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.