who the heck knows anything, anyway

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Relevant Topic

A surprising number of my friends are self-employed these days. More than that, we're self employed in strange, self-directed fields where the answer to "what can I actually consider to be work?" is amorphous, at best. I work on my novel for a couple of hours a day, but that can't be all that I am allowed* to think of as contributing to my authorial betterment. So I've decided that, for my own personal sanity, I should brainstorm the things I do that count as "work."

First and foremost, of course, is Writing. Novel writing and short story writing are the top tier, then there are various editing projects**, and I'm also going to include blog writing. Blogs are sort of silly, because I don't think I'm nearly important enough for strangers to read about the things I think about. However I love reading up on what my friends are doing/thinking about, so this is my way of returning that favor while also giving myself a platform for getting all of the funny gunk out of my brain. This is a place where I can talk about work (witness: right now), or some new thing I've discovered while researching, or how good I'm feeling because the sun is out. All are relevant to my life and, therefor, my profession. (Man, I have a cool profession.)

Then there's responding to work-related emails, which is kind of an automatic "in" because that counts as legitimate work wherever you're employed.

Other writingish things that fall somewhere between emails and the official creative process include: cover letters, author bios, and all that very important business that gives me anxiety.

The next umbrella (also a pretty big one) is Research! This one can get a little confusing, actually, but it definitely includes: looking up and subscribing to various lit mags, checkin' out NPR's book recommendations, reading Jeannine's blog (I can't rave about this woman enough), and conducting any laborious research about specific time periods or technical information pertinent to my stories. Not sure if I should count the times I get a little derailed and end up researching tangential information. Technically, it's not immediately relevant; ideally, learning anything and everything is 100% relevant.

...I vote: learning is awesome, so it counts.

Next! Brainstorming is obviously kosher.

Now here's the big question: What category does Reading fall under? After a little bit of mental argument about whether or not I should allow myself hours of reading novels on a daily basis and count those hours as work (instead of considering it an extracurricular activity), I've decided I should be for it. Ahh, the joys of being wracked by guilt. Too many years at an office job means I have to constantly remind myself that work does not have to be painful--i.e. reading can essentially count as research (should count, really) while still remaining  awesome. It's not as thought I'm going to magically hate reading because I'm counting the hours I do it on my time card.*** But I do need to count it and not feel like I'm cheating. I don't want to feel like a slouch if I work on my novel for two hours and then want to read Cloud Atlas and my new issue of Granta for four. This is why I needed to get all this down on paper (so to speak): the longer I feel like reading is excluded from my Approved Work Activities, the less time I allow myself to do it, in general. Those four hours I could have spent reading (and acknowledging/appreciating it's importance) are four hours that I instead spend dicking around on the internet and doing nothing. Absolutely nothing.**** All that waste and worry make me feel like emu puke.

I hereby decree that Reading of Literature counts in my hour tally, whether you think that's nonsense or not. Because I think it's legit.  And if you're an author who doesn't think reading is important, then you are not legit. That's something I have no trouble saying on the internet.


Phew. See? This work thing gets heavy.

I feel as though a weight has been lifted, though. Listing these things out helped me realize that I actually do a lot of work! I don't know about you, but not having a clear picture about these things can get pretty depressing. Some weeks, I will lament having completed next to nothing, and the spiral into crisis-mode is never far behind--but then Daniel reminds me that I worked on my novel four mornings out of five, and that I corrected three papers, wrote a blog post, corresponded with people interested in my work, and brainstormed a bunch of chapters for multiple projects. How could I have overlooked all of that?

Moral of the story: if you crave organization and reassurance, don't be ashamed to make lists. Lists are friends, not food.

Aaaaaaand, I apologize for this being twelve million pages (inches? reading-minutes? pixels?? Blogs! You confuse my book brain!) long.  Oops!

*Allowed by my self, of course, because The Man doesn't dictate my life no mo'! I mean, I'll be making so little money this year that I don't think I'll even be filing taxes.^
**Mostly involving correcting high school/college papers for my little brothers and a few friends, but I still think they count.
***A sweet, e-time card (I believe they call such things an "android app" in this time period) called My Work Clock that lends a nice feeling of legitimacy to my day.
****Because dishes, unfortunately, don't count as this particular kind of work, unless I want to change my title from Author to Head DishwasherAnd do I want this to be my official title in my home? Hint: No. 

^I feel a little guilty about this, because I kind of love paying taxes--in an I-love-funding-libraries-and-social-programs-and-schools-and-would-totally-fund-universal-health-care-if-that-was-an-option sort of way. I'm not an accountant.