No really, it’s work
In all seriousness, one of the trickiest things about writing as a line of work is the part that doesn’t look recognizably like work.
I’m currently in progress on a background project, and I’ve had to accept that as much as I would like to be charging ahead and putting words down on the page, doing that right now stands a high chance of producing material I’ll just have to cut later. I need to think. I need to figure out plot beats that will be lively as opposed to merely getting the job done. I need to make sure I intend to stick with my current idea about how magic works in this setting, because I’ve already tweaked it once, and you know what’s not fun? Invalidating a chunk of narrative because things don’t work that way anymore.
This is necessary work — but it is also work that does not lend itself to metrics. It is the opposite of effective for me to set a timer and say, okay, for the next hour I am going to Think About the Book. Nor can I really set a goal where by the end of the week I need to have a clear sense of a particular character and how they’ll get involved with the plot. Trying to set that kind of goal is a really, really good way to make my brain freeze up and produce nothing at all.
And even when the ideation does happen . . . at what point am I allowed to kick back and say, okay, done for the day? I can set a baseline for drafting: for me it’s usually a minimum number of words, but for other people it’s a certain amount of time at the keyboard. Either way, when you hit your goal, you’re done. (If you want to or have to be. There are days when I hit that goal and keep going just because I’m on a roll; yesterday was one of those days.) Thinking, though . . . how do I decide that I’ve made enough intangible progress, and now it’s okay for me to slack off and watch TV? And even if the answer is that I should do more work, how do I do that when the best way for me to think is to be doing something else? Only certain kinds of something else count; TV isn’t a great one. Neither is reading or playing a game. Showering’s great, but we’re in a drought here, so I can’t just take three a day and see what happens.
I dunno. I’ve been doing this stuff for years and I still dunno. I have a good plot bit, though — something that will introduce a bit of action and set up some complications for my protagonist. I still don’t know much about one of the characters involved in it, which is bad because they’re supposed to be moderately important to this story . . . so I guess I have more thinking to do. Eventually.
Maybe tomorrow, when I’m in the car.