sentences—and I teach one variant of that trick in the Professional Plot Outline Mini-Course.

When my scene sentences are done, I write the book.

You're a prolific novelist, but you also manage a successful writing website. Do you find the audiences overlap, that your books and articles about writing encourage people to buy your fiction?

Not so much. As I explained in one of my courses, the difference between readers and writers is the difference between people looking to buy houses, and those looking to buy hammers with which to build houses.

Readers are house-buyers. They want to buy something ready-made that they can settle into and enjoy, and they do not welcome you handing them a hammer and saying, “Show me what you can do, Sparky.”

Writers are hammer-buyers. They want the best tools you can offer them, and they generally don’t want to go anywhere near YOUR houses, in case the way you build rubs off on them and changes their image of what they want to build.

I never considered this when I starting putting together my websites. I was building stories that interested me, but how I built them also interested me. And because of the way I work, I don’t talk much about the details of what I’m writing—to me, that drains the excitement out of finishing work, and leads to “leaving my fight in the gym.” So most of what I talked about was HOW I wrote, which had no effect on the fiction I was actually writing fiction-wise, and sometimes actually helped me figure out workarounds for writing problems I was facing.

The end result, though, has been that I ended up creating two almost completely separate audiences.  There’s a bit of crossover, but I wouldn’t put it above 10%.

Speaking of your platform, how do you find time to manage your website and write fiction with such a high level of excellence in both areas?

I’ve been building this stuff since 1987-ish, when I started writing a newsletter for my first writers’ group. I still had some of the articles I wrote for it tucked away when I got my first website, and because I wanted to learn HTML, I used the free site SFF-Net gave me to build a writing site. (My friend and former student Lazette Gifford had already built a fiction site for me.)

Over the years, the site has gotten bigger and bigger as I added to it, spun it off into several other websites… and that proliferation I’ve pared to the handful I have now.  Those several will be down to JUST two— and—as soon as I can move services and classes I provide on the other sites to my teaching site.

But as for how I find time? I don’t. My websites are important to me, so I make their upkeep part of my work schedule.  I make time, which is what you have to do for anything that truly matters to you.

As with my writing, I set goals, break the goals down into component parts, deadline out the parts, and then work my plan.

Writing comes first in my day, because I’ve discovered my creativity can be battered by frustrating web design problems, complicated student support issues, the logical dissection of process necessary for writing non-fiction, and unfortunately, the occasional nasty email. I’ve learned not to give anyone the opportunity to ruin my work day.

Some of your posts have been quite controversial. How do you handle critics, both in your fiction and on your website?

The controversial posts on my site weed out the people who won’t like my my fiction or my courses. I’m the same person in my fiction and courses as I am in my site articles and on my blog—and l look at presenting the core of who I am and what matters to me for FREE to people who are going to hate me a favor to them—sort of a public service—AND a favor to me.

If potential readers or potential writing students know they can’t stand me or my work because of the free stuff I’ve posted, they won’t waste money buying my courses and my books. This is a kindness to them.

And I won’t have to listen to them complaining about how they wasted their money on this book or this course written by the terrible person who has the temerity not to agree with their opinion of the importance of the purple spotted monkey weasel to the universe, or whatever opinion they hold that I don’t. This is a kindness to myself.

So how to I handle them? I don’t. If they make asses of themselves on my site, I’ll delete their posts or remove them, but beyond that, I don’t care. They have every right to whatever opinion they hold. They just don’t have the right to stomp up and down scream about it on my site.

Last question: can you tell us an industry horror story? What's the worst thing you've had happen to you or that you've heard happen in the publishing industry?

I have two, and both contributed directly to the fact that, while I still have an agent and could no doubt still place books with publishers, I’ve moved to publishing myself.

The first horror story came when I wrote my novel Hawkspar for Tor, and came in over the agreed-upon 200,000 words. My editor told me that at that length, Tor would have to publish it as two books.

So I cut, rewrote, swore a blue streak, and managed to bring the novel in UNDER my 200,000-word contract, at 190,000 words. I sent the revised version off to my editor.

She came back with the information that Tor wanted an additional 55,000 words removed.

Now, I write tight. I am not given to flowery language, and Hawkspar was an adventure story with no padding left.

I went over it again, and ended up telling her I could not find another single place to cut. I asked her if she could—and IF she could, to let me know where so I could make the cuts.

I then heard from her occasionally that it was taking longer than she’d thought, but she’d get back to me.

Only she never did. Instead, she quit Tor, and I got a copyedited manuscript from my new editor, who didn’t bother to introduce herself, and who told me I had a handful of days to turn the copyedit around.

Which was when I discovered my previous editor had cut the book by the mind-bogglingly stupid process of simply removing every scene from my hero’s point of view… and in the process removing the entire plot of the book and reason for its existence.

I fought a long, hard, angry battle to save the integrity of my story, and I won, and the book was published the way I wrote it. But it was an ugly fight and a miserable time.

As for the second story, it’s MUCH shorter.

I sent in my second YA fantasy novel to Scholastic on time. My editor approved the book. Scholastic then spent six months making excuses about how my check was working its way through accounting, while my credit went down the toilet, we lived on beans and pasta, and I eventually wrote Create A Character Clinic, and published it on my site for my readers, just to get money to cover bills.

Scholastic then told me they’d like to see my third novel in the series, but let me know through my agent that I’d have to take a massive pay cut to write it. I declined.

Between Tor and Scholastic, I discovered that I was much better off working for myself. So that’s what I’ve done ever since.

Thanks so much for your time, Holly!


I like Holly's idea of active description. Let's give it a shot. Holly says:

Active description requires the writer to think hard about the objective of the scene he’s writing, create conflicts based on the setting or other descriptive elements, and then write the conflicts INTO the description.

To practice that, first, describe a setting for five minutes. This could be your surroundings right now, a setting in your work in progress, or an imaginary setting from the realms of your imagination. Then, write conflict INTO that setting for ten minutes.

When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section. And as always, if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.

Have fun!

How to Write Like Louise PennyWant to write like Louise Penny? Join our new class and learn how. Learn more and sign up here.

Join Class

Next LIVE lesson is coming up soon!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.


  1. Oddznns

    Sick room in a very luxurious penthouse. Smells of antiseptic. Sick man. Healthy Man. Woman (his wife). Nurse. Healthy man is massaging sick man’s fingers to get the bloat out of them. He’s having a conversation with the nurse about how best to keep sick man’s fingers above his heart “but not with that pillow on his chest, … he gets too hot with the pillow on his chest.” “You do, don’t you?” Healthy Man asks the sick man, stroking his cheek with back of his hand. Wife is doing something on an ipad of blackberry. She looks up, frowns, looks back down.

    “I’m hungry,” she tells healthy man. Restaurant will be all sold out. Healthy man goes off to bathroom. Nurse starts preparing sick man for the night. Wife goes up to bottom of bed.

    “He’s not getting any better, but he isn’t dying is he?” she asks the nurse.

    Nurse observes… looking away… it’s hard to go if someone’s still holding on.

  2. Brianna McBride

    Not quite sure if this is what you mean by active description (I was a little lost) but I tried my best to describe… actively. Great interview by the way!

         The clacking of heels against concrete turns his head. His eyes are drawn immediately to the ridiculously low neckline of a silky, navy dress, until the wearer clears her throat, causing him to look up in with a slight blush. Artificially tinted green eyes look him up and down for a moment. 
         Having successfully displayed her annoyance, she reaches into her handbag, so far beyond his price range that he doesn’t even know what brand it is. She pulls out a compact mirror and begins checking her makeup, then simply stares at herself, in awe of her own beauty. When she looks away from her reflection several moments later, he’s already disappeared into the crowd.

    • Plumjoppa

       I can definitely see the setting and conflict.  I like this line, “so far beyond his price range that he doesn’t even know what brand it is.”

    • Brianna McBride

      Thank you! That’s funny – that’s the line I almost deleted.

    • Plumjoppa

      A lot of buzz about that handbag!  I liked it because it revealed something about her and him at the same time.   Confidentially, my husband knows more about pricey handbags than I do. 

    • Brianna McBride

      Ooh, a plot twist! 😉 That makes me feel better, thanks.

    • Tom Wideman

      I liked that Brianna. Great description. Welcome to our little virtual writers’ group.

    • Brianna McBride

      Thank you, Tom! I appreciate the welcome. 🙂 I’m only just beginning to find blogs such as this, so it’s exciting for me, as well as inspiring.

    • Mirelba

       Welcome to our practice 🙂

      Great beginning! I like your writing.  As for the price range line, I like it, but I don’t really think it fits here.  If it were within his price range, he would know what brand bag it was?  As if!  (Or am I unfairly stereotyping here?) 

    • Brianna McBride

      Thank you! Yes, that would be why I almost deleted it. Of course there are always things beyond our price range that we’ll look up everything about, if only to dream about it, but a man dreaming about handbags? It didn’t seem realistic. Still, I decided to let it stay. A case of bad judgement I suppose.
      Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it!

    • jk

      I have a real picture in my head of the woman, yet you really don’t describe her appearance.  I like it!

    • Brianna McBride

      Thank you so much! I think that’s my new favorite comment. 🙂

    • chingyeh96

      The woman reminds me of one of my characters, but i really like the male. I find the woman a bit typical (since i have thought up a similar character), but the male is not typical. I like “…he’s already disappeared into the crowd” and i can see this sort of love-hate kind of thing which is my favorite way of ‘tackling’ romance. The male is original (but i agree that you vividly described the woman without any description).

  3. jk

    The sunlight streaming through the wall of windows lining my living room is a welcome presence.  I can’t remember the last sunny day, and while I may regret it later, I’ve pulled the burgundy drapes all the way open so I can let in every drop of sunshine.  And, to be honest, I want to be able to see out right now.  I shift positions on the brown, overstuffed leather chair, trying to push myself deeper into it’s warm embrace.

    Starting from the north this time, I begin to scan my backyard.  In spite of myself, a smile whispers across my lips as my eyes settle for a moment on the maimed bird bath.  Shaped like a sunflower at the peak of its bloom in late July, it sits nestled in front of a bank of Loblolly pines that line the perimeter of the yard.  The bird bath, which I picked up for $7.50 at a yard sale, is nothing special to look at.  My guess is it is made out  of resin or fake concrete material of some sort, and while it started it’s life a bright, brilliant blue, the sun, wind, and rain and occasional bird poops has hammered it into a dull, lifeless grey.  Making it even less attractive is the fact that it has a big, scraggly scar in the front where one of the sunflower petals used to be.  The petal broke off when my son, Eric, knocked  the bird bath over in his excited attempts to extinguish the bonfire he’d lit.  In the bird bath.  He was 10 at the time, smack in the middle of his and his younger sister Leila’s pyromaniac phase.  It seems he miscalculated the height of the raging inferno that would be created by the two foot tower he constructed of sticks, twigs, dried pine needles and dead branches.  In his panic to to stop the fire from making its easy leap from the birdbath to the nearest pine tree, Eric knocked the birdbath over, crushing one of its petals on the brick walkway.  Eric has given me six new birdbaths over the years, willing me to replace the constant reminder of that day.  He knows I never will, and I smile, wondering where I’ll put his next gift.
    A movement in the shadows behind the tool shed snaps me back into the present.  Instantly, my heart jackhammers adrenaline through my body, and I strain to make sense of the shapes just beyond the rusty wheelbarrow next to the shed.  He knows I’d never leave the house with the curtains open.  He knows today is a state holiday and I won’t be woking late at my office.  He knows I’ll have had my glass of wine, or two, by now.  He knows I’m afraid of him.  But he doesn’t know I bought a gun.

    • Brianna McBride

      Brilliant description! You can picture everything very clearly, and the end was chilling, especially the last line. I definitely enjoyed reading it. Was this something you came up with out of the blue?

    • jk

      Thanks!  I just came up with the whole thing.  My starting point was from the part of the prompt that suggested a description of  your current setting then make a conflict.  I was sitting in my kitchen at the time, and thought well this is too boring, but it is sure is nice to see the sun shining today.  I did have fun writing it though.  Like you, I’m new here, and was really nervous about posting.  I appreciate the feedback!

    • Plumjoppa

      This gave me chills.  I was feeling all reminiscent about the birdbath story, and then whammo, into the shadows!  Nicely done. 

    • jk

      Thank you!!

    • Mirelba

      The end certainly gets to us.  Actually, I like the beginning and the end, but I think that the bird bath description, though excellent, is a bit long.  I would tweak it a bit, especially as it doesn’t seem to be related to the story- or will it have some relevance?

    • jk

      Thanks, Mirelba.  No, I don’t think the bird bath would have further significance.  It just came up, and then I went with it as I tried to practice the descriptive component.  

    • Francine (aka DragonsLady)

       If I had read this at the start of a novel, I would have snapped it shut and headed straight for the checkout counter.  I’m sure, if you continued this, that the sunflower bird bath or your then-pyromanic son would come to play again.  You pulled me in quite well (and now I’m frustrated ’cause I don’t know how the story will end.)

  4. Ed Horgan

    He sat in the dark happily, just the glow from his laptop
    giving him the light he needed to type while his e-book charged in the wall
    plug where he had disconnected the lamp. 
    Below the comforting low ceiling were the deep sofas and shabby chic
    chairs found in every coffee shop filled with university students, hipsters,
    travelers and English language teachers, drinking espressos and tap tap tapping
    on keyboards.  A young man, younger
    than himself, with a healthy head of hair and a confident walk, approached his
    dark corner and sat in the chair opposite him.  The young man glanced up at the silhouette of the lamp that
    separated them before glancing at him. 
    He pretended he hadn’t noticed. 
    He watched as the young man switched on his laptop.  His keyboard wasn’t backlit.  The young man glanced around the room
    where others tap tap tapped while bathed in comforting light from the cheap aluminum
    lamps.  The young man couldn’t see
    shit.  He felt the young man trace
    the plug in the socket not to the lamp but to his e-book.  He didn’t look at the young man and
    assumed a look of extreme concentration on his screen.  Time stood still.  ‘Don’t ask me to unplug my e-book’
    thought the man.  The younger man
    could feel the thought.  He sat
    back in his chair, looked around once more, folded his laptop and walked away
    with less confidence.  He, on the
    other hand, continued to sit in the dark happily.     

    • Plumjoppa

       Nice job describing an unspoken conflict in our electronic world.

  5. Plumjoppa

    Setting all by itself:

    The path that led to the cave was
    covered in tree roots and something that smelled of freshly sharpened
    pencils. It was only Fall, but because it was early in the morning,
    breath puffed out of the hikers in visible clouds. The entrance
    to Knox cave was a hole in the ground, barely visible unless you went
    looking for it. A Scraggly rope ladder dropped down into the hole
    was only visible until the fifth rung. Beyond that was
    darkness. The strangers standing on the edge were dressed in brown
    canvas overalls, work gloves, wool hats, boots. They were fumbling
    with carbide head lamps. Only the leader of the group seemed
    unconcerned about the ice crystals on the top few rungs.

    Setting edited with attempt to add

    Something in the forest smelled like
    freshly sharpened pencils. It was only Fall, but in the chilled dawn,
    Maya’s breath puffed out in gray trails as she tried to keep up with
    the other spelunkers. She was about to ask what smelled like pencils
    when she tripped on a tree root that snaked across the path to the

    When she looked up to see if anyone noticed her stumble, she saw
    that the group had stopped, and all eyes stared down the entrance to
    Knox cave. It looked like a pair of slender shoulders could barely
    fit through this hole in the ground. Davis, the trip leader, was
    already climbing down the scraggly rope ladder that was only visible
    until the fifth rung. Beyond that was darkness. Maya adjusted her
    carbide headlamp again, and zipped her brown coveralls up so far that
    she caught her neck in the teeth. She grabbed an icy leaf from the
    edge of the hole, and pressed it to her cut. The light down in the
    cavern grew brighter as each caver climbed down and added another

    “Come on down, there’s plenty of

    With her wool hat and helmet tightly
    fastened, she could barely hear Davis calling from below. She
    stepped back from the edge to let the next person go. No one came
    forward, and when she turned around, she saw that she was the only
    one still standing on top.

    • Tom Wideman

      That’s great, Plum! I love the part where she catches her neck in the zipper of her coveralls. It adds so much to the overall tension and anxiety she was experiencing. Your practice really helped clarify active description for me. I wish I had read it before doing my practice. lol.

    • Plumjoppa

       Thanks Tom, I found it difficult to write this way, like I was over thinking it. 

    • Ed Horgan

      What’s nice about the ‘conflict’ version is taking the wonderful simile – ‘something in the forest smelled like freshly sharpened pencils and making the character about to ask the question use it in her ‘real world ‘She was about to ask what smelled like pencils’.  

    • Plumjoppa

       Thanks for the comment!

    • Mirelba

      Wow, great job!  You should continue with it. 

      One comment  I think this: “and all eyes stared down” should be in the progressive form:  “and all eyes were staring down”

      the realities of life and earning a living have turned me into a grammar geek…

    • Plumjoppa

       Thanks for your comment, Mirelba.  I’ll try it out that way.  We all need grammar geeks! 

    • Mirelba

      Tell that to the students- they don’t always appreciate it…

  6. Tom Wideman

    His solitary elevator ride to the hotel lobby ended awkwardly when the doors opened revealing  a young guy and his date making out on the faux leather sofa straight across from him. He quickly averted his eyes and headed to the breakfast room. He shook his head in amazement at such enthusiastic lust so early in the morning. 

    The breakfast room was empty but not quiet. CNN blared scenes of the previous night’s crime sprees on the TV monitor in one corner while the attendant clanged the breakfast equipment in place. He grabbed a cold bagel and a cup of hot coffee and plopped down at the one table that was out of sight from the amorous couple on the couch.

    His phone vibrated in his pocket. He dropped his bagel on the paper plate and hastily wiped his hands on his shirt tail. His tight pants made it  impossible for his fat fingers to retrieve the phone in time. He checked the voice mail.

    “This is a courtesy call from American Airlines, informing you that your flight has been cancelled. If you wish to speak with a reservationist, please stay on the line. Other wise your flight has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning. Have a great day and thank you for flying American.”

    • Mirelba

       I may be nitpicking here, but if he’s on his way to breakfast, how do you know it’s  a young guy and his date, and not a young honeymoon couple?

      But I’d love to read what happens next, which means you’ve got me…

    • Tom Wideman

      Thanks Mirelba! This was actually a scene out of real life. I was in NYC a week ago and lived this. The young couple had apparently been up all night at the hotel’s rooftop club, still dressed in their date clothes. It was 6 in the morning. I figured if they were a honeymoon couple they would  have been making out in their room. 🙂

    • Mirelba

      Aah, yes, that sounds right, you should have added it to your description… So what happened after the flight was cancelled?

    • Tom Wideman

      A living hell is what happened. Okay, maybe not a living hell, but I was definitely living a very bad Seinfeld episode. 

    • Mirelba

      Boy, now you’ve really piqued my interest!

  7. Mirelba

    First paragraph is the setting, then whatever part of the story I managed to finish till the second gong went off…


    The snow is piled high, 14 inches according to the last
    report.  But the wind whips it into banks
    higher than that.  The trees seem to bend
    in the wind, their bare branches coated in ice and snow, creaking as the wind
    blows.  A few cars can be seen slowly
    trying to maneuver the snowy streets.  Here
    and there cars are parked at odd angles, left where they died.  And the house sits on its corner, trapped by
    the snow banks around it, its windows staring at the storm and the gathering




    Phyllis opened the door, and an avalanche of snow invaded her hallway.  The wind buffeted her even
    before she managed to step outside, where her boot sank into snow that reached
    above her knee.  Fourteen inches according
    to the weather reports, and even higher where the wind had blown them into


    Phyllis clenched her jaw and hugged her shovel closer to
    her, as if it could protect her from the elements.  She began to clear a path from her backdoor
    to the gate.  Above her, the trees, coated
    in ice and snow creaked in the wind.  She
    prayed that the wind wouldn’t blow any of them over like last year, at least not while she was out

    From time to time, the headlights of a car caught her as she
    worked, bathing her in temporary light. 
    She stopped to view the path she still had to clear.  Why oh why had she agreed to buy a corner
    house all those years ago?  The windows seemed
    to grin down at her as she slowly advanced, clearing snow, spreading salt,
    clearing more snow, spreading more salt. 

    She was getting too old for this.  Back when they’d first moved here, whenever
    it snowed, the bell had never stopped ringing with neighborhood kids offering
    their services, ready to clear the snow for a few dollars.  Now she didn’t know if it was the
    neighborhood or the children that had changed, but children didn’t come by
    anymore looking for work shoveling snow. 
    Now, all alone in the house, it was left to her to do it.  And there was still so much left to do.  Not even a quarter of the job done. 

    Phyllis could feel her arthritis setting in again.  The cold and damp wasn’t doing her much good.  Her breathing was ragged, she could hear
    every breath she took, and she could see it shaping into little clouds with
    each exhalation.


    She caught sight of another car, stalling near her
    driveway.  No time to see about it.  Anyway, not much she could do about it.  Phyllis kept her eyes down on the path, her
    shovel, the snow, the path she was clearing. 
    But then the path was blocked by a pair of boots.


    Phyllis looked up.  A
    young man.

    “Do you think you should be doing that?”

    “What, you think it’ll get done by itself?


    • jk

      Good job following the directions of the original post!  I am afraid I wasn’t so particular about the time parameters when I did mine.  Anyway, you’ve definitely set the stage for me, and make me wonder about what will happen.

    • Mirelba


    • Plumjoppa

       This reminds me of several places I have lived!   It’s a good active description of the solitary snow cleanup.   I really like how you describe the house in the first paragraph, even though it’s not the active paragraph.

  8. Katie Axelson

    Thanks, Holly and Joe! I love the house buyers vs. house builders analogy. I may borrow that one.


  9. Doogie Glassford

    No time for today’s practice… great article Joe. I have the highest regard for Holly Lisle. I have been following her for years and bought many of her books and courses. She is solid, honest, and a no BS kinda person. You either love her or hate her as it is almost impossible to be ambivalent or lukewarm about her. I for one, cherish her.

    I am feeling the same about you Joe and your site and encouragement refreshes me.

    Thanks for working so hard to make this site great.

    And for all of those who are not familiar with Holly Lisle and her teaching, I recommend checking out her classes and websites. I can give no higher rating to Holly. She is for real and she lays it all on the line every time.

  10. Zoe Beech

    The light swung wildly above the table, taken by a gust of wind.  The shadows fell on different places; now the light shone above his head, and she sat in the darkness, watching him.  The clock ticked beneath them with increasing severity.

    The boy opposite the woman had matured under her nose and only tonight did she see.  She’d stared through his clear-as-glass eyes when he talked to her about his day at school, usually uttered in monosyllables.  Neither the muscles developing on his arm or the sharpening of his movements caught her attention. She didn’t question why he ran at night.  And her ears never picked up the day her son’s voice shifted gear permanantly into neutral.

    Monica couldn’t take her eyes off Stewart. ‘Windy tonight.’

    He grunted.

    ‘It’s bad out there.’


    She leaned towards him.  He turned his head away. ‘What’s that mark by your eye?’

    ‘Ag, stop it, ma.’  His voice tried to edge her up against the wall into silence.

    ‘Stewart.’  Her voice quivered.  Please God no.  The wind howled again, blowing the curtain towards them and over their dinner.  

    He stood up.  ‘I’m going.’

    ‘But it’s so-‘

    He slammed the chair and moved into the shadows, walking towards the front door.  She sat under the pouring light and ticking clock but she all she saw was her boys fists, hearing only the frenzied beating of her own heart.

    ‘It’s fine, ma.’  he said as he walked into the night, ‘I’ll wear my jacket.’

  11. Richard Houston

    The cave itself looked more like an Anasazi cliff dwelling than
    the dark hole I had envisioned. It was simply a very large, deep
    depression in the limestone bluff. Fred had managed to make it to
    the cave before me – several times before me, in fact. He would
    run ahead, turn around and look at me as if to say, “Are you
    coming slowpoke?” then come back to see what was taking me so
    long. That’s when I saw the footprints. A cold chill came over me
    and stopped me dead in my own tracks. We were not alone.

    The prints had to be fresh because they were as deep and visible as
    mine and Fred’s. There were none of the tell-tale marks of boots
    or tennis shoes. The stranger must be wearing street or dress shoes
    or the prints would have left grooves like my hiking boots. Fred
    stood at my side panting while I tried to listen for the intruder.
    “Quiet, boy,” I whispered. It did no good. I couldn’t hear anything
    besides Fred’s panting. Whoever had been here before us was gone

    I followed the foot-prints to the cave. Other than a still damp
    spot next to the wall of the cliff where someone had recently
    relieved himself, there wasn’t much else to see. There were no
    signs of digging or anything – just the spot on the wall and ground.
    I went up to the wall and made my own contribution; not so much
    to mark my territory, but to gauge the height of the intruder. I
    figured he had to be less than six feet tall because his spot was
    several inches below mine. Of course, he could have been much
    more endowed than I, in which case all bets on height assessment
    were off.

    An excerpt form my book, A View to Die For. See it free at

  12. Julia Barrett

    New to the site as well.  I love this interview.  But then I’m a big Holly Lisle fan!  I’m not gonna practice, but I do have something to say about migraines – as a former migraine sufferer.  I get it.  Good luck.

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for stopping by Julia. 🙂

  13. chingyeh96

    In the shadows, casts by the trees and walls, are wolves, in which only the eyes could be seen. They do not hunt in packs but instead attack and kill each other in vicious battles. I watch what i could and hear most of it from the doubtful safety of the shop. Among them, is a boy whom i must save. I can’t sleep otherwise… 

  14. Brian M. Workman

    I think I understood the practice, though I don’t know if, in practice, I did it right.

    Stephen scrinched his eyes closed as hard as he could. He felt the skin around his nose wrinkle, his face tightening. He held himself that way while he counted slowly. Only when he reached ten did his eyelids fling open to reveal a whole cosmos. Lights danced across his vision in an aurora of colours. He knew a couple of real constellations, his father had taught him, but those that floated in front of him  were new and alien; undiscovered. Until now. He worked quickly to identify shapes before they dispersed and faded. He named The Rubber Pencil, One-Winged Seahorse, and finally a third that kind of looked like a whorl with a stick through it which he called Spinner. Stephen liked this game, and it helped him not be afraid, but brief as it was, it could only hold his attention for so long. The truth of the matter was that he was alone in the dark and frightened. The distant moaning that had previously kept him company had stopped some time ago. Though, the scent hadn’t. Any hunger that he had been developing had been deftly diverted by the growing stench of his confinement. Unbidden, panic began to rise within his chest and his skin flushed cold. And, once again, Stephen scrinched his eyes closed as hard as he could.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Say Yes to Practice

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts:

Popular Resources

Books By Our Writers

The Girl Who Broke the Dark
- Evelyn Puerto
Surviving Death
- Sarah Gribble
Vestige Rise of the Pureblood
- Antonio Roberts
Share to...