‘Doing the Work’ is a Lie

Oooo, look at me, I’m Working!

If you are a writer or other sort of artist in any capacity, you’ve certainly come across this idea that other serious artist types who are not you are VERY serious and important, and that serious important-ness always comes from taking The Work very seriously, and dedicating every fiber of your being to doing said Work. The problem I see with this theory is that it’s wrong.

Here’s the test

As someone who has done both things that might qualify as ‘The Work,’ and also things that are actually work, I have devised a highly scientific test to determine if the thing you are doing is The Work or simply work. It’s an four-point test, kind of like the one that determines if you are actually a contractor, or if your employer just doesn’t want you to have benefits or rights — a thing that something happens in the lowercase work world.

  1. Do you need money? If you need money, chances are that the thing you are doing is probably work, and not The Work.
  2. Is it Instagrammable? In other words, do you RIGHT NOW need the world to know that you are doing The Work? Pole dancing, screenwriting, and urban witch spells, for example: these all likely qualify as The Work. On the other hand, if you’re cleaning the oven, putting things into little desktop folders, or sending an email to colleagues trying to figure out whose job it is to send some other email — this doesn’t show well on Insta, and probably qualifies as just plain work.
  3. Do you need to talk about it? If you’re scrubbing a bathtub, you generally don’t need to jump up and a. tell everyone that you’re doing it, and b. offer unsolicited tips about how to do it successfully, the subtext being that if you’re *not* scrubbing your bathtub right now, you’re a big dumb loser, with only yourself to blame for the results you get.
  4. Does it define your very being? What if you *didn’t* write a screenplay, or do the splits every day, or bake a super fancy cake or split logs with your bare hands in your back yard when it’s 17 below zero? Would you simply cease to exist, turning quickly into a mist that evaporates into the sky? If so, you are probably engaged in The Work. On the other hand, if you’re rearranging your spice cabinet while filling a bag of old shoes to take to Savers — chances are that this is simply work.

Which comes first, work or The Work?

The grim reality is that whether or not The Work is happening anywhere near you, there is always work to be done. If you have too much work, The Work takes a back seat. If you need money, work rises up and kills The Work entirely. So here is a cheat sheet to help you prioritize The Work while making work go away.

  1. Be rich. This is a quick and easy way to ensure that you don’t need to clog up your days with work, and get down to The Work itself so you can post about it later.
  2. Have a spouse. This works best if that spouse acknowledges that you’re the designated one who will be doing The Work, while they will take on work. This frees you up almost entirely to focus on The Work. The tricky thing about this is that if done for long enough, The Work can also begin to make money, which could make you think that you’ve tranformed it into work — but don’t be fooled. It’s still The Work. How do you know? Look over at your spouse. Are they still doing work, and does it look different than what you are doing? You’re doing The Work.

‘Live cheaply’ and other lies

Some would argue that in order to focus on The Work, you need to make your life as small as possible, as cheap as possible, for as long as possible. This is okay in your twenties and thirties, I suppose. The problem is when you get in your 40s and you’re tired as fuck and probably irrelevant anyway. Do you want a house you can maybe pay off before you die? If so, you might have to do some work. If you get tired of doing work for said house, you may have to consider going back to a shared apartment situation that is now just as expensive as a house anyway, unless you’re 1. rich or 2. have a spouse.

Resume work.

At this point, someone may emerge from the mist and suggest that if you’d only do The Work, things might be different. It’s okay to tell them they’re full of shit and will die just like everyone else.

The Work isn’t work, and that’s okay

None of this is to say that there’s anything bad about the activities that constitute The Work. It’s a misnomer, that’s all. It’s not The Work. It’s The Privilege. Are you engaged in it? That’s great for you! Enjoy. Go ahead and tell us about how you do The Privilege. Judge us for not doing The Privilege. Show us your Privilege process on Insta. Maybe if we just privilege hard enough, someday the rest of us, too, can do The Privilege.

Until then, it’s work.

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