Monday, 22 February 2016

Writing is hard work, and there's no way around it

This morning I got up at 6 and was at the oval by 6.15, where I spent 40 minutes sprinting, jogging, and generally huffing and puffing. Also, sweating and smelling bad. A lot.

This is what I do now.

It began a year and two months ago, when I decided I had to get fit, or risk dying on the sofa at a ridiculously early age. The main problem with that scenario wasn’t the actual dying part; it was not having time to do all the writing I plan to do for the rest of my life.

The first time I ran, I managed about 200 metres before I had to stop, bend double and spend at least five minutes recovering, while my fit, 15 year old daughter looked on, shaking her head. “Can’t you go any further?”

It turns out, I could. And I did. Slowly. I crawled my way through the first four months of learning to run again after literally 26 years of sedentary life. And then, I made my big goal: I ran to the bridge and back!

And I was disappointed.

Somehow, I expected that once I’d made my goal and reached my high point, everything would get easier. The fact was, it didn’t. I was still slow. Everything still hurt. I did not hurtle along the path like a leaping gazelle, as I imagined myself. Running was still H-A-R-D W-O-R-K.

Eight months later, it’s still hard work. I run with friends now, which helps, but it’s hard. Yes, I can run faster. Yes, I’m stronger. Yes, I have more flexibility and a quicker recovery time, but it all hurts, and I still hate it, but I do it because I want to be fit, I want to be healthy. Heck, I even want to be good at it.

This is me, doing in the 'Iron Woman' obstacle race at our local show this year. Last year I came last. This year I had improved - all the way to second last. Progress!

The theme of my life, right now, is that nothing worthwhile is easy. I’m learning the cello as an adult; I want to be really good at it, but almost every practice session feels like I’m making no progress at all. It’s hard work. I’m a parent to four children. There’s a lot of work involved. In fact, it’s mostly work – physical, emotional and spiritual work.

And, of course, writing is hard work. I want to be a good writer, not a mediocre writer, and that takes work. It’s hard work to get that first draft down when other things are calling. It’s hard to put in the hours to refine the next drafts, to make the story work, to build into the characters. It’s hard to accept feedback and hear criticisms from editors. It’s hard to get published, or to publish yourself. Once you’ve done one book, the second is just as hard, and the third is harder still.

In my fitness, my music, and my writing – in fact, in all areas of life – I’m learning that progress comes slowly, with commitment, dedication and practice. In other words, work. Yes, there are some areas of life which are easy and fun and you hardly have to try. But mostly, it’s about getting in and doing the job. And continuing to do it, day in and day out.

My music teacher said to me: “The music world is a meritocracy. You do the work, you get the result.” It’s the same for writing. If you do the work of learning, growing and improving, and write better and better each time, people will make space on the shelf for your work.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way, that make the hard work slightly less overwhelming, and the progress be seen more quickly:

1.  Break your big task down into small tasks. Focus on each small task, one at a time. 

2. Take the time to do the small things well, and get them right. Don’t cut corners or skip through and think ‘Oh, that’s good enough. No one will notice’.

3. Having said that, it’s better to write a bad first draft than no first draft. There’s a balance between getting something good on the page, and getting nothing on the page. You can’t edit nothing, or make nothing better.

4. Get a teacher or mentor or editor. I’ve worked harder in fitness with others than I ever did on my own. Having someone to bounce off and learn from is the greatest thing you can do.

5. Do it every day. (Or, at least 5-6 days a week.) Practice is essential.

6. Realise: You can ALWAYS do more than you think you can. You are always more capable than you think you are. You always have a choice to do that, or something slightly better than that. Choose the slightly better version every time.

Cecily Paterson writes warmhearted fiction for young teenage girls. Find her blog and books at


  1. Great post Cecily. I enjoyed reading of your running efforts and well done for your successful attempts at getting fitter. I'm sure it will aid your writing as well since the better we are physically, the better the quality of our lives. I loved your last point to do a slightly better version each time. After one hundred of such sessions, one would be at a pretty good place, I'd guess! :) Thanks Cecily.

  2. Great post Cecily and some good tips. Breaking the big goal down into smaller ones, and getting something down rather than nothing - sometimes we have to take baby steps but if we keep working at it, we'll get there :) I did chuckle at your obstacle race results - it reminds me of a Grade 7 experience. I always came last in races. A bright teacher thought, lets put all the poor runners in the obstacle race - and, of course, I came last at that too. Swimming was another matter but I was never very sporty. Thanks again for the post.

  3. Great post and well done on your running efforts, and learning the cello. I especially like your point about it being better to write a bad first draft than no draft :)

  4. You do have to make sure you don't push yourself too hard though. I recently decided I was going to exercise a bit to get fit. I quickly realised that my 25 year old self could do certain exercises that my 45 year old post-pregnancy body cannot. So I've found some other exercises that don't put strain where my body can't cope with it anymore. I think it's important to know your limits in everything you do and not to be disappointed if you don't meet your goals first time every time. Adjust the goals for what you can manage and see how you go.

  5. Really enjoyed reading your post, Cecily, and felt energised even through the way you wrote it! I particularly like that last paragraph re realising we are more capable than we think we are. I understand the issue about not pushing ourselves too far, but I also have experienced how self-doubt can hold me back when I simply need to trust God, have courage and get out and do something.

  6. Thanks for sharing the reality check, Cecily.