7 Simple Hacks to Get Writing When You Just Can’t

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“How do you write so much?” asked one young writer. “I struggle so hard to write for even just a few minutes everyday!”

7 Simple Hacks to Get Writing When You Just Can't

I sat at my laptop this morning, tapping my fingers relentlessly on the keyboard, without actually pressing a single key. There was too much coffee in my system and not enough food.

Oh, and I work in the single most unproductive office ever, complete with a puppy that runs around, a writing client that always misses our meetings, and fifty screaming teenagers camping right outside the building.

How Do You Write When You Feel Like You Can’t

Needless to say, there are days I really just can’t write, but I have to. So, I’ve developed a few hacks of how to do it when I just can’t.

1. Create Goals

This is the most important writing hack for me. When I wake up I need to have a set writing goal, or let’s be honest, I’ll just surf Buzzfeed, and Facebook all day.

Depending on how much time you have, plan accordingly. It’s best to look at your long term goal, and divide that into small tasks you can do daily.

It’s not a great idea to put, “Write a Book” on your to-do list. (I’ve done it. It doesn’t work.)

2. Prioritize

On days that I want to slam my head on my keyboard, I’ve found prioritizing to be key. Make a list of what writing tasks are the most important, and work on those first.

There will always be easier tasks to do. We can always post another picture on Instagram, update our Facebook status, and check our emails, but those aren’t our priorities when it comes to the actual writing process.

3. Remember Your Purpose

Remember the reason you’re writing. When I get really stuck and hate writing, I remember the purpose, or people I want to help or encourage with my writing.

This will always give you a boost when you need it most. When you’ve given up hope of getting any work done, remebering your purpose will spur you to concentrate and focus.

4. Use Headphones

You need the noise cancelling kind, because when you don’t want to work, you’ll find anything to distract yourself. Headphones are some of the greatest inventions for productivity.

Have you ever heard of the Pavlov Theory? There’s a hilarious clip from the sitcom The Office, that demonstrates how the theory works.

Basically, the theory suggests that our brain can be conditioned, especially by sounds. I suggest you have a writing playlist, and only listen to that music when you write. When I turn on my writing playlist, my brain knows to write, or at least I’ve convinced myself of that. Either way it works.

5. Reward Yourself

Whatever your goal for the day is, make sure you break it up into even smaller segments. This gives you a chance to reward yourself after each completed task. For the book I’m working on now, I try to transcribe three stories a day. After each story I get a snack, take a power-nap, or get-up and dance.

When you have an incentive to finish the task, you’ll most likely work faster. You simply can’t stare at a computer for eight hours a day, and be productive and happy. We don’t want you to hate writing, so take a break.

6. Realize You’re Human

There are going to be days you don’t meet your goal, or reach your desired word count.Because guess what? You’re not a robot. You have to give yourself a break. Give yourself permission to be human that sometimes fails.

Learn to laugh at your mistakes, but don’t stop pushing yourself. We have to be okay with being human, but not use it as an excuse to

7. Get Off Social Media

No really. Stop. The Instagram posts will be there when you finish your work. Emails? Don’t worry, they’re not going anywhere. That blinking light on the top of your phone? Flip your phone over.

Seriously, social media is the single most distracting thing keeping you from getting any work done. If you use Google Chrome, you can get this awesome extension, StayFocusd, it blocks all sorts of sites that will distract you.

If You Really Want to Write, Then You Need to Live Your Life

I strongly believe that if you don’t step away from your computer and really live, you’ll have nothing to write about.

The best stories are of adventure, self-realization, transformation, reconciliation, and heroism. You won’t find that by staring at your laptop all day.

You are a writer. It’s the way you are wired, and the way you see the world. Don’t be afraid to step away from your computer and live your life. I promise you’ll write more.

Which of these hacks do you use? Do you have any writing hacks to share? Let us know in the comments below.


Take five minutes and put down your computer, I know, scary. Observe your surroundings, take a break, reward yourself. When you’re done, take the next ten minutes to write about what you did.

About Kellie McGann

Kellie McGann is the author of the soon-to-be-released memoir, Undeserved Grace. Be sure to check out her blog, kelliemcgann.com, and follow her on Twitter (@McgannKellie). She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

  • Kenneth M. Harris

    I’m here at work and I have just completed my lunch break. I submitted my first short story
    on Monday. However, I discovered that I paste the story in the wrong area. I should have pasted the story in the workshop section. I just became a member and I’m trying to submit a story every Friday. This Friday coming up, I might have another short story completed. . I beginning to discover this writing practice is just awesome. I can’t say enough good words about this. I have a full time job and I’m super busy on the weekends, but I have written about four short stories in less than a week and a half. Dan Blank webinar was just fantastic. He touched on a great many things about writing, attitudes and, especially, the feeling of guilt. KEN

    • Hey Kenneth. No worries about posting in the wrong area. We’ll move it over for you. For future reference, you can post Becoming Writer issues in the members forum or email us. The comments section is more for comments on the post or your practice. Thank you!

  • I need all of these, and I’m starting to use a few. Setting a goal for each day has really helped. For me it’s four scenes in my novel a day (I don’t always get four done, but I get something, which was better than before)
    My biggest problem is realizing I’m human. I give myself more work than I’m capable of, then I get upset with myself when I can’t do it. For me, a Hack that helps is realizing I can’t do it on my own, and relying on God to give me what I need when I need it. And He always does 🙂
    I will say that ignoring social media and emails can sometimes be hard, especially when you see one from the Write Practice 😉
    Thanks for the post,
    “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

  • Jean Maples

    Never headphones! My world is quiet. I am a procrastinator. I want to write. I recently wrote a bad flash fiction for an assignment. I know it has to be tight. I waste words. I must go back to change practically entire story I wrote. I was a good fifth grade writer. My teacher expected much from me as a writer. I was A+ student in Journalism 101. I don’t know what has happened to my ability as a writer.

    • Kellie McGann

      You are very lucky that your world is so quiet.
      It sounds like you’re doubting your writing, and I don’t think you should be. Writing takes practice, that’s what we’re all about here. Find some friends to help you edit, or start publishing your work, and you’ll grow in the process, I promise.

  • Christine

    My problem isn’t so much that I have to force myself to write — it’s that I have to force myself to edit what I’ve already written. If I edit as I go I’m okay, but I did a Nanowrimo novel two Nov’s ago and am still working at editing it. I had to pad it so much to get the word count up and now I need to pare it all down again.

    At times like this —when the WIP has gotten stale—I need goals like ‘Edit one chapter.’ Saying “Edit that book!” is no better than putting ‘Write a book’ on the To-do list.

    As far as social media is concerned, I blog and that’s it. However, this can still take hours! I don’t know how I’d ever find time for FB. I have no idea what ‘Snapchat’ is. I’ve dropped out of LinkedIn groups. But I find that as I read other blogs I’m quite often inspired to write some kind of response to their posts. If my To-do list read “Write something’ then reading others’ blogs would be a good impetus. Otherwise spending time doing that —and writing those responses— just keeps me away from my own WIP.

    I do reward myself after a fashion: if I get some writing done then I can go read for awhile. But I’m afraid I’m being a total “hit-or-miss” person. No schedule, no system; no series of books written. I need to get a handle on this — or shall I accept that I’m only good for short story writing?

    • Kellie McGann

      I don’t think you should accept that you’re only good for short story writing. There’s no way that’s true! It’s hard to start a habit, it really is. If you want to write a book you can.
      Try and set a goal and see how that works! One day at a time. You got this.

  • Hey Kellie,
    That you for some great suggestions. My biggest problem is social media, and the second problem is having too many litter boxes.
    I will start doing what you suggested in #1. Have a writing goal, and then actually do what I said I would do.
    Maybe my litter box hack will help my writing hack. I clean all the litter boxes first thing in the morning. Perhaps I should start my day with writing and then the reward is cleaning the litter boxes.

    • Kellie McGann

      Is cleaning the litter boxes a reward? I’m not sure if it qualifies. 😉
      Gotta get those goals! Let me know how it goes?

  • Kieran Meyer

    I’m definitely going to use these tomorrow when I sit down to work. I’m trying to get my first draft of my book on paper more quickly than I have been. Tomorrow, I’ll get 1000 words down. I’m going to try to build up more tension between two of my main characters while introducing a new setting.

    • Kellie McGann

      How did this go? Did the hacks work?
      I’d love to see what you worked on!

      • Kieran Meyer

        It worked! I got a good start on my section that I’m posting to the writing group this Friday, and I got it done quickly too. They’re great hacks, especially since I’m trying to develop my habits.

  • EmFairley

    This is great advice, thanks Kellie! I struggle to write when there’s any noise around, so while others might find a playlist that works for them, it’s one that certainly won’t for me. There are times when even traffic noise grates with me and I have to close the windows, despite ordinarily leaving them open and it not bothering me in the slightest, even though I live close to a main road. On the flip side, when I’ve got another of my “hats” on, that of artist, I do indeed have a playlist that I listen to. Yep, I’m kinda weird like that LOL

    • Kellie McGann

      It works different for different people. I have days I can’t listen to anything either.
      Good luck writing 🙂

      • EmFairley

        Thank you! 🙂

  • Danie Botha

    I like your advice at the end–because that is exactly the point: step away from the computer and go LIVE!
    How else can we garner material for our stories?
    I have a different problem–I “escape” into writing my latest fiction manuscript, while I should also be busy putting my blog site together. (Which I do.) The latter is only more intimidating. But, as Tim Grahl recently pointed out: once I’ve connected deeply with “why” I’m writing, that I’m not writing for “me,” –it becomes easier to remain focussed.
    Great post.
    Thanks, Kellie!

    • Kellie McGann

      Danie, that’s my favorite point too: live.
      Tim Grahl’s advice is so great! I’ve been thinking about that lately after I write anything. Great way to keep yourself focused.
      Good luck writing, and websiting. 😉

  • Julie Mayerson Brown

    Getting off social media is critical! I need to go some place where there is NO INTERNET AVAILABLE! Thanks for great tips – will share!

    • Kellie McGann

      I hate and love social media so much. I can’t decide what to do. 🙂

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  • Beth

    That’s basically my problem, I don’t set myself any goals with writing, because I know it won’t go anywhere and doesn’t need my critical attention, as life instead gets in the way.
    As I’m currently editing what I have so far of my story (expanding on characters), I aim to edit at least two chapters every few days, expand on them and not give myself a hard time for not expanding when I first wrote those sentences.

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