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.