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Holly Lisle

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Sooner or later, every human being has to deal with obstacles, barriers, struggles heartbreak and loss. This is just the way life is---and even the most successful novelists you can think of will have faced these trials. If they've kept writing, they've overcome them. If you want to keep writing, you need to, too. The four worst and most pernicious barriers, though, are obstacles to your thinking, rather than to your actions.

They are:

Safe, Perfect, Victim, and Feel.

What is your experience with these four barriers? The size and shape of your obstacles are not the same as mine, but the result is the same—if you let yourself indulge in these thought patterns, you won't write, and you won't succeed. Both your writing life and your life as a whole are affected by them. To stop them, you have to deal with them.

SAFE seems sensible, but in truth, SAFE means hiding under the covers from imagined monsters. As long as you're hiding, the monsters won't get you...but you don't dare get out of the bed, either. You stay frozen in one place. It's easy to think only of the fact that you're not getting hurt, and hard to realize that you're not getting ANYTHING...except older...when your life is focused on staying SAFE. The act of putting words on paper is the thrilling defiance of SAFE---it's getting out of the bed, standing up, and saying, "Lemme see you, monster," only to discover there's nothing there.

PERFECT is the procrastinator's excuse---you've used it, I've used it, but it's a lie. Nothing you do is ever going to be perfect. You can shoot for great, you can be delighted with good enough, but if you're clinging to "It has to be PERFECT" before you kick the story out the door, you won't live long enough to see it leave home.

VICTIM is the popular reason why nobody accomplishes anything---people are victims of their gender, their childhood, their age, their skin color, their upbringing, and on and on...and all that VICTIM label does is keep the people who fall for its lure waiting for rescuers who are never going to come. If you're upright and breathing and not in immediate danger, what you're left with right now is not VICTIMhood. It's your life. Start living it. If it was rough, it'll make great fodder for fiction. So use that fodder. Time to rescue yourself and start writing.

FEEL is a critical part of life, but if you've been told FEEL trumps THINK, you've been lied to. Yes, you need emotion---passion, fear, love, hatred, rage, and despair. Without them you wouldn't be alive. But if you have ONLY them, and you deny yourself reason, curiosity, logic, and judgment, you're still just half a human being. Writers need all of their brains in working order, and they need to keep both halves of the FEEL/THINK equation on equal footing. Writing is not feeling. Writing is feeling AND thinking, and quite frankly, thinking comes first.

Overcoming these four barriers is necessary to move from first rough idea to the novel you dreamed you could write...and did. Your struggle to create wonderful characters and great conflicts---to turn every pain you've ever felt into another complication you can toss into your story (and maybe get paid for)---will pay off in better fiction, and in the sheer joy of doing what you want to do with your life. Remember:

SAFE never starts,

PERFECT never finishes,

VICTIM never acts,

FEEL never thinks.

You can do this.

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Holly Lisle, full-time novelist and author of more than 30 published novels, teaches the writing course How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School For Writers. You can download three free course modules today and receive her free writing tips right now at
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MLA Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly "4 Thinking Barriers That Keep You From Writing...And Succeeding." 4 Thinking Barriers That Keep You From Writing...And Succeeding. 26 Feb. 2009 25 Jun. 2017 <>.
APA Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly (2009, February 26). 4 Thinking Barriers That Keep You From Writing...And Succeeding. Retrieved June 25, 2017, from
Chicago Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly "4 Thinking Barriers That Keep You From Writing...And Succeeding." 4 Thinking Barriers That Keep You From Writing...And Succeeding
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