This distinction isn’t as much pejorative as it priority-driven. I have to keep a focus on my “real” work so that the “other” work doesn’t take all my time. Lately, I’ve lost that focus, and I find myself spending much of my writing time doing other things like drafting short stories for amazing websites or working on Relay For Life tasks. These things are important, and I am dedicated to them because of that. However, I can’t let them take over my “real” writing.
A few years ago at the AWP Conference, I heard Sven Birkerts talk about the idea of “real work.” He said that teaching and editing was what paid his bills, but writing was his “real work.” I latched onto that idea hard.
For me, the book is my “real work,” but for others, the real work is blogging or editing or writing great lunchbox letters for your kids. Or maybe the real work isn’t writing at all but instead is being the best dad you can be or the best web designer or the best acupuncturist. For some people, like my father, the only “real work” is the kind that is physical and leaves your hands calloused. The trick is to not let anyone else define what is “real” i.e. most important for you. Only you can determine that.
So the question really becomes how do you define your “real work,” and are you making that your priority?