Writing 911! 5 Tips to Breathe New Life into Your Writing: Guest Post by Karen Swim

Whether you write as part of your profession, or as a hobby there may come a time when your writing feels flat and lifeless.

You put the words on the page and they seem dead on arrival.

You are all out of ideas and procrastinating because you are bored and certain your readers will be too. For those “must do” writing tasks, you may get it done and the mechanics are all there but the magic is decidedly missing.

Don’t worry, you can rescue your writing from the valley of dry bones with these 5 tips guaranteed to breathe new life into your writing.

Doctor applying mask to patient
1. Adopt the tone of a character from a novel, television or even your own family (we all have “characters” in our family).

I love writing following a Grey’s Anatomy episode. The writing has a fast pace and upbeat rhythm. That rhythm extends to the writers blog, which is updated weekly by the lead writer of the episode.

I mirror their lead and write “in character” following an episode. The technique allows me to uncover a lighter tone, stretch my writing muscles in a different way, and inject my business writing with new life.

2. The mind is a wondrous thing, and engaging another part of the brain seems to allow just enough breathing room to unlock your creativity.

If you have to write a report, write a haiku instead.

Try writing the opposite of what you need to do or challenge your brain with a non-writing task such as a computer game, or puzzle.

Even 15 minutes of a different activity can be just enough to allow your mind to shift and release a fresh perspective.

3. Read something outside of your norm. A great way to break out of a writing rut is to read a book you would not normally choose.

If you have been reading industry trades, business books and biographies, head to the teen fiction section for something wildly different.

If you are a fiction lover, test-drive a non-fiction novel. You will find a different style and pace that can infuse your own writing style with new life.

You may even find a new section of the bookstore to frequent!

4.  Use writing prompts. Writing prompts are an excellent way to challenge your creativity.

You are not writing for a purpose and thereby free to allow your muse complete artistic license.

You can use someone else’s writing prompt or create your own. Take the headline of a story, a line from a blog post, or the first line of a novel and create a short story.

A couple of years ago I participated in facilitated writing prompts. My creativity soared following those sessions and my business writing took on new life.

5. Take a different angle.

Over the years, I have had to write on topics that held no personal interest for me. Rather than faking an interest in the topic, I approached it from a different angle.

I would write it with a reader in mind, or create an adventure, treat it like a discovery and get lost in the excitement of learning.

The result was always a piece that was technically accurate without being flat and boring.

You do not have to wait for writing 911 to use these writing tips. Frequent use can keep your writing healthy and fresh. Writing is necessary but it does not have to boring!

How do you breathe new life into your own writing?


Karen D. Swim owns and operates Words For Hire, a writing and integrated marketing services firm.

She can also be found breathing deeply and dancing through the daisies at her blog, Words for Hire .

Photo Credit: Leah-Anne Thompson (lovleah, istockphoto.com)

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  1. Lillie Ammann · · Reply


    Thank you for the gems of ways to spark creativity. Your writing is never flat and lifeless—it is always imbued with your heart and soul.

    Lillie Ammanns last blog post..Writer’s Worth Day

  2. Ulla Hennig · · Reply

    thanks for those 5 tips! There are all quite new to me, and I will try them out one by one.

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Politics and Music – George Frideric Handel

  3. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach · · Reply

    I like your point 3! Being exposed to different and creative styles will always kick-start one’s own muse.

    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coachs last blog post..Friday Fabulous Fresh Fruit and Yummies

  4. Robert Hruzek · · Reply

    Howdy Karen! Um, am I the only one to notice? A “non-fiction” novel? :-D

    Hey, if none of the above don’t work, you can always try point 6: Spend hours finding nitpicking details in other writers’ writing to criticize! Or, you can eat pie. That one always seems to unlock the creative juices for me…

    Seriously, though, I’ve tried most of these when things get a little dry and they work nicely. sometimes just a simple change of scenery is all it takes to shake the cobwebs loose. But by far the worst enemy we face is ourselves. If we get in the trap of thinking, “I’m out of words”, or some such nonsense, it’ll become self-fulfilling indeed. Gotta watch out for that.

    Tip o’ the hat for takin’ the podium here at CW, Karen - and to you, too, Joanna!

  5. Brad Shorr · · Reply

    Hi Karen, The best source of writing renewal for me is talking to people, diving head first into new and exciting projects. Suddenly ideas appear everywhere.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Keywords in Anchor Text Produce SEO Power

  6. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Hi Lillie - Thank you so much for those encouraging words! Your words of wisdom have been such a great help to me (pure green dreck has been transforming). I look forward to the day when I can join you at the published authors table. :-)

    Hi Ulla - I’m so glad I could share new tips with you! You amaze me with your ability to write so well in your second language.

    Good Morning Joanna and thank you! It’s an honor to be here today!

    Hi Barbara! - Isn’t it funny how we often overlook that one? One of my favorites too! When I worked with Corporate, I used that tip too, reading case studies and trades from other industries.

    Hi Robert - lol! I like your tips but I’m going to have to choose eating pie as my favorite! I mean really isn’t everything better with pie! :-)

    Hi Brad - I am continuously fascinated by your mind. You really do see inspiration everywhere and I love the way you make connections and uncover different perspectives. You must be surrounded by interesting people! :-)

    Karen Swims last blog post..Writing 911

  7. Iain Broome · · Reply

    Good list and I’m especially all for writing in a different genre or format.

    In fact, something I suggest (in an upcoming guest post for Joanna actually!) is to have more than one writing project on the go at any one time.

    It gives you a separate outlet and keeps things fresh.

    Iain Broomes last blog post..Write for Your Life in occasional shorter post shocker!

  8. Alina Popescu · · Reply

    Karen, I love your first tip! I had so much fun writing the secret diary of a character not too long ago! It’s fun, light and it definitely works.

    Alina Popescus last blog post..A few lessons I’ve learned in Sardinia

  9. Lori Hoeck -- SpaceAgeSage · · Reply

    Awesome ideas. Loved “Adopt the tone of a character.” I had to laugh, though, too, as I thought of writing as Dr. Greg House, Courage the Cowardly Dog (cartoon character), or Jack Bauer.

  10. J.D. Meier · · Reply

    Beautiful stuff!

    I love breathing life into things. My favorite definitions of inspire is “breathe life into.”

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Success Defined

  11. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Hi Iain - I look forward to your guest post! I am sure that I will pick up some great tips from you.

    Hi Alina and welcome back! - oooh I would love to read that, you really piqued my interest. Is it online? In my archive dig I found a similar piece that sparked my interest all over again.

    Hi Lori! - Hey, I like the new photo! lol! Dr. House and Jack Bauer would be delicious fun! I don’t know Cowardly so now must discover. If you give it a go, will you let me know? I think that would be a really great read!

    Hi JD - Wise words! I like your definition of inspire, it is that intake of breath when you really think of it, eh? Thanks for that!

    Karen Swims last blog post..Writing 911

  12. Jeanne Male · · Reply

    Super ideas, Karen - far more interesting than what I tend to do! I usually just key or dictate a topical brain dump and then let the ideas percolate overnight. I was thrilled to discover the brain research (published in Scientific American Mind) that validates why and how our minds sift, sort, and catalog ideas while we sleep. In the morning, I look at the idea-dump with fresh eyes and discover ideas that have percolated overnight. Now, I’ll include your ideas with Robert Hruzek’s and add pie.

  13. jan_geronimo · · Reply

    Adopt the tone of a character in a novel, television or a member of my family. You chose Grey’s Anatomy. Aw, you beat me to it.

    Let me go for 24 then. Oh, I can imagine it now. I’d be Jack Bauer in my little blog for say a week and see how it goes. This is pretty exciting and likely to inject many new elements in my post.

    I’m excited with this. Really. Thanks!

    jan_geronimos last blog post..Warning: Next Time You Say Your Writing Sucks I’ll Agree

  14. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Hi Jeanne! - Your process is a great one and reminds me of Lillie Ammann’s advice to turn off the editor and allow yourself to write pure green dreck. You can edit later. Her advice helped me bust through my first NaNo last year with ease and a few days to spare. I did a happy dance and then I really did eat pie! :-)

    Hi Jan! - I’m so glad we share the same taste in TV shows. You, me and Lori should do a character meme, it could be a load of fun! :-)

    Karen Swims last blog post..Writing 911

  15. All very creative ways to trigger a sense of enjoyment for writing. I love the second suggestion-using a different part of your brain. Actually, I love all the suggestions, and plan on giving them a try. Thank you.

    Bos last blog post..Jack in the Pulpit

  16. Andrew · · Reply

    Thanks Karen,

    I will certainly bear these in mind next time I am sitting here staring in front of a blank screen.

    I like your suggestion about reading something new. Personally, my own writing style has become somewhat fixed, and maybe even potentially inflexible in recent times and personally, it would not do me any harm to expose myself to writing styles other than what I typically read every now and then.

    Andrews last blog post..Why do real estate and used car sales attract crooks?

  17. Janice Cartier · · Reply

    Agility. What stands out to me in all of these is the ability to summon that up. Keeping ourselves flexible, able to move from one perspective to another while working our writing muscles out, and when you might flag a bit.. here we are with the 911.
    I am having fun thinknig of all the shows I watch.. which one o would pick to try this with… I am fond of Lie to Me… boy can he cut to the chase…oh man.. .. hm.. maybe…..hm…
    Thanks Karen ;-)

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..Deconstruction and Possibilities

  18. Karen, thanks so much for guest writing here today. Your tips are so full of energy and creativity… though I have to agree with Lillie, your own writing is never flat and lifeless. It’s full of your spirit.

    @Robert, eating pie? That’s a new one on me, but definitely getting added to the list ;-)

    @Alina, those secret diaries were so much fun weren’t they? ;-)

    @ JD I love that definition too

    @Jeanne the sifting and percolating stuff is good - except when your muse wakes you in the middle of the night with a brilliant answer. Does that ever happen to you?

  19. Julie - Inspired to Write · · Reply

    Thanks for these tips! I think taking breaks and working on different mind puzzles can be a helpful distraction until your mind is back in writing mode. I have not used the prompts a lot, but I know they can be handy when you need a creative jolt!

    Julie - Inspired to Writes last blog post..Deciding Who to Follow on Twitter

  20. wilson · · Reply

    Oh mine, Karen. You’re so right about it, as we should update and rejuvenate our writing style from time to time. In this case, I would say that music is my main resource to find the new inspiration for my writing!

    wilsons last blog post..Garlic is Totally Forbidden, if You Have…

  21. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Hi Bo! - It’s amazing how a simple switch can spark new ideas! Not unlike changing up a physical workout routine, you can be very fit but a new activity works your muscles in a different way. :-)

    Hi Andrew! - Writing about business ethics is a great example. Some would present dry, lifeless arguments but you infuse them with personality. I have (and do) used these tips in business and technical writing with great success. I’d love to hear if you try any how they work out for you.

    Hi Janice! - oooh, I love it - agility. Even the word is fluid and airy. Lie to Me is a good show with wonderful, complex characters and biting dialog. What fun it would be to have “someone” guest post on Painting a Day. :-)

    Hi Joanna! - Awww, thank you! You and Lillie are great writing mentors, inspiring,teaching and supporting. Your audience here is the best! It was so much fun to be here!

    Hi Julie! - They are pretty fun to try and they may be part of the secret. You’re having fun, relaxed allowing ideas and creativity to flow freely. Think of it as a play date for your brain. ;-)

    Hi Wilson! - Music is a wonderful inspiration! There have been so many studies that validate music’s impact on our brain. Do you play or write music also or simply enjoy listening?

    Karen Swims last blog post..Are You a Business Bridezilla?

  22. Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome · · Reply

    I actually find all of these sorts of tricks just that - tricks. The only thing that breathes life into my writing is sitting down and doing it. Anything else for me is just a form of procrastination. ;)

  23. Alex, but don’t you find some of these tricks help to get the words flowing, even if in a different direction? Which means you can then get past the procrastination. That seems to be how it works for me.

  24. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Alex, great comment and one I’m glad you mentioned! There’s actually a bit of brain science behind the “tricks.” When you stimulate different parts of the brain you actually are breathing new life into it. Learning a new language, doing puzzles, music, brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand are all healthy brain tricks and a healthy brain is more capable of creative thought. You also expose yourself to new ideas and a fresh perspective. I have used these same techniques to solve complex business problems -gets you out of your industry’s echo chamber and allows you to see the puzzle from a new light.

    Karen Swims last blog post..Are You a Business Bridezilla?

  25. Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome · · Reply

    @Joanna & @Karen
    I find that the best way to get my writing juices flowing is routine. Nothing sparks my creativity like repetition. Doing writing exercises drains me for some reason. I know it sounds weird but that’s just how it works for me.

    I do, however, practice creativity in many other ways. For example, in any class I ever took after high school I would always sit in a different spot to get a different perspective, literally. When walking or driving places I take different routes. I’ll have to try the brushing my teeth with my left hand thing…

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Take On More Projects and Get More Done

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