What Could Happen If You Worked As Hard As You Possibly Could?

Fact: I’ve never worked as hard in my entire life as I did last year.

(Because I’m a student, I now think in academic years, so I mean the period between  September 2014 and the end of May.)

Here’s another fact you might not know, one you might be surprised to learn: I had never worked hard before that.

Never.

In the last few months I’ve given this revelation a soft launch, telling a few people who know me in real life that I never worked hard before this past (academic) year. They have reactions like scoffing, eye-rolling, etc. ‘Yeah, right,’ they say. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ I admitted to one person that I’m the laziest person I know and she said, ‘Lazy? Lazy? That’s not a word I’d associate with you at all.’

Well… Surprise!

I find it odd that people think prior to September 2014 I was a hard worker, but I must acknowledge that I’ve had a hand in spreading the lies. I constantly tell self-publishing authors that they’re not going to get anywhere without a lot of hard work – and that’s true. It is true that I did a lot of hard work. All the social media stuff, the million little things that go into self-publishing a book (or three), the speaking engagements, the blogging, etc.

But that is not the same as working hard. It’s certainly not the same as working as hard as I possibly could. I know it’s not, because it didn’t involve any real sacrifice.

Between March 2010 and March 2014, the list of tasks above was my full-time job. I did it for a few lazy hours a day, usually starting mid-morning. During the day, I was usually free to drop whatever I was doing and go out for coffee, or to see a movie, or basically to do whatever I wanted. At night you could usually find me watching TV with my laptop balanced on my knees typing a blog post or an e-mail or whatever, but that was more a habit than a necessity. There were times when self-imposed deadlines had me at my desk before dawn or into the night, but these occasions were few and far between. I had no other responsibilities. I was living with my parents. I never missed anything I wanted to see on TV, and I wanted to see a lot of things. Sometimes I even made a big flask of coffee and brought it upstairs, into my bedroom, so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way downstairs to achieve a caffeine refueling. That’s how lazy I was.

Things were going well – my self-published titles were keeping me in coffee grounds and ink cartridges as planned, I’d established a sideline career as a public speaker and a major publishing house had invited me to do well-paid freelance work for them that tied in with what I was doing for myself already – but they weren’t going as well as I wanted them to go. No where near it.

I still hadn’t got a book deal and, crucially,  I still hadn’t finished the novel I hoped I’d get a book deal for.

Almost all of the writer friends I’ve made over the last few years are now published writer friends. For a while there it felt like every single person I knew had a book deal. (Except me.) But whenever good news broke, I had to acknowledge that the person it was about was a person who worked a lot harder than me. Maybe they’d been getting up at 4:30am for well over a year now, to write before work. Maybe they’d been staying up until 4:30am because they couldn’t write during the day in a house full of kids. Maybe none of us had seen them in forever because every spare minute was spent adding to their WIP’s word count. They got what they wanted because they deserved it. They’d worked as hard as they possibly could.

Ricky Gervais has said that The Office was the first thing in his life he ever really worked hard at. I often wondered what would happen if I worked as hard as I could. My brother acts, and often he and I would say it aloud to one another: what could happen if we worked as hard as we possibly could?

In the end, I forced my own hand. I applied to do a four-year BA in English as a mature student, a move that would require a move to Dublin from Cork. I didn’t expect to get in so when I did, it suddenly meant that my novel had to get finished now, before the luxury of spare time completely disappeared. I got an agent during my first mid-term break, so I had to do a rewrite during term-time alongside all my classes, getting through my reading list, keeping up my freelance work and sleeping and eating and all that. Even my beloved TV fell by the wayside, and I didn’t read anything for pleasure for almost nine months. Actual sacrifices were made as opposed to me just “being busy”.

It was completely and utterly exhausting – after I delivered my rewrites I instantaneously developed a horrific flu and went to bed with Netflix for three days straight – but it was also exhilarating. Mostly because I knew it was going to lead somewhere, because I knew I was working as hard as I possibly could. I always thought I loved wasting time – Sweatpants & Sofa Time, to be specific – but it turns out I feel infinitely happier when I’m not wasting any time at all.

I also felt a seismic shift in how I approached my writing. Before, I’d have taken out my diary and looked for the blank spaces in which I could fit some writing time. Now, all time was writing time by default and everything else that I absolutely had to do – and only the things I absolutely had to do – would be squeezed in around it.

The most (pleasantly) surprising thing was the momentum that builds when you work like that. It got easier and easier to sit down at my desk and get going every day. I went from refusing to do anything unless I had a whole, clear afternoon, to scribbling sentences while the kettle boiled.

I have another crazy (academic) year ahead of me now: I have to deliver Book 2 by April, Book 1 comes out in June and I’m into the second year of my degree with its lecture schedule, reading list, essay assignments and, just after Book 2’s delivery date, exams. But now that I equate success with working as hard as I possibly can – and not a smidgen less – I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

What could happen if you worked as hard as you possibly could? What already has?

What do you think? Do you agree/disagree? How can you tell if you’re just doing hard work, or working hard? What’s the difference? Let me know in the comments below… 

(The featured image is of my Erin Condren Life Planner, which has changed my stationery-addict life. Find out more about her amazing products here.)

48 thoughts on “What Could Happen If You Worked As Hard As You Possibly Could?

  1. brmaycock says:

    I think any time any form of a deadline hits, and you’re so flat out that every spare second is CONSUMED by whatever it is you’re doing, every five minutes that you could possibly have to spare is spent running, running, running to get something done and you go to bed with it in your head and inevitably have to get up to work on it some more is more than just hard work. It’s an under pressure, ‘I’ve no option but to get it done,’ unsustainable time period, and thank God they pass. So you did work hard before, you just never had so many balls to juggle and so little time to do it in(and well done for getting it done!):)

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Well I did have deadlines before, but I don’t think I put enough energy into achieving them. A few years back an agent said no to Mousetrapped but said she wanted to see fiction, and a year later I still hadn’t submitted any fiction to her (but I HAD seen every episode of The West Wing twice over!). And fortunately or unfortunately, there won’t be any passing of an unsustainable time period unless my dream turns to dust; this is my life now! College full-time and a book a year until my contract runs out/I get my degree. I think I’m going to put the coffee machine on… 😀

  2. Isobel Brown - Author says:

    You’re absolutely right. No deal yet for me but just finished a creative writing MA and still whimpering into my strong hot tea with exhaustion. That mixture of a deadline and absolute determination to write the best you possibly can and be worthy of publication, to get out there, is intoxicating and frightening in its power. Great blog Cath.

  3. jessicataylor144 says:

    Wow, this is truly inspiring. I am very much at a point in my life right now, where you were at the beginning. Between work, my social life, and of course, television, I haven’t afforded myself the time I need to become serious about my dream of being a writer. Thank you for this post, because I am now developing a different view of things. Please let me know the name of your novel when it’s out, because I would absolutely love to read it! I wish you the best of luck! 🙂

  4. MarinaSofia says:

    A very frank dissection – kudos to you for daring to say what I fear I should be telling myself. Outwardly we may look very busy, multitasking, reasonably successful etc., but we know that we are not giving our best work the chance it deserves (or that we deserve).

  5. cici says:

    I love this post. You are so right about the seismic shift that occurs (I think perhaps you only realize in retrospect that it has occurred), and the way you can then begin to turn any little crumb of ‘default time’ to your advantage. In my experience of this phenomenon, while at first it feels as if you’re just trying to cobble disparate bits and pieces together, somehow a pattern emerges and weaves its way into the whole, even from these small things.
    I wish you all the best and look forward to reading more of your work.

  6. freds64 says:

    Very few people work to their potential. I know people that have no ambition beyond making enough money to pay for their cable television. I see this and think I’m working hard, but, as you say, I don’t really work to my full potential. This used to bother me, but not so much anymore. I’m happy with forward progress on most days.

  7. Kat says:

    I think I’m trying to work as hard as I can. I don’t think I’m quite there yet — still having the occasions of sitting re-watching House or sleeping instead of writing; that’s the thing with distance learning, taking advantages of the lie-ins and free time a little too much. I’m starting to force myself into the habit of doing several important tasks a day (free writing, coursework, a submission for a magazine), and it seems to be okay-ish so far. I need to convince myself further that by not putting that little bit more effort in, you won’t get where you want to when you expected. I’m a perfectionist, too, and I have to measure my effort by how many words I do a week, rather than day because I know I’ll be disappointed by the end of it. I just need to find that rhythm.

  8. hilarycustancegreen says:

    Oh I did so enjoy this post. Your newfound energy bounces off the page, and that’s the discovery – working (really working) generates energy as well as using it. Somehow working within your limits is less than satisfying. Looking back from the vantage point of age, I can see that my desperate need to sleep in the afternoons, because of my exhausting life with children and housework, was a form of boredom. A couple of degrees, 3 novels and a non-fiction book (out next July) later and my energy is doubled. Keep flying, it feels good.

  9. Jon Chaisson says:

    I’ll be honest, I often don’t feel I’m getting anywhere with my writing unless I get at least three or four things done on any given day. That’ll usually mean a blog post, a personal journal entry, whatever main project I’m working on at the moment (in this case, the final edit of Book II in my trilogy, and even then I’m not happy until I’ve at least gotten a chapter done). If I only get one thing done, I’ll have felt I wasted my available time goofing off.

    Mind you, this is while working a full eight-hour day at my Day Job (I work from home, so no timewasting commute). Maybe a day spent relaxing and watching cat videos isn’t as frivolous as it sounds, but I still get that guilt that I should have spent the time writing something new instead. I’ve managed to keep it all balanced, though, so in the end I try to work hard and still manage to unwind by the end of the day.

  10. Lene says:

    I took August off my day job to get serious about my WIP. Wrote like mad, got a really good chunk done. Went back to my job in September and kept writing like mad. Worked harder than I have ever done and finished my Vomit Draft on Sept.27, three months ahead of schedule. I did my job and wrote the book and nothing else. And it was exhilarating!

    And I’ve been collapsed in a heap since. 🙂

  11. ndoyraz says:

    Im doing my Msc in psychology and currently working on my thesis !! And the late nights .. the coffie after coffie . The quick naps on the keyboard 😣😣 …. but we all go through this becauze the great feeling we will feel when handing it in or the even better feeling seeing an amazing grade when its returned and finally celebrating and taking a break away .. its all worth it in the end .. and keeping that thought in mind is what keeps us going all the late nights at uni

  12. Terry Tyler says:

    I think working hard makes you happy, because it makes you feel good about yourself. I used to be a right clockwatcher at work, then I discovered that if you put your all into a job, any job, and do that bit extra, you take a pride in it. Since stopping work and writing, I treat it as a job. It’s how I produce 2 novels a year and frequent blog posts that get hundreds (and thousands) of views – if, when I don’t feel like it, I sloped off and lolled in bed with Netflix (which is always appealing but I don’t allow myself to do until 9pm!) I wouldn’t be feeling very pleased with myself now!!!

    Well done for discovering all this, too!! I first read about working hard and putting in that bit extra to everything you do, in some self help new age type book, in the early 90s – it stuck with me!!!!

  13. Nicole @ ActivePatience.com says:

    Wow loved this post just wish I could get out my lazy phase and into the ‘hard work’ phase.

  14. maggiemaysgifts says:

    I was just thinking this morning about how a deadline is the best way to get a project finished! This post is so great because it speaks to all of us. We all know when we aren’t truly making the sacrifice. Thanks for the inspiration and kick in the rear 🙂

  15. arjun_shivaram says:

    Hi, Catherine!

    It is high time I tell you that I have been following your blog for quite some time… and
    I find it an interesting read. I am also awaiting your book, and I must say here that I myself am writing a book, which is nearing completion.

    [Link removed – no links in comments, please! If people want to check out your website they can click through your name. Thanks – C]

  16. Amelie J. Hyde says:

    Hello!

    I just wanted pop in and say thank you for writing such a post. Thanks to that question lingering in the back of my mind, last night I was able to write 6k words when I thought I could only produce (at most) half that. So, thanks for the inspiration; I’m very pleased with what I’ve written right now.

  17. MarkM says:

    Thank you Catherine. Great blog post and great job balancing your classes, writing, and, oh yeah, your wonderful blogging audience. I’m not huge into all the motivational stuff you see online these days, but I did like one I saw today and thought of your desire to be a writer/astronaut – “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”

    Looking forward to hearing of your US book deal. Have a great day and keep up the hard work.

  18. shereenielsen says:

    Thanks Catherine for the words of encouragement. As a writer, I have to agree, I was on a mission with my first book Folly Beach Dances. It’s like I was driven. And this year I (and my designer) won the 2015 Da Vinci Eye Award for excellence in book cover design (one of 6 in the world). My lymphoma diagnosis limits me though, and I find my best time to work is in the morning up until about 30 minutes after I eat lunch. I usually eat a late lunch for this reason. I have anemia and get really wiped out. But my intentions are good. And I’m still plugging along determined to find an agent or publisher for my inspirational essay collection, and my 2nd coffee table book. And I’m a freelance travel writer to boot. Although, I’m not on you’re schedule, I’m try. I guess we all do. I love your blog. I’ve missed your thoughts on life lately. I’m glad you’re back.

  19. Nightwriter11 says:

    Catherine, this is a great article. My hurdle has never been to work hard. My problem has always been to maintain it over long periods of time. I take a day off to stay fresh, but many times that leads to longer periods of procrastination.

    the lonelyauthorblog

  20. Lady Jewels Diva says:

    I’ve often thought that I’ve worked harder since 2008 (when I set up my jewellery business, two blogs, wrote nine books and released all of my jewellery collections) than I ever did in my life before. And I’m now 41.

    Now, I’m also writing children’s stories and have about four book series crying to get out of my head. I’ve given myself deadlines during 2016 to get some done at different times and on top of that there’s an overhaul of my jewellery business and social media coming as well.

    I’d say the next year will probably the hardest I’ve ever worked.

  21. Liz Hurst says:

    Hi Catherine, I loved this!

    I’m currently juggling a full-time job in engineering (approx 45 hours per week) and my self-published writing. Book 1 in a series has just come out in ebook version and I’m currently formatting for paperback (thanks to Self-Printed! *doffs cap*)

    I’m fully aware that I’m in no position to give up my job yet, but I’m also fully aware that my list of to-dos is getting longer and longer and it’s been three days since I switched on the TV. Even then, that was only for about half an hour while I threw some food vaguely near my face and called it ‘dinner’.

    I’ve also pretty much stopped going on binge drinking nights out, which all of my friends think is just crazy (they all know me as the kinda girl who can drink most of the guys under that table) because I just can’t spare a single day feeling like crap under a duvet.

    I don’t know how the people with children do it, I’ve gotta tell you!

  22. Letras, Musica y café says:

    well… you’re right, rigth now I’m just studing, and I have some “free time” forced only because i´m professional on procrastinating; but a few years ago, when I was working, and had some clases after the regular ones that I have at Uni, I was used to have my homeworks, essays, lectures and extra proyects, done way long before the due date, at the end I had real free time.

    But now that my only responsability is going to clases, have good grades, is hard to not to be a lazy person, and is good to reach the lowest point only to see how bad that is for you, your future plans and even your health.

  23. redsall says:

    Great post. I’ve written two novels – neither published yet but e publishing coming up. I respect your experience about working your arse off but I’m also suspicious about lauding a workaholic ethic. Balance is important and if you lead a creative life I think friends and beer and the potential of a successful published career is is at least as important as being published and selling 10, 000 books. Which in no way is meant to diminish that achievement! Well done on all you’ve achieved.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      It’s not work if you love it! 😀

      (As in, I would never even consider connecting the word workaholic to this. That to me is someone who’s missing out on better things because of the demands of their job. This IS my better thing.)

  24. Kelly Buell says:

    Catherine, great post! I absolutely identify. I’m also a second year English major and I’ve got my kids and husband and work (writing contracts) to boot. Then there’s also self-publishing my first children’s book , my blog, the list goes on. Kudos to you for getting your turn! I’m working hard at getting mine.

  25. Daxaeha Fiorghra says:

    This is inspiring. The very words to encourage someone who was never taught what hard work really is. Not everyone was raised in a hard-working and goal-oriented environment. I’m attempting to self-teach initiative. This was a wonderful find.

  26. themamalinguist says:

    This post resonates with me so much. I have tried to tell friends that I am lazy too – they weren’t buying it. But I really am! I am yet to throw myself completely into something though. I keep saying “when my daughter sleeps properly”, but I am starting to think that will never happen. I also say “when I have a project I’m passionate about”, but like you say, the momentum and passion doesn’t grow until you get started. Good kick up the behind for me, thanks.

  27. VE says:

    Love your blog, i was just reading and reading and want read more of your writing. The look of your blog is such a bliss 🙂 Happy to follow you

  28. Veronica Sicoe says:

    I’m in the “get up before dawn & write what I can before work & kids” club. And working my freakin’ ass of HAS helped me get a lot more done, and feel A LOT more accomplished than anything else, ever.

    So I totally feel ya, and give you a virtual hug and an OORAH!

  29. Mansi says:

    Hi Catherine! I think i just found the right read at the right time. I work for 56 hours a week (Oh yes, Saturdays On) and find it difficult to manage my writing stuff. I was thinking of quitting my job and concentrate on the writing. But, great that i read this! I won’t quit now and would work harder for my personal goals of writing! Thank you!

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