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

by Kellie McGann | 26 comments

“How do you write so much?” asked one young writer. “I struggle so hard to write for even just a few minutes everyday!” Let's face it: writing is hard.

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—it's not a choice. 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 longterm 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, remembering 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?

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 that's what I've convinced myself. 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 a human who 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 slack off and quit.

Take a pause. Give yourself grace. Don't beat yourself up.

Then, go write.

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. Here at The Write Practice, we're huge fans of Freedom, an app that will block all your distractions so you simply can't click away from your writing.

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.

 | Website

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book. She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.


  1. 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

    • Joe Bunting

      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!

  2. Reagan Colbert

    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.”

    • Laquita

      Same, I agree with you all the way 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Pamela Hodges

    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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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! 🙂

  8. 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. 😉

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. Zaina

    Please tell me if its good 🙂

    “Lexi! Lexi what are you doing up there you’re going to be late to school.” yelled Paula while full of frustration.
    “Coming auntie, just packing up my bag.” replied Lexi in a relaxed tone opposite to her aunt’s.
    Around two minutes later, Lexi hurried quickly down-stairs and put on her dull black school shoes. Lexi looked very smart in her school uniform. Today, Lexi’s long dark wavy brown hair was put into a loose braid (which Lexi braided in the 2 minutes she took off from her breakfast time resulting her to have only 3 minute to take down a whole bowl of cereal which might have explained why she was having some seriously painful stomach cramps while getting changed). Paula came into the room and started lecturing Lexi about when people should pack their school bags.
    “I’m telling you this for the hundredth time Lexi: pack up your bag before going to bed. Two minutes of your reading time won’t kill you but going out two minutes late to school in the morning can.” declared Paula, “And take the bike with you today: so that you may have a chance of getting there before 8:30.”
    Lexi got her bike out of the garage and left it to lean next to the front door while she went inside to grab her school bag. She grabbed it and ran out of the front to door to school. The road to school was very short. It would take around 7 minutes walking and 4 minutes by bike. Lexi would normally walk to Tessa’s house – which is on the way to school – then finish her journey to school along with Tessa. Although today, Lexi was cycling alone as Tessa would be at school by now. Suddenly, Lexi saw her phone ring. Luckily, she was wearing her earplugs which were already connected to her phone. She looked at the name, it was Abi. She pressed answer.
    “Hi Abi, what’s up?” asked Lexi.
    “What do you mean ‘ what’s up ‘? Where are you? We’re worried about you, especially Tessa.” said Abi. You could notice a slight tone of concern in her voice.
    “I left the house late because: I forgot to pack my bag before going to bed yesterday night. Again. But don’t worry I’m on the way.” replied Lexi calmly.
    “Lexi, it’s 8:29. We’re the last people outside now. You must hurry.”
    “Ok, I’ll be a minute.”Replied Lexi” You guys go inside, I’ll be there soon”
    Just before Lexi ended the call, Lexi’s bike tripped over an unusual rock lying in the middle of the footpath. The bike flipped forwards and threw Lexi off it where she landed next to a tall old tree. Lexi lay on the floor with blood soaking through her tights staining the cement which lay between the bricks on the footpath.
    “Abi, Abi help! Quick!”Shrieked Lexi.
    Lexi tried to get herself up – but when she did, she collapsed instantly smacking her head on to the concrete pavement. Her phone sat facing upwards on the rough floor a couple of centimeters away, still on call with Abi.
    “Lexi, Lexi what happened? Where are you?” asked Abi.
    No one answered. Lexi still lay on the floor, breathing rapidly but with no sign of her consciousness. Tessa snatched the phone out of Abi hands and put it on speaker.
    “Lexi, what happened?” said Tessa in a panicking tone.” Are you okay?”
    But still with no hope, no one answered.
    “She’s not going to answer. Something happened, it’s 8:30 you two go inside. I’m going to go back in the route Lexi takes and check what happened to her.” instructed Tessa.
    “No! If Lexi isn’t here by registration: we tell Mrs.Levings.We can’t risk you going out too.” said Chris.
    But Tessa wasn’t listening. She ran out of the school gates to check on her cousin.
    “What if something really has happened to her?” thought Tessa.”I hope she’s okay.”Tessa kept running at her fastest speed. She was sweating madly as if someone was pouring a bottle of hot boiling water on her head. Her legs started to get tied up as they couldn’t keep hold of her. The roads were empty, as if she was wandering outside at midnight in a place where there were no organisms alive but herself. Everyone must be locked up at their homes. No one would go out at this hour. No one has found Lexi thought Tessa. As Tessa turned the corner; her eyes were pulled towards a figure of a 16 year old teenage girl thrown on the floor with a river of blood rushing out onto the footpath and then sprinting till they reached the sewage hole on the road.
    “Oh my God!”Whispered Tessa.
    She was frozen to the spot. She couldn’t move as all the fear and thoughts of all the bad things that could’ve happened to Lexi came to her mind. Tessa suddenly remembered what they have learnt about in their last history lesson: The beginning of heat strokes- Douglas J.Casa. As it was quoted by the video they watched, it mentioned:”Heat strokes are 100% survivable although if action isn’t taken quickly then the victim might not have a full chance of survival. You should always call for help immediately in this matter as cell damage can begin 30 minutes after the victim is affected by the heat stroke.”Tessa started breathing rapidly and quickly ran to Lexi. She kneeled down next to her and put her hand on Lexi’s jumper above her chest. She was still breathing. Tessa quickly took out her phone from her backpack to call the ambulance. Just as she was opening her phone, she collapsed.

    The phone rang again. Paula ignored it. She was in her bedroom getting herself ready for her job interview. She had to be on time because this interview was one she was waiting to go to for a very long time. She straightened her dark brown hair and started to apply some red ruby lipstick to her lips when she heard the phone ring. Again. Paula walked impatiently down the stairs to answer her phone while her high heels made a clicking sound each time her shoes touched the ground.
    “What could be so important, that someone would have to call me for the fifth time? Now I’ll be late for my job interview.” Muttered Paula to herself. She reached out her phone from her black leather bag and answered the phone.
    “Hello, who am I speaking to?”Asked Paula, hoping that it was a mistake phone call and that she could go back to getting ready for her interview.
    “Hi, we are calling from Golden Oak High School.”Replied the office lady.” Alexis and Tessa Lawrence from year 11L haven’t attended school today, is there a reason for that?”
    “What do you mean? Jemma went to school along with my daughter Tessa and Lexi followed a while after. Are you sure it wasn’t a registration mistake?” questioned Paula.
    “No, we are sure there were no mistakes as we took the register three times and made sure all students were in class during registration time”
    “Did you call the police yet?”Asked Paula while struggling to keep talking while having this news being thrown at her at an important moment. The news took her over in one time. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
    “No we haven’t. We thought they might have been absent today.”
    “Okay, I’m going to call the police now.”Acknowledged Paula while clenching her left hand tightly to the house keys in her blazer pocket. “Please will you ask Abigail and Christina from Group K.1 if they know about anything that might have happened to the girls, then please inform me straight away.”
    “No problem at all “Responded the office lady.
    Paula threw the phone on the cider colored couch – which the whole family shared – and walked up and down the corridors burying her face in the palm of her hands. Oh my. After all that happened to Lexi. Her childhood was destroyed and her family was torn apart. And now this. How could I have been so careless!

    Abigail and Christina sat quietly in registration, their faces stuffed into their books while secretly sending messages on ‘Text It’, the most common messaging group in the world. Their faces were worried though they tried to put on a blank expression.
    ABI – Do you think Tessa is ok? She hasn’t been back yet.
    CHRISTINA – I don’t know but I don’t think Tessa or Lexi are ok.
    ABI – Shall we tell Mrs.Levings?
    CHRISTINA – Let’s wait till after assembly and then we inform Mrs.Levings, deal?
    ABI – Deal.
    “Abigail, Christina “called out Mrs.Levings.”I’m not sure if you’re reading because your hands seem to be moving a great deal for the last couple of minutes. Whatever else you’re doing, I’m just warning you to please stop it and continue reading for the last 2 minutes till assembly.”
    Abigail and Christina instantly slipped their phones into their pockets and looked at their book pretending to read. The whole year group was told to read The ‘The Trachtenberg Method – secret to mental maths’ as it will be a great deal of help for their PAM Assessment (Physical and Mental), even though the whole school knew that method by heart by the age of 7 years old (group B). A couple minutes later, the bell rang and all the students stood up behind their seats and proceeded to the assembly hall in an orderly fashion. Golden Oak High school was a school with high expectation and has been that way since the year they have opened. The students walked quietly in the wide corridors surrounded by huge portraits of head girls and boys, prefects and other students who have accomplished high standards and served the school in many occasions throughout their years of education.
    As they entered the Assembly hall, chatter started to form in between the crowds. Holiday plans were spreading around and normal ‘ hi, what are you doing in the holiday?’ could be heard all across the room. Just as the last class was entering the assembly hall, Mrs.Howkins– the head teacher – walked right onto the stage and a peaceful, quiet background took over the babble that was once the principal in the hall.
    Mrs.Howkins was a tall middle aged woman who was respected by everyone around the school grounds. She was, in difference to what the majority of pupils perceive about head teachers, loved by all students in the school. She had short straight brown hair and a light snow like skin complexion that brought out her brown eyes. Today she was dressed in black business trousers and a black blazer.
    “Good morning. Today, as you all know, is the last day before the end of the half term holidays. So we have a very exciting and packed up assembly made for all of you. First, we will start by allowing time for girls who volunteered to present to us something valuable and vital to all of us here that can be very motivational to those who might need the motivation to do great things. Then, we will hand out the achievement awards for those who have been recognised, those with high attendance levels and those who have contributed a big part to our school and the surrounding community. So let’s begin.”
    As Mrs.Howkins approached the table to announce to us who will be going first to present their – meant to be – valuable presentations, Mrs.Taylor, the office lady stepped in through the double doors and walked hurriedly towards Mrs.Howkins on the stage. She mumbled something to her in a very quiet tone. And then walked back towards the assembly doors and waited there in a way that seemed she was waiting for Mrs.Howkins to inform us about something.
    “I have a quick request. Abigail Breslin and Christina Rowan in K.1, Mrs.Taylor wants to tell you something outside the hall please.”
    Abi and Christina stood up and made their way out of the assembly hall confused while being stared at by the hundreds of faces in the assembly hall. They followed Mrs.Taylor outside the hall and stood there waiting eagerly to see what the office lady had to say.
    “I know you two might be wondering why I took you out of assembly but I have something serious to ask you two”
    Abi and Christina instantly looked at each other and back at Mrs.Taylor starting to feel that this conversation was not going to go too well.
    “Do you know anything about what happened to Tessa and Lexi?”
    She stood there silently, seeming eager for the answer that she hoped was the true one and wishing that the thought that was too bad to imagine wouldn’t be what she heard. But she was wrong.
    “Today morning, just before 8:30, I called Alexis to check on where she is. She said she was on the way to school. As I was talking to her; she suddenly shouted out for help. I asked her what happened or where she was but she didn’t answer. Tessa decided to go after her and check where she was but she still hasn’t come back. I tried to stop her but she didn’t listen.” explained Christina.

  12. Elizabeth Westra

    All terrific ideas! I used to have a very organized schedule for writing. Then my husband retired, and now nothing is scheduled anymore. I have to convince him of that important fact, organization. I’ll have to show him this list too, and set up a schedule for my writing time and time to do the things he wants to do too. Wish me luck.

  13. TerriblyTerrific

    It can be difficult. Thank you.

  14. Iida-Emilia

    Thanks for sharing, these are actually great tips! I’ve worked as a journalist and I’ve understand that the best way to get some writing done is to really think it as your job (like it was for me). It’s not a piece of art, it’s simply something I need to do for money. This may sound harsh but it really worked for me. I never waited for inspiration to appear, I just wrote even when I didn’t feel like it. I love writing and I do it everyday but thinking writing more as a job than as a piece of art helped me to get some pressure off my shoulders. Of course, this may not work for people who are actually doing more creative writing.

  15. jenjenzun

    I believe that you really have to have strong self-discipline in order to achieve your goals. Sometimes I feel like I’m depriving myself over the things that I want to do and that I intend to rush into it. But I think the most rewarding feeling is that you know in yourself that you worked really hard for your goals and that there is no easy way to work towards it. It is more fulfilling that you overcome all those struggles and got to be strong as you go on. Also, seeing your checklist checked one by one is a very good sight to see! 😛



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