Lisa Ellison is a writer, speaker, and coach with an Ed.S in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a background in mindfulness. She regularly presents and teaches courses on the use of mindfulness in writing, writing about trauma, and all things memoir. A regular contributor to the Jane Friedman blog, her essays and short stories have appeared in HuffPost, Hippocampus Literary Magazine, the New Guard Review, Kenyon Review Online, and Brevity, among others. She’s currently working on a memoir about how traveling with her husband’s heavy metal band into post-Bosnian-War Yugoslavia soon after her brother’s suicide led to a promise that ultimately saved her.
How I got here
I first discovered the joy of writing when my brothers and I unearthed a suitcase-style typewriter from a pile of clothes at the bottom of our parents’ closet. I was nine and learning to string sentences into paragraphs. My mother had recently been hired for a second-shift job that meant we only saw her two nights per week. As I typed nightly letters to her, I experienced the power of my words and what they could convey about love and longing. Also, at nine, typing seemed cool.
Soon I discovered that everyone had that power.
To see it, I just needed to pay attention.
Feeling like a writer took much longer. I spent years believing I had to be published, win awards or have certain degrees before claiming this lofty title. In reality, all that’s required is the willingness to park your butt in a chair and slap some words into a notebook. Writers write. That’s it.
I spent years filling notebooks, studying fiction and poetry, submitting my work, and then lamenting that I’d yet to achieve my dream. At the time, I believed a lack of outward success meant I was doomed to fail. Sometimes I’d take breaks to earn a degree or focus on safe, career-driven goals. But stories were always my home. And I always found a way to incorporate writing into my careers, whether it was workshops I designed for kids, writing courses I taught to clients, or projects I edited.
And in 2013, those stories saved me.
After years of trying and not quite reaching my goals, I decided to laser focus on a career in mental health. In May 2012, I earned my Ed.S in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from James Madison University, won a bunch of awards, and started seeing clients.
A few months later, I contracted Lyme disease—the cunning, baffling, great pretender of a disease that feels like a mixture of flu, Alzheimer’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Working while terribly ill amplified the anxiety and depression caused by Lyme inflammation and compounded my physical symptoms.
The sicker I got, the more hopeless and helpless I became. Desperate for relief, I registered for a mindful writing class at the University of Virginia. I’d had a lifelong meditation practice, and studied meditation during grad school, so this seemed like a great combination. I started each class in excruciating pain, but by the time I left, the pain was gone. So I kept writing.
While the class reignited my joy, regaining my health was still a struggle. In 2014, my two-year battle with Lyme had become so serious it threatened my life. To recover, I quit working as a counselor. Unemployed and contemplating death, I faced my fears of not being good enough, and realized I had nothing left to lose. If I died after having failed, at least I’d know I tried. That’s when I claimed my role as writer.
After years of writing fiction and poetry, I discovered creative nonfiction. Writing true stories felt like coming home. I registered for conferences, workshops, and master classes that allowed me to study with writers like Dinty Moore, Lee Gutkind, Meghan Daum, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Rob Spillman, Elyssa East, and Sharon Harrigan, among others. As I found my voice, I began to recover. Then I began to get published.
In late 2015, I began working as an editor. In 2016, I started teaching writing courses at WriterHouse, a local nonprofit writing center in Charlottesville, Virginia. By 2017, I was presenting at local and regional conferences. Now, I regularly present at national conferences like HippoCamp, the James River Writers Conference, and Compassionate Friends, in addition to delivering webinars through Jane Friedman and Creative Nonfiction.
My greatest joy is that I get to work with other writers who are taking the same chances on themselves.
Looking back, I often felt like a fraud, especially during those early years when I called myself a writer but had little to show for it. I now know that realizing I had nothing left to lose helped me write the check on my dreams. It wasn’t easy, and like all writers, I still face obstacles along the way. But those obstacles teach me the humility and tenacity that make me a better writer, instructor, and coach. They also give me opportunities to reconnect with that little girl, her typewriter, and both the power and joy of human stories.
B.A. English, University of Louisville
- Summa Cum Laude
- Winner of the Helen Mercedes Rosebery Creative Writing Award
M.A.T. in Learning and Behavior Disorders, Spaulding University
Ed.S in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, James Madison University
- All Together One Award winner
- Most Distinguished Graduate Student Award
- Department of Graduate Psychology Outstanding Service Award
- Jonathan Davis Memorial Scholar
Writing Awards and Recognitions
- HuffPost article for suicide prevention week was translated into Spanish and read by Laura Cathcart Robbins as an “On My Night Stand” segment of her award-winning podcast The Only One in the Room
- 2019 T.A. for Meghan Daum at the Writer’s Hotel Conference
- 2019 Remember in November Contest Finalist run by Hippocampus Literary Magazine
- 2018 Machigonne Fiction Award Finalist run by The New Guard
- Accepted to the 2015 Virginia Quarterly Review Writing Conference as a WriterHouse Scholar & selected reader
- Honorable mention in the 2015 C-Ville Weekly Fiction Contest
Click here to view my selected publications.
I am a world-class writer, speaker, and coach who strives to help all writers tell stories that change the world. I do this by:
- Providing high quality, holistic, trauma-informed coaching
- Delivering clear, respectful, actionable feedback
- Teaching practical skills in an accessible way
- Walking my talk by furthering my growth
- Remaining in the trenches as a writer working on my own projects
I am here today because of the generosity and care provided by mentors who shared their time and talent with me. Because access is an important part of my mission, I strive to provide services that work for all budgets. This includes:
- A free e-mail newsletter that couples inspiration with practical tips
- A channel on Insight Timer where I deliver free writing-focused meditations
- Twice monthly Write More, Fret Less writing sessions
- Teaching low-cost webinars for reputable writing organizations
- Awarding four scholarships per year for courses I teach through my business
What are you investing in?
You are what you invest in. When you choose yourself and your writing life, you are investing in your best self.
“If you are looking for no BS coach, who’ll be a stand for you and your work, hire Lisa immediately.”