Mark Twain has a wonderful quote in Tom Sawyer after the scene where Tom has seduced his friends into helping him whitewash the fence. “Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” I’m not obliged to write. Yet, I refer to what I do as “work.” A fellow writer questioned this recently. Why did I always say “work” when I refer to my writing practice? She caught me a little off-guard. I had never thought to explain it, but I also thought the answer was obvious. We writers often have to fight for what we need: privacy, solitude, not being interrupted. That’s because most people don’t understand our process. Of course, this is often true for many people who work at home. People think you can drop everything to meet them, pick them up, do them a favor or just chat on the phone. I always hope that by referring to my writing time as “work”, as in “I can’t talk right now, I’m working,” that I’ll gradually train folks to respect it as much as I do. And, I’d say I’ve been fairly successful.
But referring to what I choose to do as “work” is also for my own benefit. I want to not only be a professional, but think of myself as a professional. I want to think of myself as a professional even during spells when I’m not managing to publish a single word. If I don’t think of myself as a professional, how can I expect anyone else to, and therefore treat me as one? I can never think of my writing as a hobby or pastime. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a word in English that is between the two–work vs. play. Calling? Please, what I do is not that exalted. Passion? Only occasionally. So, I’m stuck with work. Technically, I don’t “have to” and nobody gives me a weekly paycheck or assigns my tasks or sets my hours. The obligation is only to myself. But I feel that obligation no less.