Today I am pleased to welcome fellow MuseItUp author Chuck Bowie to the blog to talk about a subject I’ve been talking about myself recently – Writer’s Block. Welcome to Imaginary Friends, Chuck!
Writer’s Block: Myth or Tragedy?
By Chuck Bowie
Ever want something very badly, only to find it just out of reach? Have you ever wanted something, and not even know what it is you are longing for? In career development circles, they sometimes refer to this challenge using something called the JoHari Box, or JoHari Window. The analysis tool was created by a couple of guys: Joe and, you guessed it; Harry. In one of the four circumstances one can find themselves in below, the problem is unknown to you and, worse, you aren’t even aware there is a problem. So, when you think of Writer’s Block, you can console yourself in knowing you are at least aware there is a problem, that being the blank page (screen) staring straight back at you.
Okay, so you know there is a problem: you can’t write. There simply isn’t the passage of ideas from your brain, turning to words on the screen. I confess I’m not one who has suffered the agony of staring at a page until beads of blood form on my forehead. The closest I’ve come to Writer’s Block has been to get to a passage and take a while—sometimes an hour—in an effort to regain my focus. I call it Writer’s Hesitation; I suppose it could be called Writer’s Block Lite. I think we will all encounter it, whether it’s the Hesitation or the full-on Block: I know what I want to say, I merely am not sure how I want to say it. On the solution front, I choose to review a few pages in the hope—in true Pantser mode—inspiration will grab me. I go back five pages, performing a hard edit on them. By the time I return to the accusatory blank screen, something comes to me and off I go.
What do others do about it? Dorothy Parker had the most extreme advice I’ve ever heard on the subject. She suggested “Write something, even if it’s a suicide note.” A bit extreme, you would agree.
Other folks can be paralyzed by WB, though. I was at a mystery writers conference in Massachusetts recently, and Craig Johnson (Longmire) was the keynote speaker. He spoke for a bit about Writer’s Block, and frankly, wasn’t positive the phenomenon existed. He said “Show me a person with Writer’s Block, and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t done a good job on writing an outline.” So, his solution was the pre-emptive strike: set yourself up with a detailed outline before you write the first sentence. It’s a sure-fired, he says, guarantee to prevent WB.
Johnson, who sounds like a Plotter to me, subscribes to the Boy Scout motto: be prepared (with a robust outline.) This is excellent, positive advice. I have a third suggestion. Drop what you’re stuck on, and go write something different. I do not mean stream-of-consciousness babble, I mean write a blog, an essay, a short story, or start that novel you’d been planning to get back to, one day.
So, there you have it. Perhaps one of these three ‘cures’ will fix your Writer’s Block and you’ll be back in action tomorrow. Whichever you choose, let’s all save Dorothy Parker’s advice for the very last. Even better, let’s not go there.
Chuck Bowie lives on the East Coast of Canada. He is currently writing Book 4 in the suspense-thriller series Donovan: Thief For Hire. His books have a focus on international intrigue, and he has been known to insert some of his favourite pastimes into his plots: wine, travel, food and music.
AMACAT, Book 2 is available on-line and comes out in print later this spring.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
As we reach the end of February, we see signs of the end of winter. Or at least we do here in the UK. I believe over the pond they are still up to their ears in snow and temperatures way too low for any civilised society. Have I mentioned how much I don’t miss those Canadian winters?
Anyway, in my world this month has seen builders and other tradespeople come and go as we get some improvement work done to our house. I’m sure the end result will be worth it, but as a creature of habit I hate the disruption, and having everything in the wrong place for several weeks has put me in altogether the wrong frame of mind to do anything writing-related. However, there is some news to report this month, so I move on to my update for the end of February.
I do have some news in this category. I have just signed a contract with MuseItUp Publishing to republish my horror novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN. Those who have been with me a while will know that this was my first published novel, released by Lyrical Press in 2010 on a three-year contract. I have always had a special fondness for this novel, seeing as how it was my ‘firstborn’, as it were, and I am pleased that Muse are able to offer it a new home, and give it the promotion that it deserves.
‘Coming soon’ is a tad misleading, though, since the release is tentatively scheduled for Spring 2016, and that feels like some time away.
There are a couple of new online appearances to report for February.
8 February – I was interviewed by Robbi Perna
15 February – I talked about how to beat writer’s block on Iona Brodie’s blog.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Work continues, slowly but surely, on the third Shara Summers novel, SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH.
As for the new horror novel, well it’s sort of finished. I’ve started querying it again. Whether or not it is definitively finished rather depends on what kind of feedback I get on it. I will be sure to keep you posted.
That’s it for now. See you next month!
Today I am pleased to welcome Janie Franz to the blog once more, talking about the issues involving keeping readers’ interest in a series. Good to have you back, Janie!
Sustaining a Series
By Janie Franz
Writing a series can offer an author success (modest or large) because the writer has a built-in following. Readers like something about the series that keeps them returning.
Some series are based on the kind of adventures that the author produces, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and his jungle Tarzan or his Barsoom (Mars) series. Then there is H. Rider Haggard and Allan Quartermain’s treks into unknown realms or all of the Star Trek and Star Wars novels that the TV series and movies stimulated.
Sometimes it’s a sustaining theme through a mystery such as Peter King’s Goodwyn Harper Mystery series about a chef in London (King is a Cordon Bleu chef himself.) or Roberta Isleib’s Cassie Burdette mysteries about a professional golfer who seems to always find herself in trouble. There are books about golfers, booksellers, psychologists, doctors, dancers, crime scene cleaners, journalists, veterinarians, etc.
Other authors have hooks that keep their readers returning. Sometimes it’s a location or something unique. An author colleague, writing under the name Dorien Grey, has a spooky mystery series about an architect who is aided by a ghost. Mary Stanton has a wonderful southern series called the Beaufort & Company Mysteries about angels or ghosts, depending upon your understanding of either.
Some writers plan on writing a series from the first inkling of an idea. Some of us don’t. That was the case when I wrote The Bowdancer, the first book in what became a six-book series. I also have a paranormal series in mind, the Bell Holler Witch books.
So why do these authors write series?
I doubt many of these authors decided to write a series to guarantee them fame and fortune. I think many of them were like me. We wrote a book and liked something about it that made us write another. For Rowling, it was the eagerness with which her first beta reader (her daughter) received the first book and wanted more. For Doyle and Christie (and for myself as well), it was how compelling the characters were. I was captured by my own characters and wanted to live with them again in new adventures.
Motivation to write a series is passion about the first book, whether it is the author’s own or your readers’.
What do you do after you write that first book? Do you even know if you have a series?
A series by definition has to have more than one book. Usually, it is more than three or it’s a trilogy, but in some publishing circles two or more books become a series.
However after that first book, do you really have the seeds for more? In some books such as detective stories, ala Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, there is always that next case. That happens in police procedurals or other types of crime novels. The detective or the team deals with the next murder or new menace. In my Bell Holler Witch series, I know that my feisty Tennessee herb woman will do battle with yet another paranormal entity. This is also common with any series based on a location or a profession, regardless of genre.
But do you have a series if your book concept is character-driven? That can be tricky to determine.
In The Bowdancer Saga, I had no clue after I wrote that keystone first book that there would ever be another. I knew who my character was but nothing had really been settled in that first encounter with her. I knew I wasn’t finished with her, but I had no clue what would happen next.
Somewhere in the many years before the second book was written, I decided that she would appear with her young precocious daughter and that there might be a third book about her and a son, but that book never materialized as I had initially conceived it. Years later, when I actually wrote the second book, The Wayfarer’s Road, something one of the characters said in it sparked the idea for the third book, Warrior Women. When that book was completed, I had the seed of an idea for The Lost Song Trilogy that followed. Those three books have generated ideas for at least three more books that are yet unwritten. The Bowdancer Saga, therefore, is based on the life of the bowdancer and her children—and all of the adventures they have and the curious people from different cultures they meet.
Character-based series are harder to conceptualize and produce. Rowling did it successfully with Harry Potter. The boy’s world revolved around Hogwarts, his sparring with Voldemort, and his own past. She used each year in Hogwarts as the next book in the series, with more revealed about the characters and the secrets that are never quite fully explained in each book—until the next one. Each book held even more secrets and levels. I think her success in the series (besides writing exquisitely crafted stories) was her ability to develop maturity in the content as each year passed as if her readers were also maturing as Harry did every year. It wasn’t so much more complex use of language but capturing a depth of life.
Whether a book is the beginning of a series can be determined after the first one is written or while it is being written. If it is a mystery series or deals with crime, involves exploration of outer space or inner worlds, battles among werefolk or fanciful creatures, or romances at the local inn or on Wall Street, there will always be other mysteries to solve, worlds to explore, battles to fight, and new hotties to fall for. You can write as many new stories with your characters or about your series location or profession as you like.
Character-based series may unfold organically as did The Bowdancer Saga and the Harry Potter series. Through the writing, the next book idea is revealed.
If you think you’d like to try your hand at writing a series, you have to be consistent. You have to make sure that your characters, though they may learn and grow, are also the characters that you first drew with words. If there is time passing, make sure they age accordingly and maintain their physical and emotional characteristics (or give a reason why they’re now blonde when they were a redhead in another book). This is especially true of subordinate characters that might pop up in later books. When your readers encounter them again, it should be with the same passion as when you wrote them the first time.
Series books often encompass a lot of characters. The Lord of the Rings has a cast of thousands, and some of these characters move in and out of all three books. Make sure when your characters return, they are written as you wrote them previously. Keep a notebook or character sheets with notes about each of these characters (if you don’t do that already). It’s so much easier to look up a quick reference that’s handy than it is to try to remember or find a specific section in a previous book.
Aging a Series
Some authors like Meg Cabot are trying to age their series. Cabot is trying to move her YA Princess Diaries series into adult fiction as her characters age and grow. That makes perfect sense since many series might stagnant because there are limited lessons to learn or adventures to go through at a specific age. This allows the characters to experience richer lives and for readers to understand these well-loved characters in a different light. Also many YA readers outgrow authors just because the readers grow up.
J. K. Rowling did that with Harry Potter but she kept the entire series within the YA realm even though her readers were often parents of children who were also reading those books or college students who found the fascinating.
I aged my Bowdancer series because I was telling a linear tale of the Bowdancer’s life. I hadn’t intended that to happen when I wrote the first book. But it seemed to be the way of things as it progressed.
I did that also with the Ruins trilogy. The first two deal with the main character and her relationships and adventures in a sequence. The third book, which I’m currently writing, takes place ten years later and follows a natural progression in the main character’s life.
I think the real key to sustaining a series is having enough new material (mysteries, challenges, adventures, personal growth, new enemies, etc.) for writing new books. You may also need to age your characters and what they are dealing with in their lives. Ultimately, you have to enjoy your characters and their particular circumstances. If you have grown tired of them, then perhaps you should lay your series to rest.
Janie’s Bowdancer series is now available as a bundle from Amazon.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for a few years, it won’t have escaped your notice that the film version of a certain best-selling erotic novel was released on Valentine’s Day, and it seems everyone has an opinion about it – including my guest today, author Iona Brodie, who has chosen it as the subject for her guest post. Iona and I have blog swaps today, and you can read my piece on writer’s block on her blog.
Fifty Shades of “Meh”
By Iona Brodie
The film adaptation of the multi-million selling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is due to hit our screens in February 2015 so I thought that it was about time that I revisited my views of this series.
I first read this when it was a fan fiction piece called Masters of the Universe when Christian Grey was still called Edward Cullen and Anastasia Steele was Bella Swan. I read it all but have to admit to skimming across large portions, mostly the repetitive sex scenes.
Masters of the Universe took all of the things that I hated about Twilight – boring first person narrative, boring self loathing main character and creepy relationship (watching her sleep? Romantic? I think not) and intensified it.
Boring first person narrative – check. Extra points go to the super annoying inner goddess creation. What is an inner goddess and why should we, the reader, care if it is salsa dancing? Boring self loathing main character – check. Limited language – check. Memorably at the sight of Christian’s mammoth manhood Anastasia exclaims “Holy Cow” in an incongrous PG 13 outburst.
Here are five issues that I have with 50 Shades of Grey:
- Anastasia is in an abusive relationship
Why should something played out on the pages of a glossy Hollywood screen be treated differently to what happens behind closed doors? Christian is controlling, selfish and at times frankly terrifying. He isolates Anastasia from her friends, buys the company at which she is interning to control her career and even tries to dictate what she eats and how often she exercises. He spends a lot of time angry and Anastasia spends a lot of time worrying that he will physically hurt her. This is an abusive relationship and certainly not something which should be idealised in print or on the big screen.
- Anastasia’s self worth is made or broken by Grey
Anastasia is ecstatic about her relationship with Grey and how sexy he makes her feel. It is uncomfortable as a reader to see change in a character caused solely by the attentions of another party rather than due to character development.
- The motif of abused becoming the abuser
One of the most disturbing elements of the story for me was Grey suggesting that his controlling, abusive nature was caused in turn by a controlling, abusive relationship that he entered into as a younger man. I am intensely uncomfortable with this connection being made and the suggestion that he cannot help himself. Firstly, being abused, horrible as it is, does not give a person a get out of jail free card for the rest of their lives. Murdered a spouse? Oh, don’t worry, you had a crap childhood, we’ll just forget about prosecution. Secondly, what sort of message does it send to people trying to recover from abuse that there is a tangible link of this nature?
- The BDSM
Many from the real-life BDSM community have spoken up to voice their concerns about the relationship depicted in the novels. One dominatrix makes the point that Fifty Shades of Grey is designed to “arouse not educate” and that it “leaves out the things which differentiate BDSM from abuse.”
This is superbly illustrated in one memorable scene in the red room of pain Anastasia uses the safe word to make him stop. Later he comments that his “wife fucking safe worded him” with absolutely no care or understanding of what he had been doing to make her feel unsafe. This is the very antithesis of true BDSM.
- Feminism Forgotten
I remember reading some Mills & Boons novels almost twenty five years ago that I had borrowed from a yellowing corner of my parents bookshelf. My feminist young self was horrified at some of the cruel alpha male heroes and the seemingly abusive relationships that they represented. I just could not comprehend why having your hair tugged cruelly or being pushed roughly against a wall by a man was something to fantasise about or aspire towards. Nevertheless Fifty Shades of Grey seems to tap into an anti-feminist wave that has been creeping into mainstream culture.
Lana Del Ray in her 2014 album Ultraviolence follows on from her bestselling debut with more depressing songs about abusive relationships. The chorus of Ultraviolence has the memorable and uncomfortable refrain of “he hit me and it felt like a kiss.”
The question is whether we have we come so far in our feminist strides that we fantasise not about a time when we can be equal but about a time when the responsibility for our own lives is again taken away from us and put in the hands of a man.
Given recent data that indicates that the gender pay gap is alive and well with women paid on average 19.1% less than men and only 23% of FTSE 100 company Directors women it seems clear that we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality.
The balancing act:
Because I am the type of person who sees things in shades of grey rather than black and white (excuse the dreadful pun).
- Why I will be going to see it anyway
Like it or loathe it Fifty Shades is a cultural phenomenon. If you want to be involved in those heated debates around the watercooler or on the internet/ twittersphere you have to see it.
- Is it really an abusive relationship?
A good friend of mine, whose opinion matters enough to make me give this additional thought, argues that Fifty Shades shows how strong a woman can be and does not degrade them. She points out that Anastasia refuses the BDSM element of the relationship at first but later decides to try it as the relationship develops and she realises how much that she cares for him.
She also points out that Anastasia cedes control to Christian only when it is not important to her but stands her ground when it is something that she cares about thereby suggesting an element of equality and give and take in their protracted negotiations.
- Brings kink out of the shadows
The same dominatrix that I quote in point four above also points out that despite their reservations about the novels and movie that they are pleased that it brings BDSM out of the specialist realm and firmly into the mainstream. Surely for us notoriously stiff upper lipped Brits this is a good thing?
Jacqueline Gold of Ann Summers noted in 2013 when discussing a spike in the sale of nipple clamps that the books, “have got women everywhere talking about sex and encouraged them to be more intimate, experimental and confident.” Surely more discussion and more sex is a good thing?
Fifty Shades of “Meh”
The final word on the matter is that I don’t really care. The novels were mediocre at best and I imagine that the film, even if just as mediocre, will be even more popular.
The only question left on most writer’s lips is, “Why didn’t I think to write it?” The cruel twin prongs of desire to achieve E L James’ level of success combined with a disdain of the quality of writing and the subject matter makes the release of the movie a bitter pill to swallow.
Iona Brodie writes fiction with a twist of mythology and the paranormal set in Scotland. Whilst her first published novella, Dark Waters of the Heart, is firmly targeted at adults given the intense and dangerous seduction her debut novel, Hot Voodoo (due out in Spring 2015) is aimed at young adults. Find out more at:
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Just about all writers have that encounter, sooner or later, at a party or some other social event where they get chatting to someone who asks that stock question, “what do you do?”. When they discover the answer is “writer”, the person says airily, “oh, I always wanted to write a book. If I could ever find the time.”
I’ve always believed that being a writer is not something anyone chooses to be, any more than we choose the colour of our eyes, or our skin, or whether we are left or right-handed. What we do choose, however, is whether or not to be a successful writer. And the first step in being a successful writer is finding time to write.
It’s the stock excuse for many aspiring writers: I could finish my book if only I had more time to write. I used it myself for quite a long time. My first published novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, took me ten years to write. I used a variety of excuses to try to explain this, but really they were just excuses. Fledgling writers find excuses not to write for many reasons. The most common, if we’re honest with ourselves I think, is lack of confidence. But taking ten years to write a book is a luxury only afforded to the unpublished writer, or ironically, the very successful. If you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling, your loyal fans will probably wait ten years for the next book, if they had to, and still be there to buy the book at the end of it. For the rest of us, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are many writers out there to attract your potential readers when they get bored of waiting for you.
The stark reality is that writers have no more hours in the day than anyone else. Finding time to write is simply a matter of ensuring you block off some of those hours for writing. Many writers, like me, have full time day jobs. Some have kids and school and hockey runs to deal with, elderly relatives to care for, yoga lessons, football practice, swimming lessons, or even a combination of all of the above. Modern life is extremely busy. But amongst all this, the writer must carve out time to write.
What works for me is getting up at a stupidly early hour and getting the early train into London. I sit in Starbucks round the corner from work, and have a soya latte and a muffin for breakfast while I wait for the NetBook to boot up. I try to get an hour of writing in before I head for the office to start my working day. I find this hour very productive, and in truth I get more done in that hour than I do if I take a day off work and write at home.
I appreciate not everyone can face getting up at 5:30am. Fifteen years ago I wouldn’t have thought I could have done it, either. But I have discovered that this is the best time for me for writing. It may have something to do with tapping into the muse before my internal editor wakes up, but I find the words flow first thing in the morning when I am not properly awake. Some writers I know carve out an hour of writing time when the kids are in bed. Some find that writing late at night works for them. The key is to find what works for you and schedule it into your routine. Block off the time in your diary. Make sure that your family members also know that this particular time is Writing Time, and you are not to be disturbed.
Making time to write in a packed life generally means sacrificing something. For me, it’s sleep. Other writers I know have stopped watching TV, opting instead to use that time as writing time. If your schedule is absolutely rammed, have a look at what you can change to fit in some writing time. If you get a lunch hour at work, can you leave your workplace and set up in a nearby café or some such to use that time for writing? If you regularly meet friends at the pub twice a week, can you cut down to one a week and use the other evening as writing time? If necessary, try experimenting until you find a routine that works for you. As I mentioned, it never occurred to me once upon a time that I could get out of bed so early. But once I got in the routine of doing so, I found it not so bad, and the thought of a nice sugary treat when I get to the coffee shop does sometimes inspire me out of bed at that unseemly hour in the morning.
But the most important thing, in order to be a successful writer, is to write, and so this is my First Commandment of Writing: Writer, Thou Shalt Make Time To Write.
Today I am pleased to welcome back one of my favourite repeat guests, British horror writer Luke Walker. Luke has just released his first collection of short stories, entitled Die Laughing. I haven’t read this one yet, so cannot at this time verify the scariness of the contents, but that cover – eek! What is it about clowns?
Anyway, welcome once more to Imaginary Friends, Luke! Good to have you back.
THE POWER OF FICTION
By Luke Walker
My collection Die Laughing contains eighteen stories that vary in length from 1200 words to about 9000, a story titled The Unmarked Grave. Now, 9k is getting on the long side for a short piece. It isn’t novella territory by any means—probably more novelette. It came a few months ago when I had a strange dream that involved me back in an area in which I used to live. I rounded a corner to see the road lined with shops and homes, heading towards buildings that grew progressively older until they became Victorian. Not just Victorian. Old. Decaying and close to abandoned, they were as creepy as you’d want in an horror film from Hammer; the creepy factor helped by the gloomy light and the fog that became thicker as I walked closer to it. My last clear image after waking was of a small church and its graveyard, both disused, both cold and lonely. While I had no idea what the dream meant, the imagery stayed with me and niggled until I came up with a plot that fit it. That plot, without giving too much away, involves Jack the Ripper (who else, given the imagery?) and a couple with the bad luck to become involved in long-dead history. I’m very happy with the finished story that came from a simple dream, and the dream no longer pokes and prods at me to turn it into fiction.
As horrible as The Unmarked Grave is (and as horrible as the other stories are), there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve included a piece called How To Live Forever as a sort of bonus album track. I could have placed it as the last story and been done with it, but I do see Die Laughing as finishing with a story set in a pub followed by a minute or so of silence before the bonus track kicks in. As How To Live Forever isn’t horror, you could argue it doesn’t fit in the collection. I say otherwise because the power of fiction to horrify, amuse or entertain is a power we shouldn’t ignore or overlook especially in difficult times. Fiction, even of the unpleasant, frightening sort, can save us. While things don’t work out for all of my characters in the stories and it sometimes doesn’t work out for us, we have to remember that sometimes it does.
The differences between the horror, despair and downer that is The Unmarked Grave and the slightly silly, slightly hopeful celebration of fiction that is How To Live Forever is my small way of reminding myself and anyone else who needs to hear it that sometimes it does work out.
Luke Walker has been reading and writing horror and fantasy fiction for as long as he can remember—probably since the age of eight when he borrowed his dad’s collection of Stephen King books before doing the same with his brother’s James Herbert’s. His first two novels, now out of print, were published in 2012 and 2013. His Lovecraftian novella, Mirror of the Nameless, was published by DarkFuse in 2013, and he’s currently at work on a new novel as well as another novella. He is thirty-seven and lives in England with his wife, two cats and more horror dvds than he knows what to do with.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Those of you who have been following this blog a while will know that I have been at this writing game for quite a while. In fact, I’ve been at it most of my life. I’ve been writing novels since I was 11 years old. I’ve been submitting my work since I was 17. I am now 45. I will leave you to work out for yourself just how many rejections that equates to, with the added note that just because I have stuff published DOES NOT mean I don’t get rejected any more. Nor does it mean those acceptances are any less sweet.
Anyway, when I got to thinking about just how long I’ve been at this game, it made me realise just how much I’ve learned along the way. And maybe I can pass on some of those things I have learned over the years to others, who may be just starting out on the whole writing/submitting/rejection carousel.
I will emphasise that I don’t have all the answers. The thing about writing is that you never stop learning about your craft. And the publishing world is a whole lot different than it was when I started out, when there was no internet and no email, and submissions had to be sent by post, with a stamped self addressed envelope, and markets had to be researched and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook was the must-have publication for getting hold of publishers’ details.
No, I am by no means claiming to know everything about writing. If I did, I’d be making a great deal more money from it, and would be getting a lot more acceptances than rejections. But there are things I’ve learned along the way. Things that I wish I’d have known when I was starting. Things that might have led to that novel contract arriving a bit sooner than it did.
For the next few weeks, I am going to run a regular feature on this blog, featuring my version of the Ten Commandments of Writing. I am not claiming to be Moses, and unlike his mine are not written in stone. These will just be things I’ve learned along the way, that might help someone else as they try to negotiate the thorny path to publication. These will otherwise be known as the “Writer, Thou Shalt Not” rules.
Join me here at the same time next week for more information about the first commandment: “Writer, Thou Shalt Make Time to Write.”
I am pleased to welcome back to the blog Stan Hampton Sr, who today is giving tips on how writers should be keeping track of expenses for tax claims, whether you are a full time writer or one with another income.
Do You Know What Time It Is?
By Stan Hampton, Sr
Belated Happy New Year and Pre-Valentine’s Day!
First and foremost, I am not a tax professional. For advice and tips, consult a tax professional. Let me repeat – for advice and tips, consult a tax professional.
Broadly speaking, most of us cannot support ourselves through writing advances and royalties. Yet. Our income comes from elsewhere. Now, on tax forms your income is where your writing income or (loss) is applied (as recorded on your Schedule C (Form 1040*), Profit or Loss From Business.) [*US tax claims] This gives your total income. After that comes adjustments to your income resulting in your Adjusted Gross Income. And of course, after that, comes all of the various taxes and credits with the end result of your either owing the government or the government owes you a refund.
So, like most of us you work at another job until your literary ship finally comes in.
But along the way to the harbor I suggest you keep track of your expenses that you can add up and claim as income or (loss) at the end of the tax year.
First, establish a spreadsheet with cumulative cost columns.
Did you buy a desk or a pair of folding tables to equip a room or a corner of your house or apartment to work at? Did you buy a computer for your writing? Did you buy additional literary or graphics software? How about a printer? What about inkjet cartridges and printing paper? Stapler, staple remover, staples, paper clips, binder clips, pens, pencils, file folders, and pads of paper? What about filing cabinets to store your research and drafts? Or 3-ring binders, with 3-hole punch? Maybe you make backup CD copies rather than keep paper copies. Dozens of blank CDs or even a separate storage device costs money.
There is even a provision that if you dedicate a portion of your home or apartment to your writing, you can claim a percentage of rent or mortgage, even insurance as writing expenses. If you use the Internet for research and communications, and you use your telephone in support of you writing, you can claim a percentage of the monthly bill for those too.
Speaking of research, if you go to the local library and Xerox pages out of books that are relevant to your writing, that costs money. It costs money if you buy books or even magazines with specific articles, to add to a research library. What if your writing takes place in an exotic location, such as belly dancing in Egypt. How familiar are you with belly dance music? Can you describe it? Suppose you want to become familiar with a type of music from a specific era, such as swing music from the 1940s. The cost of music CDs, in my humble opinion, counts as research—but do not go overboard.
So what if you attend book signings at libraries, book stores, coffee shops, book fairs, or even speak to a grade school or college class? Having bookmarks and business cards to hand out, for example, costs money.
If the host does not provide tables, you might have to buy a folding table to bring with you. Having business cards, banners, and bookmarks designed and printed costs money, even if you accomplish those at home. If you want to get more creative, you can personalize mouse pads, coffee mugs, note paper, and a thousand and one other things. As an aside, I suggest you get photographs of you and your table at public venues. It is further proof of your expenses.
And if you have to travel out of town for such events, even if you combine your travel with visiting friends and family, a percentage of your travel, food, and room cost can be counted as expenses.
I am sure that by now you are developing a good idea of how to approach the expense of writing in relation to income taxes.
More experienced writers will have additional helpful suggestions. Some may suggest that you incorporate and have business checking accounts separate from your personal accounts.
But no matter what—remember to CONSULT A TAX PROFESSIONAL when you set out to record your expenses in preparation for the tax year. Professional advice, even if you have to pay for it (not all of us have tax preparers in the family), is worth the money to avoid potential pitfalls.
In closing, I wish you much writing success this year. And remember to have fun!
Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.
His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.
In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint).
After 13 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.
As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran, though he is still struggling to get back on his feet.
Dark Opus Press: https://www.createspace.com/3685965
Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing: http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/dansemacabre/dansemacabre.html
Amazon.com Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVKQ
Amazon.com. UK Author Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVKQ
Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6888342.S_S_Hampton_Sr_
It’s been a while since I posted any new Friday Fears, but it’s time I got back into the habit of posting them. Thinking up new ones is a very good writing exercise.
The last post was at Hallowe’en, and I had a couple of contributions on the back of my post, so I shall start with those.
Here is a Hallowe’en-themed one from Sarah Ellender:
“Love your costume, so scary.” I’m not wearing one.
And a nice creepy one from Stephanie:
The water ran pitch black from the tub faucet. Dipping my fingers into the liquid, I could finally feel her heartbeat.
And finally, one from me:
I looked in the mirror, and screamed. The unfamiliar face staring back at me was distorted, disfigured, and hideous.
I’ll be back in a week or two with more two-sentence horror stories. If you want to play, send me your own two-sentence horror story and I’ll include it next time.
In the meantime, have a good weekend, and don’t have nightmares…
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of January already, in the year that ‘Back to the Future’ promised us hover boards and flying cars. It seems they were a bit wrong about that.
But in the meantime, here is a round-up of my writing-related activities in the first month of the year.
Sadly, nothing new lined up to come out this year as of yet. I have to finish writing things first (see ‘Work In Progress’ for more information there). Of course I am still promoting DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL. Just in case you haven’t got around to reading them yet…
The year has got off to a good start, with three guest appearances thus far:
8 January – I appeared on JQ Rose’s blog in her series of writers passing on their writing tips. There was also a giveaway running, and Susan Bernhardt won a free copy of DEATH SCENE.
13 January – I made a guest appearance on Marsha West’s blog, talking about how the submission process has changed in the 25 years since I first started sending stuff out.
23 January – I was interviewed by Lisa Lickel, chatting about DEAD COOL.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Since the beginning of the year I’ve been struggling to get into the flow with SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, the third Shara Summers book. Even though I plot before I start, it still takes a little while to find the voice, and the pace, of a new book. This one has the added complication of being half-started already, and I decided to completely scrap what I had of the first draft and start all over again.
Happily, I am now 5,000 words in and I think I’ve found the muse. I still have a suspicion I’m starting in the wrong place, but the words are starting to flow and there’s plenty of time to fix things in the rewrite. I have chosen to focus on the 5,000 words that I have already written, instead of the 65,000 words still to go…
As for the horror novel, this has become rather like a jigsaw, with my looking at two previous drafts (both of which I thought at the time were finished) and deciding which chapters belong in the actual final draft and which ones don’t. And I suspect I may still have to insert a couple of new chapters before it’s finally done. I was rather hoping to have this one finished by now. Sadly, that’s not the case. Maybe by this time next month, though.
And that brings us to the end of this month’s news. See you at the end of February!