Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Remember, that I live in Ontario, Canada, so many of my tax-related tips might only apply to writers who also live in Canada. But I do believe that many of them are transferable to other countries. Please make sure you check the fine print carefully before you complete your income tax return.
My advice: BUY the "Do Your Taxes" type of computer software. It is SOOOOOO much easier if you have software in your corner, because the program will help you to figure out what you need to do. If you can afford it, pay an accountant. But I'm guessing that many of you, like me, can't.
These are the categories that you need to complete to submit your writing-related tax return.
Declare all income you make from writing related activities. This includes:
- payment sent via contracts for all stories/novels sold
(this is the part where I admit that I have not yet sold my first novel, so I don't have much experience in this matter. I would assume that if you have a book deal with a publishing house, they would send you summaries of your royalties for the year.)
- reprint sales for foreign market translations
- podcast reprint income
- payments you receive for speaking about writing
- the money you make for selling books/magazines for more money than you paid for the book/magazine (I often buy several copies of an anthology or magazine that carries one of my short stories at the "contributor discount" price. When I sell copies at appearances, I charge the amount printed on the back. I declare the difference as income.)
- money from the Public Lending Right (PLR) program (money paid to authors to offset sales losses due to their books being held in public libraries)
Whenever you travel to a convention, keep track of all of your receipts. I usually charge as much as possible to ONE credit card, then use the monthly credit card statements to track the expenses. This is particularly important if you're a Canadian and going to several conventions in the USA, since you must declare all expenses in Canadian dollars on your tax return and doing all of the conversions is time consuming. If you charge to a credit card, the conversion is done by the credit company. The categories for travel are:
- meals (you can only claim 50% of the cost of each meal)
- other transportation charges (cab, airport shuttle, public transport, tolls)
Books and Magazines
Did you know that you can claim all of the books and magazines you buy as a "Supplies B" expense? Of course, you probably shouldn't claim Canadian Gardening but you can claim Locus. So every time you purchase a book or magazine, keep the receipt and place it in your "business shoe box" for tax season.
Every time you mail a submission to a magazine, keep the receipt from the post office. These are listed under "Supplies A" on your return.
Computer related supplies
You can claim a variety of computer related charges to your business. These are also part of "Office Expenses" along with Supplies A and B as well as stationary. For me, these expenses include:
- depreciation on my computer, netbook, and printer (done via the Capital Cost Allowance [CCA] section on the tax return)
- software, including MS Office and whatever Anti-virus software you purchase each year
- the main bag/purse/backpack you use to carry your laptop
- the cost to retain my domain name for www.suzannechurch.com
- the cost for my web page hosting service
- the cost of my Flickr account for uploading photos
- a portion of your internet service provider costs (aside from personal use - determine which fraction applies)
Use of your vehicle
If you use your car to get to conventions, or monthly writers' group meetings, you can charge a portion of your vehicle to your business. You will need to track several things:
- the kilometres travelled in the entire year AND the kilometres travelled for your business-related activities
Let's say you drove 12,000 kms in 2011 and 375 kms were for your writing-related activites. Then the percent usage for your car is 375/12000 = 0.03125.
- gas used in the entire year. Multiply this times your percentage use to determine gas used by writing-related activities.
- insurance paid for your car for the year. Multiply this times your percentage use to determine insurance used by writing-related activities.
- license fees paid - then multiply times the percentage use
All of the work that you do to promote yourself, your stories, etc can be charged to advertising. For instance, I often print little chap-books of one short story and distribute them at the conventions before the nomination deadline for awards. That way, many people will have the opportunity to read the eligible story and might be more likely to nominate the story for an award. Of course, this is harder to do with a book, but it can be done for poetry and short fiction. You can also claim the cost of business cards, buttons, ribbons, stickers, bookmarks, or any other swag you might bring to promote yourself at a convention or appearance.
All conventions charge "memberships" to attend. Also, groups like SFWA, SFCanada, and HWA all charge membership fees. Put all of these expenses in the membership section of your return.
Each time you eat out with a group of writers, either for a writers' group meeting, or for a get-together at a convention, you place all of these expenses in the meals section of the return. Like meals eaten during travel, you can only claim 50% of the charge for the meal.
Business Use of Home Expenses
IF you do your writing from home and you don't pay for an office (let's face it, most of us write at home) you can claim a portion of your home expenses. You must calculate the square footage of your house and determine what percentage of your house you use for business-related expenses.
An important CAVEAT here: you can ONLY claim Business Use of Home Expenses if your business has a NET PROFIT. If you spent more on your writing business than you made as a writer (which is VERY common for those of us trying to sell our first novels) then you CANNOT use home expenses to increase your loss. You CAN carry the amount forward to the next year as "unused portions" and your software should have a section for this carry-forward.
So that's about all of the information you need.
At this point, you probably hate me for turning your brain into tax-induced-jello, but we all need to do our tax returns. Hopefully, this checklist will help you to track expenses for next year.
- save receipts
- buy tax software
- stay organized throughout the year
That last point is key. Because otherwise, you'll find yourself with a mountain of paperwork to do in the month of March.
Your writing is a business, so treat it that way!
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Where I live in Canada, winter can be rough. We forget what the sun looks like, we eat too many carbs and hide under blankets while we watch old movies instead of exercising. I personally find that January is a productive month, because I am re-energized by setting New Year's Writing Resolutions. But February and March can be train wrecks on the productivity scale.
Today is the first day of spring in Canada. Woohoo! And we have had exceptionally gorgeous weather where I live -- I'm talking near-perfect summer weather -- so I'm shaking off the doldrums and jumping on the productive-writer bandwagon.
Why not join me?
You might ask, "How can I be more productive as a writer than I already am?"
I have three ideas to light that motivational fire.
(1) Set some goals and/or check-up on your existing goals.
If you've been religiously following my writing-tip-posts, then you've already set your writing goals. So instead of setting, it's time for a quarterly check-up. My original goals were posted on my personal blog for reference.
I set the goal of writing four new short stories this year. Last night, I finished the first new one. Whew! I'm on track.
I set the goal of submitting once per week, but as a minimum, to make at least 15 submissions for the year. As of today, I've made seven submissions. This is week 12 of 2012, so I'm behind, as usual for a sub-a-week, but in a good place for my minimum.
I set the goal of writing at least two new poems and investigating the notion of a collection. I actually attended a poetry workshop and wrote many more than two. Since then, I've made it a priority to type up several poems, some written at this workshop, and some at the previous one. By the end of this digitization process, I should have enough poems to put a collection together. Woot!
I set the goal of posting on a regular basis to the SWG blog. So far, so good. I've contributed a writing tip post weekly since the first week of January. I am particularly proud of this accomplishment.
I set the goal of promoting my work for award nomination. You've all seen my posts on this one. The deadline for Aurora Award nominations is March 31st. Feel free to familiarize yourself with the possible selections here.
I have a bunch of other goals, but that's enough talk on this topic.
(2) Celebrate your successes.
Celebrating is important. Don't allow it to distract you too much, or to get complacent because you've earned it so to speak. But if you don't recognize what you have done once in a while, you'll get into the negative cycle of believing all of your stuff is crap, and no one will ever buy it, and there's no point in submitting because they'll only reject you, blah, blah, blah. Sound familiar?
Follow your budget, of course, but find a way to pump up your ego a little at this juncture. Call your mom/friend/neighbour and tell them all about your latest story/novel. Buy a book you've been meaning to get (or borrow it from the library) and spend the whole day reading. (Except for your 100 words, of course, oh yeah, and feeding your kids, because they might eat each other if you ignore them for too long.) Get some exercise, like a walk, run, bike ride, or swim, and spend the time thinking about story. Any story. One you're editing, one you're thinking of starting, one you've ignored for too long, etc.
Usually, post-celebration, you'll be feeling pretty pumped about yourself, your craft, and your determination. This feeling is likely to spur you on to more productive sessions at the keyboard over the next week or two. So it's also important to schedule time right now to write. Put it in your daybook as a firm appointment and stick to it!
(3) Buy yourself a "writing-pretty"
Go to the dollar store and pick up a new notebook. Use it as soon as you've paid for it. Write a journal entry about how much you want to be a successful writer. Or scribble some ideas for stories in a bullet-list. Or use a word prompt to write 100 words of fiction and call it "Day One" again. You can also buy a very pretty notebook, like a Moleskine, PaperBlanks, or Time Traveler. I have several of each and they are so beautiful and comfortable that I long to write in them. Or go really big, and buy yourself a new writing-related toy, like a Blackberry Playbook, or a Netbook, or a Laptop (if yours is on its last legs), but remember to stay within your budget. I'm not suggesting you dig yourself a debt-hole from which there is no escape. (See the Dollar Store idea.)
Whew! You made it to the end of my post. Now you have goals, ideas, a shopping list for the pretty, and firm writing appointments/commitments.
What are you waiting for? You're totally tuned up and ready to roll, so...place that butt of yours firmly in a chair and get at it!
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
The most important point to remember when writing dialogue, is that Less Is More.
I cannot stress this point enough. As a matter of fact, I am going to break my less-is-more rule and say it two more times.
Less Is More.
Less Is More.
Dialogue in a novel or short story is nothing like real-life conversation. When two actual-human-people sit in a coffee shop to chat about each other's lives, they use "um" and "oh" and repeat phrases, and use slang words such as "like-you know" and "seriously." On the page, characters have much more finesse. They do not pause with um's and uh's, they don't say "eh," even though they might be from Canada, and they don't use the word "like" every fourth word, even if they are in high school.
Dialogue MUST be concise. I cannot stress this enough.
To develop your "ear" for dialogue, you need to read good fiction writers who are masterful at dialogue. Elmore Leonard is one of these masters. Read a few of his books. (You can probably find them in the library.) You also need to watch movies. Many movies. Because films tell a story using visual and voice. Movie trailers are another good source of great dialogue, because the editors choose the best possible lines from a movie to include in its trailer.
Think of memorable lines from classic movies. Most of the time, these phrases are precise, brief, and packed with punch.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." - Gone With the Wind
"Play it, Sam." - Casablanca
"I was looking up. It was the nearest thing to Heaven." - An Affair to Remember
"You shall not pass." - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
"They mostly come at night. Mostly." - Aliens
"Why so serious?" - The Dark Night
See what I mean? They are all short. They are all powerful. They are all memorable.
I always try to put at least one "memorable" line in a short story. It's like candy, the reader will want to come back for more.
When you're writing dialogue, try to make each character sound unique, with their own distinct voice. The words that each one speaks should not only tell the reader what they're thinking but also something about their personality. Think of a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you take one line of dialogue from any character and type it on a piece of paper, you should be able to ask another Buffy fan to tell you who spoke that line of dialogue in the show. The fan can probably guess who said the line from the particular way that each character on the show puts words together. Joss Whedon was a master at creating unique and character-specific dialogue. If you have never seen the show, rent a few episodes from any season and watch them, even if you hate vampires. Because the dialogue study is worth it.
Dialogue should also imply what isn't being said. Because subtly and undercurrents of misinformation, sarcasm, and hidden emotion add depth to a story.
As a final point, last week, I discussed the use of dialogue tags, or using "said" nine times out of ten for showing the reader which character is speaking. "Said" is much more transparent than "shouted," "whispered," "intoned," etc. And, in a section of dialogue, if only two people are speaking, the reader can tell which one speaks each line by the rhythm of A/B speak/reply so you can often eliminate the "said" tags completely. You want the reader to focus on the dialogue, rather than being bogged down by all of the he said/she said on the page.
A quick example:
"Come over here, Bud," Jeff intoned to his friend.
"What do you need?" Bud asked with some disdain in his voice. It was clear he was upset.
"I need you to go home." Jeff insisted. "Because I think I can score better with this pretty Brunette if you're not hanging around."
"So now you don't need your friend?" Bud snorted. "That's kind of hurtful. Maybe I should ditch you next week as well."
That was painful to read, wasn't it? Full of awkward phrases and too much telling. Not to mention said-isms that make you want to slap the author with a newspaper. Change the dialogue tags to said, use action, or eliminate the tags and you get:
Jeff waved Bud over, and said, "Hey."
"What?" Bud sipped his beer.
"Time to separate. I'm one line from leaving with the Brunette. No offense."
"Ouch." Bud slugged his beer and slammed the glass on the bar. "See you next week. Maybe."
The second example is tighter, and Bud's simple, "Maybe" implies that Jeff might have lost his friend's companionship the next time. The reader will (hopefully) read on to find out what happens between these two friends.
So the next time you're editing, pay some extra attention to cleaning up the dialogue. Less is More.
Friday, March 09, 2012
What's With All This Muse Crap?
by Mike Rimar
One of the most popular questions a writer of any caliber gets is: where do you get your ideas from?
For me, the answer to that is easy. Everywhere. Take a walk, or a drive, keep your eyes open, listen to conversations other people are having. A phrase, an expression, an action, anything might trigger an idea which, when paired with a what if question, might develop into something with a plot.
For example: One day I'm driving in my car and listening to a news radio station because yes, I'm that old, and there is a news piece about some historical society trying to save an old house from demolition. I only half-heard the reporter prattle on until she finished with the phrase, the famous house. . .
Boom. Click. The heavens opened. The sun shone. The muse descended. The light turned green.
Famous House. What if this was the name of some old house, like Tara from Gone With the Wind. Oooh, plantation homes, they're always cool. So, why Famous House? What if famous people lived in them? Better, what if famous people lived in them before they were famous? What if the house made them famous--for a price?
See how it goes?
But Mike, I hear you whine, I don't have a car, or a radio, or like news programs.
Not a problem my friend. I bet you have a local library, or a bookstore, or maybe even books at home. When I'm stuck, I use a hybrid method I learned at the Writers of the Future workshop. Wander through the aisles, non-fiction best. Don't look at the book titles. Randomly choose five books. From these, choose three, and you will likely get something of an idea to write, whether it be a character, a location, or an unusual topic. The downside is you might actually have to read, or even skim through some of the books. The upside is you will educate yourself, and write what you know.
But Mike, the library canceled my library card because of unpaid fines and the local bookstores have banned me for drunken and rude behaviour.
Really? Drunk in a bookstore? You really need to get some help.
But never fear. The solution to your dilemma is writing prompts. After all, that's what ideas are, prompts to jump start the old gray matter. Have someone suggest three things. Have three different people suggest one thing. Don't have them suggest anything, just listen to them and quietly pick out three topics of discussion. Open a magazine and pick a random picture that interests you. Then ask yourself, what if?
The story doesn't have to work. Not everything you write is going to be gold, but the next time you hear the question: where do you get your ideas from, you can smile knowingly because this time you're not the one asking.
My short story, Famous House, first published in the horror anthology Black Spiral: Twisted Tales of Terror but can be purchased as an e-book from Smashwords for the low, low, price of $0.99.
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
Next week: Dialogue.
Several years ago, I carried around a list of "ways to edit your story" that I had physically cut out of an issue of On Spec. This was pre-2004, so don't ask me which issue, because I've moved twice since then and most of those magazines and files are long-recycled. Over the years, I have added my own bullets to the list, so this isn't plagiarizing, more like complimenting and crediting where credit is due, because frankly, I can't remember which are theirs and which are mine any longer.
The most important word to keep in your mind at all times is: TIGHTEN. You want your prose to be tighter. Saying it in fewer words is ALWAYS better. Less is More.
Ten Problems to Look For When Editing
(1) Edit out "filter" verbs that filter the action.
For example: Joe wanted to start studying for the quiz, but he hated to study.
Here, the verbs "wanted" and "start" are filtering the verb "studying." Verbs give the story gusto, and if all of your verbs are trapped in layers of filtered sediment, your story will feel weak.
Tighter: Joe fiddled with the pencil, aware that he must study or he would bomb the quiz.
(2) Watch for duplications of words that appear too close together. In the earlier example, the words "studying" and "study" are in the same sentence. In the revised version, the second reference is gone.
(3) Watch for the over-use of adverbs and adjectives. Sometimes too much description makes me (personally) want to get out "old red" and start marking up a novel I'm reading. I realize some authors are famous for their amazingly luscious and delightful purple prose, but at some point, a tree only needs to be a tree and if the author is describing every leaf and branch I'm going to skim-read. One of the quickest ways to nip this issue is to do a search through your document for "ly" (to catch most adverbs) and the comma (which will catch long lists of adjectives).
For example: He quickly ran to her side. Her long, brown, dirty, dishevelled hair hung limp at the edges of her scruffy face, as though she had been trapped and shaken in a shake-n-bake bag full of mud. He gently brushed wisps of hair from her eyes, and softly whispered, "I love you."
How else do we run, but quickly? How else do we whisper, but softly? Plus, the metaphor says pretty much everything we need to know about her appearance, doesn't it?
Tighter: He ran to her side. She looked a mess, from her hair to her toes, like a pork chop caught in a shake-n-bake mud-bag. He brushed her hair from her eyes, and said, "I love you."
(4) Change up sentence structure. In the previous example, every sentence in the paragraph begins with the structure: she/he + verb.
Tighter: Sprinting, he caught up to her, knelt in the sand, and brushed stands of hair from her eyes. Head to toe, her disastrous appearance brought to mind the image of a pork chop caught in a shake-n-bake mud-bag. A smile broke across his lips. "I love you."
(Notice I also eliminated the repetition of "hair" and managed to use action to avoid the need of his "said" dialogue tag. This version might be about the same length, but I've included more detail that adds a sense of "truth" to the prose.)
(5) Remove "cheat" words. I've read many an article over the years stating that editors have "bugaboo" words that make them instantly reject your story. These are words that makes us crazy, words that are used too often, and show laziness on the writer's part. Some of the culprits: just, a lot, let, went, very, really, even, and the ever-popular was. Though I don't object to the verb "was," remember that verbs give your story life, and you can often come up with a more exciting and descriptive verb to take its place. Again, the search feature is your friend.
Feel free to add your own "irritating words" in the comments section below. -->
(6) The construct, "it was" is almost always unnecessary. As are its annoying cousins, there was, there is, they were, etc. You can almost always re-write the sentence to cut out the construct and still make your point.
For example: It was cold in the basement. Shelly pulled two blankets from the sofa and wrapped each of them around her shoulders. They were thread-bare and didn't do much to warm her. It was going to be a long night if she didn't keep moving to stay warm.
Now, without the construct: The cold basement chilled Shelly to the bone. She pulled first one, then another blanket from the sofa and wrapped them around her shoulders. Even in the dim light, she caught bright spots through the multitude of holes and tears in the fabric. With a long night of research ahead, constant movement would be a necessary bother.
(7) Each Other vs. One Another.
Traditionally, "each other" refers to the interaction between two people and "one another" refers to the interaction between more than two people.
For example: Bob and Mary were in love with each other. The baseball players kept one another motivated during the streak by wearing mismatched socks.
(8) Said-isms like asked, insisted, intoned, snorted, yelled, sighed, etc, distract the reader. They jump out of the page, getting in the way of the reader's interest in the actual dialogue. If you write the dialogue well, the inflection will be obvious. The word "said" is almost always enough, and it is such a transparent word that it helps to brighten the other words on the page.
"Don't shoot," he yelled.
"I won't," she cried, her hands trembling. "Not unless you make me."
Trying to calm her, he set the gun down slowly, and asked, "Can you trust me?"
I will speak more about dialogue tomorrow. Briefly, today, you could use the word "said" or use action to indicate the speaker in each instance.
"Don't shoot!" he said.
"I won't." Her hands trembled. "Not unless you make me."
Trying to calm her, he set the gun down. "Trust me. Please?"
(9) Open and Close quotes irritate me greatly. They are easy to miss when you're typing two or three thousand words in one sitting, which I often do when I'm on a roll. The easiest way to check for them is to do a search on the quote. Then use the symbol in the bottom right hand corner of your MS Word screen -- that little >> to skip from one quote to the next. (Smile if you didn't know about that little feature.) While you're skipping say the phrase, "Open, Close" in your head to keep track of which is which. I can't tell you how many times I have found a missing quote mark in my document before submitting a story using this technique. You'll look more professional for it.
Remember the rule, though, that if you have two paragraphs of dialogue by the same speaker, the first ends without a close quote to indicate that the speaker in the next paragraph is the same. (Though personally, I would add some action to keep the reader interested, or you end up with what feels like a preachy-speechy situation.)
(10) The Gut-Check The best way to perform a gut-check on your story is to read it aloud. You might have to do this more than once for the gut-check to fully succeed.
What's a gut-check? That feeling you get when you're reading your story and there's one sentence, or one paragraph, or one metaphor that feels WRONG. When you read it, you get that gnawing feeling in your gut or you squirm in your seat or you stop reading and start tapping your pen or biting your nails.
Your gut knows you need to cut the words from the story. Listen to your gut.
Sometimes, the first time I sense the gut-feeling, I might ignore it, as though maybe I was reading too quickly, or I was distracted, or I have to fix something above or below to try to make that grouping of words fit. But if I get the same gut-feeling on the next read-through I MUST listen.
I won't provide an example. Every gut is different. But I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.
So that's my (and partly On-Spec's) Ten-Point Checklist.
Get out "old red" and start editing. Remember, less is more.