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.
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.’
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.)