Guest Post: 5 Ways to Get Out of a Writing Rut

Photo: Ponsulak,

Photo: Ponsulak,

Today’s guest post is from Hawaii-based freelance writer Brandi-Ann Uyemura. She specializes in self-help, spirituality, writing and small-business topics. Check out her bio at the end of this post. Thanks so much for contributing, Brandi!

In a writing slump? Go from rut to groove with a few unexpected ways to stir up excitement, enthusiasm and inspiration.

  1. Increase your vocabulary.

    Writing can become mundane even for the writing enthusiast. And when you’re bored, your readers are bored. Mix it up by expanding your vocab list. Check out This site, which teaches words like, “argute,” and “snudge.” You might not use every word you learn in your next manuscript, but the exercise will force you to spend time outside the box.

  2. Read voraciously.

    I’m reading a dozen different things right now, from a fiction book to a decorating magazine. Varying my reading list helps me grow as a writer. The more you read, the more inspired you’ll be to write uniquely.

  3. Return to children’s books.

    I am a children’s-book lover at heart. I still remember grabbing a chocolate bar when devouring Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and how my heart leapt from my chest as I read A Wrinkle in Time. Wonder and magic resides in all children’s books. When I’m feeling jaded, I return back to my first love.

  4. Make time to play.

    There’s nothing like overworking to kill the creative muse. I sometimes forget this when I have multiple deadlines vying for my attention. But eventually I’ll burn out. That doesn’t make for a very happy me. I need time for doing the fun stuff. Painting, playing with my son and biking are vital for my writing as well as my health and wellbeing.

  5. Write for fun.

    Sure writing is serious stuff! Clients are relying on you. Your editor is depending on you to produce consistently accurate and entertaining articles. There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions riding on your ability to create and produce. With that being said, if you only write for others, you’ll start to resent putting fingers to your keyboard or pen to paper. Spend a few days a week carving out time to write something just for you; a poem, a handwritten letter, an entry in a journal. Use writing as a healing tool, a chance to reconnect with your deepest desire, a way to write freely without a critic or editor. Do it and your writing as a whole will blossom as a result.


Brandi-Ann Uyemura has been a columnist for The Writer magazine and Beliefnet. You can find her writing about psychology on Psych Central and her tips for small businesses on Intuit’s Web site. Visit her writing blog at


Not sure where to begin? Just get something down.


Photo: Hyena Realty,

There’s a magic moment when good lede almost writes itself.

During the course of a great interview, a source will say something amazing, totally quotable and emotionally evocative and … ping! The story begins to unfold. Perhaps the lede comes during a telling exchange between the source and someone he is interacting with. Perhaps that opening sentence comes when you notice something the source does that aligns perfectly with the theme or message of the piece. These moments are amazing for writers because they make starting the story easy. And often, starting the story is the hardest part of writing the whole darn thing.

But what if that moment doesn’t happen?

What if you sit down to write and the beginning of the story just isn’t revealing itself? I’ve been there, and I can tell you there’s no real magic way out of this situation.

 In my experience, the only thing to do is to just sit down and start typing.

Even if it’s gibberish, begin somewhere. Start, maybe, by writing as if you were talking to a friend, and he or she has asked you, “What is this story about?” Stay informal and simply answer the question. Write as if you were chatting, not as if you were beginning a formulaic story. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself this question: “What’s the most interesting thing that occurred in the interview?” Or, “How does the source feel about his or her situation (in life, in work, at home … whatever the story touches on) right now?” Even if you have to turn the main events of your story into choppy sentences stating just the facts to begin, do that.

Do whatever it takes to get something, anything, down.

The idea is to start your fingers moving while, at the same time, wrestling with your story mentally in new ways, until something substantial, rhythmic and, well … right for the piece comes out. Doing this exercise helps you clear the clutter in your brain, gradually whittling the words down until you’re left with what matters most.

Writing is often like exercising: Our minds will try to override our bodies with all kinds of noisy messages about why we can’t do the thing. And the only way to break through the noise is to get up (in the case of exercising) or sit down (in the case of writing) and start something. View writing as an imperfect process and remember: We rarely end up with what we begin with. The point is to start, gather momentum, push through and then keep going.



Blog Tour: My Writing Process

Photo: Scottchan,

Photo: Scottchan,

I was tagged by the fantastic Northern Virginia writer Amanda Miska to participate in this blog tour and I’m tagging Hawaii freelance writer Brandi-Ann Uyemura and Wiesbaden, Germany-based Melissa Gillam Shaw of Marrying The Army. We’re going beyond coast-to-coast now. Enjoy!

What am I working on?

Some really fun stuff. I recently wrote a piece on wellness tourism for Virginia Living magazine during which I got to try a cosmetic acupuncture session. I also just submitted my first story for Dog Fancy on dogs who accompany their owners to unusual job sites (think: Parliament, Congress, the cockpit of a plane). Let’s see … I have a story on plastic surgery trends coming out soon for Northern Virginia magazine (hint: the backside is back) and I just finished writing the eighth annual edition of Green Hawaii: a 32-Page Guide to Living a Greener Life for Hawaii Home + Remodeling magazine. Oh, and my latest story for Farm Life magazine, on the trend toward small hay farming, is out now, too. I got to get up-close and personal with a few gorgeous horses for that one.

Truth be told, I’ve got a bit of deadline whiplash right about now, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love totally immersing myself in my work.

Next up? Hmmmm … I’m in the beginning stages of proposing a style book with a potential co-writer — drafting the proposal this week, actually — and I just signed on to review an awesome new version of one of my favorite small-business software programs. I can’t tell you which one yet. The launch is a huge secret, so stay tuned to this blog for details.

Deep breath …

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s a great question. Honestly, it’s one I’m still trying to figure out. My cadence is pretty direct and my humor can be dry at times. I love Ernest Hemingway’s minimalist style, so my goal this year is to try to become more concise. I tend to write long and detailed copy, so the endeavor is paradoxically tough for me. I also tend to lean more toward the formal than the casual in tone, so I’m working on loosening up a little bit. Not too much, though. I don’t want to lose my voice. Look to your right. See the collar I’m wearing in my “About” photo? My writing is like that collar: colorful, but still comparatively buttoned up.

Why do I write what I do?

I’ve been a lifestyle magazine addict since college. I’ve always loved solution-oriented and how-to content geared toward foodies, runners, moms, investors, small-business owners and style seekers. Lifestyle magazines are aspirational and I embrace that thought wholeheartedly. But they must also inform and tell the truth. Therein lies my goal: to make content that is always beautiful, true, unique and lasting.

How does my writing process work?

I’m very methodical. As soon as I receive a new project, I create a timeline in my listing-software program that includes both internal and external deadlines. I research sources for two to three days and create a source list from that research. Then, I begin contacting my sources and setting up interviews. The actual interviews follow, then transcription, outlining and finally, writing. The writing part actually takes the least amount of time (about a day). I like to work in at least three days, five if i’m lucky, for revisions before turning my work over ot my client. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I’m trying to improve. You can read more about my writing process here.

A note about process: A lot of people think the job of a freelance writer is a romantic one that involves furiously scripting large amounts of amazing prose whenever inspiration strikes (meals, sleep, kids, pets, spouses and obligations be damned!). Many believe this type of inspired work is perfect from the get-go. But the reality is, even the ever-imaginative Roald Dahl was regimented in his process (read about that here). I don’t wait for inspiration to write (I’d never make a living!) but when it does strike randomly, I make sure I have something on hand to record it with and a place to store it for later use. I’m terrified of losing the ideas that pop into my head, and that’s how I keep my phobia in check.

If I could impart just one bit of process advice to would-be freelancers, it would be this: Don’t be so hard on yourself if inspirational lightning bolts don’t strike daily. Treat your freelance writing career as a business. Schedule in time to write and do it, whether you feel like it or not. Trust me, the words will come.

“You should write …

Photo: Mack2Happy,

Photo: Mack2Happy,

“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.” – Annie Prouix

First draft getting torn apart? This might be why.

Illustration: Stuart Miles,

Illustration: Stuart Miles,

As a freelance writer, It’s normal to deal with uncertainty, especially when you’re first starting out. But even as an experienced writer, I struggle with this perennial question:

Why do some of my drafts come back almost clean (or get no edits at all) while others get torn apart?

I’ve concluded that some of it probably has to do with editing style: Some editors are simply more heavy-handed than others.

But still, there are those instances where you think you’ve nailed it, only to receive extensive edits back from your client. What’s going on there?

Something like this happened to me recently, and I realized it had everything to do with my process, not with the editor. After turning in a draft on the day it was due, I received a reply from my client, remarking that the piece was well-written, but needed more work. The editor asked me to make some changes and graciously gave me several days to make them.

Over the next few days, and with fresh eyes, I dug back into the story and realized, beyond the editor’s comments, how lacking the story was as I’d originally written it. It was missing some key ideas the editor had asked me to cover in the original assignment meeting and the whole thing just didn’t hang together. Ouch.

I set to work making it right, re-writing paragraphs wholesale and moving others around for flow. I added new transitions and even some new pertinent subject matter. I found a new study to cite in my piece and interviewed a few new subjects. By the time I was done with draft 2, I had a much better story.

So what was the problem with the original draft?

The problem was, it was the original draft.

I handed in my first draft instead of allowing myself time to re-work it. And that’s always a mistake.

Any experienced writer will tell you that it’s rarely, if ever, OK to hand in your first draft.

Even the best writers need time and space to revise. Need convincing? Consider what Ernest Hemingway said on the subject:

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

If Hemingway needed re-writing, so do the rest of us. And sure, we may be able to get by with handing something in on the first draft from time to time, especially when the story is easy (I call those one-and-dones; one source, one interview, one draft). But eventually, last-minute writing will catch up with us.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, this is yet another reason why I’ve resolved to give myself a week to revise a first draft before handing it in. It’ll be difficult. I’ll have to be a lot quicker with my front-end reporting and transcribing. I’ll have to motivate myself to write a big, long story even when the deadline is still a week away. But I think I can do it, and I’ll bet the freelance farm on the fact that my editors will be happy with the results.

Have you learned a key lesson about writing recently? Did you find an error in this post that could have been caught if I’d given myself more time to revise? What are you wearing? Come on, just drop a comment already!

Writing on the day your story is due? You could be hurting your business.

Illustration: Stuart Miles,

Illustration: Stuart Miles,

I don’t know why it took so long for me to learn this lesson, but I want to pass it on to you in the hopes that you’ll catch on sooner than I did. Trust me, if you follow this one rule of thumb, you’ll save so much angst:

Draft your story at least one week ahead of the due date.

I’m actually quite the planner and I don’t like to work under pressure. So each time I get a new story assignment, I set up a schedule for its production. I create a new project folder in my good ‘ol Omni Focus program. Then, I set up due dates for the important internal stuff, such as scheduling interviews, transcribing, writing and, finally, handing the piece in.

But there’s one process I have never factored in to my timeline before: Revising. That’s right:

In the ten years that I’ve been writing professionally, I’ve never factored in more than a day to write that first draft.

The thing is, a lot of unnecessary pain ensued as a result. No matter how hard I tried, without scheduling in revision time, I almost always ended up writing stories on the day they were due: getting up somewhere in the 5 a.m. or even 4 a.m. time frame to begin the work, battling mental exhaustion and writer’s block by 10 a.m., getting my second wind by 1 p.m. and finishing sometime between 6 p.m and 8 p.m. What a miserable day!

It wasn’t good for my clients, either. Recently, I got a gracious reply from an editor at 7 p.m. on a Friday, thanking me for having just turned in a story. That got me thinking: Even though editors rarely specify what time they want the copy in on the day it’s due, it can’t be fun for them to stick around on their mobile devices, even after leaving work and possibly settling in to dinner with their friends and families, still checking in to make sure the copy due to them by some freelancer actually came in before the stroke of midnight.

I realized that starting late meant misery for me and amounted to bad client management, too.

My solution: Start a week early. That way, I can ensure that the writing process is much less painful for me and and I’m handing in the piece at a much more convenient time for my clients.

I have two new projects on the books, and I’ve scheduled draft 1 to be written ahead of time. Something always comes up, so wish me luck in meeting my goal.

Are you a procrastinator? A get-it-done early type? Have you successfully kicked your procrastination habit? Drop me a comment and tell me all about it.

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