The big hairy work conundrum

How many hours do you work? It’s a staple question of forms, and I imagine for the regularly employed, it’s a fairly simple thing to answer. People who are on salary and not paid by the hour tend to know roughly how many hours they are expected to put in, I believe. And then there’s self employment. How do you explain to the tax office that they’ve just asked a most ponderous, philosophical question? You can’t, you just put down a best guess, safe in the knowledge that no one else has any clue what hours you work either.

What to count? I put in maybe fifty hours last year on a project that in the end I had to shelve. No one paid me. Was I working those hours? If I stand at a stall all morning and no one buys anything, was I working? If half the day was dead, and in the last hour a lot of people buy art, when, exactly, was I working? And if I wander off to listen to a talk, still technically responsible for the stall… working, or not working?

A frequent conundrum for me is that I read books for pleasure, get some distance in and see the research application. Radio programs the same and daytrips out. What of that time is really downtime? I plan work while on the school run. I think up plot lines whilst doing the dishes. Some of this leads very directly to me getting paid. And again every so often I put in a lot of hours on a book that I then either don’t finish, don’t like, or can’t figure out how to pitch. Do I count those hours as work?

Selling books is a weird sort of business. You have to spend a lot of time chatting to people, being shamelessly interesting in public places and so forth. Networking: It’s strangely like having a social life sometimes. Want to be a professional Druid? You need to spend time hanging round moots, conferences maybe doing some volunteer work, otherwise no one will have heard of you, no one will know what you do and no one will book you. This blog is very openly part of my cunning plan to sell you books. (see my complex reverse psychology at work here) I write blogs every day. But no one pays. It is part of the marketing plan, (my gods, what do I sound like?) but is it work?

Go on, define work.

Because I’ve got this nasty suspicion that really speaking, if I’m awake, I am at least to some degree, working, and I think this is probably true of most, if not all self employed folk. And I still don’t know what to put on the forms.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “The big hairy work conundrum

  • druidcat

    I generally don’t mind this life, very much as above. The frustration comes when you HAVE to quantify it (and can’t); or when people accuse you of not working because you don’t seem to be penned in to an office space or suchlike…

    Holidays are an interesting concept, too. Are those even allowed? 😉

  • Doug Riley

    Hmm, U do a lot of agency work, and private admin work (S/employed) what counts as work, is it the many emails and phone i have to make to get the agency and private work? I gave up on holidays many years ago, as a waste of time, as I would still be thinking about when the next agency job might come along

  • Buzzard

    Work (If able too) is what we do to survive. It is what society expects of us, the way we have evolved. We pay our taxes into the machine, are a number and a manipulation of the machine.
    Would you not like to go back for a week or two to sample and live as a hunter gatherer or back to an iron age hill fort. Life not work for the common good?


  • bish

    You are only at work when you are awake?!!! So what are dreams then if not inspiration for the job ahead. Snoring should be tax deductible… 🙂

  • ladyimbrium

    bish’s comment made me laugh. It’s true. I’m one of those people who works highly quantified hours. Shift work. Joy. A few good friends are artists of some form or another and they are almost always working to some degree. Sometimes the work results in nothing. I have no idea how they deal with all that on the paperwork. Sounds like a relatively small price to pay- they seem a lot less stressed than I am.

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    Well, ask them! LOL! It’s a riddle for sure. I have what is considered a 2 hour a week job, although it is closer to 35, and it goes whenever the tenants do whatever, 7 days a week. But when it come to writing, researching, promoting, etc,, that is easily 40 hours plus -. Check with some other writers! I seem to be considered by others as this being a full time (40 hour a week) job – whic his what I generally answer when asked, because it just makes it easier to get over that hump and get it out of the way, free or not. I would say, just pick a #, and don’t sweat the small stuff!

  • gfenton

    An interesting thought.

    I have several jobs. There is my main, paid employment that I cherish because it comes with free health insurance that would cost over $3,000 a month if I had to buy it mysef. When I am at my place of employment, I consider it work even though I spend a lot of the time (I work a night shift and it’s quiet) doing fun stuff on my iPad.

    Then there is the voluntary service that I do, as an Auxiliairy NYPD Officer and the Mounted Auxiliary Patrol in Central Park. That’s unpaid, so is it work?

    On top of that, I’m dabbling in writing and acting, which brings in a tiny amount of money. So the time I spend going through all the “cattle call” emails from the casting agency is probably “work” too. Reading books and other research activities to help the writing? Maybe.

    Like so many things in life, there is no simple answer or definition. Fifty shades of work related activity?

  • Nimue Brown

    No one right answer, I suspect 🙂 But it is a fascinating topic. Bish, I wouldn’t dare use my dreams, they are either to incoherrent, or too disturbing 🙂 Buzzard, I’d love to be in a scenario of working for the common good, I have no idea how I’d cope as a hunter-gatherer. I’m not much of a creature comforts person and I can cook on a fire, so, better than average at a guess!

  • Alex Jones

    Acorns to oak trees. The self employed have to work that much harder than those in fixed paid employment, but the riches can be that much more. It is harder, but you feel liberated and able to be your own master.

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