On work and tasks

breaking bricks

There’s work, and then there are tasks.

Work is the hard job of producing of new material for the world to read.

Tasks are all the other things that I spend my time doing that (I argue) support that work.

Producing a new draft is work.

Keeping up a Twitter feed is a task.

Revising a draft is work.

Hunting for agents to query is a task.

Writing blog posts… is more task than work. It’s writing and revising (er, lightly revising), but this material doesn’t build literature. It supports my work, it’s a great outlet for the things that wouldn’t otherwise have a home, but had I no blog—I could still work.

I have to keep a careful eye on the ratio time I spend on tasks to work. It’s easy to squander my entire writing time on tasks. They aren’t un-necessary. I need a community of like-minded writers, for example, and that needs to be cultivated. Keeping up with a community is a task. Yet spending time on a forum is much more fun than grinding out an obstinate passage or striking through five paragraphs of words that just don’t work.

Tasks can be hard and irritating, like keeping a spreadsheet of all the places I’ve pitched, queried, or submitted. Tasks can be necessary, like writing query letters. But they still aren’t work. A query letter isn’t a new picture book.

The worst is when tasks are fun, like reading or setting up my workspace or making a just-so cup of tea. Those things may be necessary to being good at this work (or, in the case of a precise 4-minute steep, less necessary), but they aren’t work. No drafts have ever been revised while I was opening the curtains to let in the right amount of light.

I almost always write under pressure. The children must be up and off to school. My day job awaits. Soccer games must be attended. If I ever want to produce anything, I have to use my writing time to do work, not tasks.

I once worked with a surgeon who, when he caught himself complaining, even lightly, about his job, would mutter, “Well, it beats breaking bricks.” Even the work of writing, the get-the-words-down, fix-the-words parts, the I’m-not-very-good-at-this I’ll-never-make-it parts, they beat breaking bricks.

And now I put down my sledgehammer and pick up my pen. No more tasks, now. Back to work.

Author: Kate Rowland

I'm a normal human kidlit writer.