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Writing Through the Hard Parts

I started running last April using a Couch to 5K training program. I completed my first 5K race in June, and now I am running 10-12 miles consistently every week. There is a saying amongst runners that goes something like this: The first mile is a liar. Don’t ever trust it. You see, the first mile can be really hard. Like, so hard you will want to quit. But I have run enough miles by now to know the secret: just keep running. Eventually your breath will even out, your heart rate will find a rhythm, and your leg muscles will carry you without complaint. That first mile, though… it’s a doozy.

Sometimes writing is like that too, isn’t it? The first words, the first paragraph, and the first page can be hard. You have to write enough to know the secret: just keep writing. You can’t trust the first words.

One day I watched my daughter take out a piece of paper and some crayons. She chose a color and scribbled a patch of color across the page. She stepped back and looked at the paper, turning her head to the right and then the left. I could tell she didn’t know what she was making, and I expected she would start over on a new piece of paper. I left her alone to work and was surprised to find this creation proudly displayed on our refrigerator later that day:

I was so glad she didn’t trust her first scribble. Writing is like that, too, sometimes I wanted to tell her.

This year when you see your students struggle through their first sentences, don’t rescue them. Don’t offer your own ideas to fill the void. Instead give them an empathetic smile and tell them you have been there too. Encourage your students to write through the hard parts. They just might be surprised what they find on the other side.


Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

13 thoughts on “Writing Through the Hard Parts Leave a comment

  1. I think I needed that. Im writing a book and I’m scared I have brain block because I cant seem to move past chapter four. Yet I know how the ending should be


  2. I hope you’ve told your students this story. It’s something they could easily visualize and there’s so much they could take from it. You are giving them a gift. In today’s “fast world” where everything is expected to happen almost instantly, you are helping them to develop the stamina to write and to run the marathon called life.


  3. Dana,
    This post almost makes me want to slip into a pair of running shoes. Just yesterday, I watched a student sit with blank paper and pen in hand for about 7 minutes. Maybe I rescued him, maybe my words were empathetic . I said, ” That happens to me and when It does I start sketching or drawing until my idea finds me.” At share circle, he shared a beautiful piece. Next time, I am not doing to rescue the writer, I am going to let them find the thrill of the surprise when the story finds you! I really love writing and teaching kids about the beauty of this art form!


      • Yes! I want to affirm Deb’s wise and empathetic response, and question why we’re so afraid to “rescue” each other when we’re in the middle of a difficult time? “No man [or woman or child] is an island”, and why is it so wrong to come alongside someone whom you know is struggling and offer them empathy and encouragement and even, maybe, a suggestion of something they could try, if THEY choose. When done openly and without any weight of expectation, this doesn’t take away a person’s agency, but may allow them to feel a way out of the moment of paralysis they are stuck in, and that’s like water to parched earth…why would we deny them that, if it’s in our power to give? Of course it’s important to do this thoughtfully/carefully, not out of our (or their) fear, or out of a proud and puffed-up “I know better”, but out of a humble and open, “Here’s what has worked for me, IF you want to try it and see if it might help you, too.” I, too, think your response was perfect, Deb!


  4. Love this! The first mile is the hardest (not to imply I run….), the first step is the hardest, sometimes just getting out the door and putting your shoes on is the hardest. Thanks for this September reminder.


  5. I don’t know if you inspired me more as a writer or as a runner. Nothing worth doing is easy, but the payoff for pushing through is very rewarding. Thanks for sharing your experience, and thank your daughter for her beautiful artwork!


  6. It’s not just students who struggle with the first words! Great reminder of how hard writing can be, as much as how important it is to allow students time to work their way through hard parts without jumping in and rescuing them.


  7. I needed to read this today. We’ve started school and I have a young gifted student who sets such high standards for herself that she cannot possibly do them. Yesterday I tried having her tell a partner what she was thinking, then write it. That helped, but I also see that sometimes I will just have to let her struggle. I think I’ll use your post to guide me. Thanks.


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