Randomosity

Friday Five: What I Love to Read (or Watch)

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One of the best ways to find yourself as a writer–or heck, even as a reader–is to make a list of the types of stories that you love to read. This will help you decide what to write or purchase. Here are five things that I love in books and in TV shows and movies.

1. Comedies (as Opposed to Tragedies)

Comedies are stories of people overcoming hardship; tragedies focus on characters who are overcome by hardship. The comedies I’m talking about aren’t necessarily slapstick nonsense, but they do end on a positive note. Lots of people seem to think that tragedies are somehow superior, but I’ve always thought it was easier to write a story that ended with sorrow. Writing a deep story–without glossing over or diminishing difficulties–about people who overcome the hardships of life is much harder. It’s easy to be negative. It’s difficult to be positive. I want to read–and write–the more challenging thing.

It’s not just me who thinks this way. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes:

Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachments to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible.

He also says:

“[Comedies], in the ancient world, were regarded as of a higher rank than tragedy, of a deeper truth, of a more difficult realization, of a sounder structure, and of a revelation more complete. The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man…. Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachments to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible.”

2. Interesting Characters

Give me the quirks and the foibles. Show me the rough edges and the awkwardness. More points if you can make me like the quirky oddballs and the grumps. I want to see these people overcoming the challenges in their lives.

3. HEA: Happily Ever After

This is closely tied to number 1, but I’m mentioning it twice because it’s kind of a big deal for me. Every plot thread doesn’t have to be tied up perfectly, but I want the characters I love to end up happily for the most part.

4. Character Development

It’s not enough for characters to be interesting. House was an interesting character, but I lost my interest when I read an interview with Hugh Laurie that said he didn’t think audiences liked it when characters changed. Change is what I live for. In real life, people grow and change. Therefore, characters should also grow and change. If they never change, then there’s no point in reading or watching because you’ll see the same thing over and again. Pass.

Carol’s first appearance in The Walking Dead. She’s ironing in the apocalypse.
Badass Carol in later seasons.

 

5. Mixed Genres

I’m an eclectic reader. I love books that cross genres. Give me a crime dramedy or a spy comedy or a small town mystery (not a cozy mystery). One of the greatest aspects of the TV show Longmire (and the books on which it was based) is that it could be classified as a modern western crime drama. There were vicious murders and rapes, but instead of being handled in NYC or Chicago with all the big-city resources (like every other crime drama), it took place in Absaroka County, Wyoming, with very few murders solved in the forensics lab. I found it refreshing to see crimes solved by going out and talking to people instead of investigating a fiber in the lab.

What do you look for in books and shows?

novel writing

12 Habits of Highly Productive Writers (with Commentary)

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via Wiley

This infographic came through my Pinterest feed the other day, and it has some useful information to help maximize your writing output.

Let’s take them one at a time.

  1. They reject the notion of “writer’s block.” I don’t believe it exists. “Writer’s block” is actually a symptom of a different problem. That problem could be almost anything: physical exhaustion, stress, fear, lack of inspiration, or even a problem with the manuscript in question. The way to overcome “writer’s block” is to identify to real cause and deal with that problem.
  2. They don’t overtalk their projects. While it’s good to have a logline or an elevator pitch to give to friends, editors, and publishers, writers write more than they talk about what they’re writing. It’s easy, especially for extroverts, to get wrapped up in tossing around ideas with fellow authors. Write first and then talk.
  3. They believe in themselves and their work. Every writer has to believe in the value of their work. Sometimes it’s easy to think that fiction is less valuable than other books. But entertainment has value. Ask yourself what your reader get from your work: entertainment, information, inspiration?
  4.  They know that a lot of important stuff happens when they’re not “working.” Your subconscious is always busy gathering inspiration and making connections. In fact, your subconscious knows what it wants to write before your conscious mind starts to think about an outline. You just have to have the courage to let your subconscious have its way. Be ready to record your ideas wherever you are. Keep a notepad by the bed, in your purse, in the car, on the refrigerator. You never know when an idea will strike, and you don’t want to lose it!
  5. They’re passionate about their projects. If you, the writer, are not excited about your work, how can you expect the reader to be? That’s why I recommend writing what you love. If you do that, your passion will show, and your readers will be swept away into your world of writing.
     
  6. They know what they’re good at. Having a realistic understanding of your tastes and talents is essential for having an enjoyable, prolific career. Write what you love, and write using the methods that suit you. Some writers outline or use note cards to lay out their entire book. If that works for you, keep it up. But there’s nothing wrong if your process is different. Figure out what works for you, and keep doing it. Don’t stop there though. Ponder your weaknesses and work to improve those too.
  7. They read a lot and widely. Almost all lists of writing advice contain the admonition to read. Extensive reading is key to knowing what you love and understanding how books work, how they flow. Nonfiction is also important for research purposes and general knowledge.
  8. They know how to finish a draft. This is what differentiates an aspiring writer from a working writer. Every manuscript goes through a period where all the fun, creative writing is done, and you’re left writing transition scenes or doing copy editing. It would be easy to set aside the book and move onto a new, fun story. And that’s okay if you are writing as a hobby. If you want to make writing writing your career, you have to plow through the boring parts.
  9. They work on more than one thing at once. Multitasking is essential, especially if you self-publish. Not only do you have to work on your current writing project, but you have to market your previous projects, manage sales, do giveaways, pay your taxes, and send royalties to your coauthors or those you publish.
  10. They leave off at a point where it will be easy to start again. People who write for a living set themselves up for success. The image of a “starving artist” may have some twisted, romantic appeal for some, but writers don’t write themselves into a corner and then quit. At the very least, they formulate a plan for how to get over the tough part. Having a plan keeps writers motivated to write more.
  11. They don’t let themselves off the hook. The only person you hurt by making excuses is yourself. Refer to item 8 on this list. Writers don’t stop until they have gone from plan to published.
  12. They know there are no shortcuts, magic bullets, special exercises or incantations. Writers know that they have to do the work to make their dreams come true.

And that’s what this is all about: doing the hard work to make dreams come true. What are you doing today to make your dreams come true?

Book Business

The Finance Department: Federal Income Taxes (Part 4)

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Federal Income Taxes: Standard Deductions vs. Itemized Deductions (AKA How Not to Commit Fraud)
The Finance Department (Part 4)

As you can see from the chart above, your book business falls under your personal income tax umbrella, but let’s break it down even further.

Itemized vs. Standard Deductions

When you file your personal income taxes, you have two choices: itemize deductions or use the standard deduction. Both serve to lower your taxable income, but you have to do a little math in order to figure out which option saves you the most money.

Standard Deduction: The standard deduction is a fixed dollar amount that reduces the income you’re taxed on. Your standard deduction varies according to your filing status (your marital status and senior status, among other things). It’s best to use this deduction if your itemized deductions do not exceed your standard deduction.

Itemized Deductions: Itemized deductions also lower the amount of income you pay taxes on. The amount saved depends on your tax bracket and how many expenses you can legitimately claim. These are itemized personal deductions, not your book business expenses.

Book Business Deductions

You also have two choices when it comes to your book business. You can either itemize your deductions, which means keeping receipts and records, or you can ignore your expenses and pay more in taxes. Last week’s post covered business expenses that you can write off, items like mileage, shipping, advertising, royalties you paid to writers you publish, etc.)

You can also write off your home office. A portion of certain household expenses can be written off under the business-side of the umbrella.

Why? Because some of your book business income went to pay for portions of your book business office (the portion of your home you use for work). You do not pay taxes on income you did not actually keep.

Potential Work from Home Deductions
Because you work from home, you can deduct a portion of your:

  • property taxes
  • utilities (water bill, electric bill, natural gas bill, etc.)
  • interest on your home mortgage or rent
  • insurance
  • cell phone bill (if used for business)
  • business miscellany (toilet paper, hand soap, etc.)
 

Portion is the keyword. You must come up with an estimate of what portion of your home expenses are actually business expenses. You could base your estimate on the number of rooms or on the square feet in your house. Decide what percentage of your house is used for your book business. Don’t just pick a number out of thin air. Make sure you can defend that number if an auditor asks you how you came up with it.

But wait. There’s a catch. It’s an either or situation. You can either deduct certain items from the business category or the home category. You cannot deduct the same expense from both places. That’s called fraud. However, you can deduct a portion from business and then you can deduct the remaining portion from home.

Unique circumstances exist for each individual or family, so pay attention. If you itemize, you cannot write off the same expense twice: once for business and once for personal.

For example:

Let’s say you have a $1,000 property tax bill and claim 10 percent of your house as your book business office.

You can claim $100 of your property tax bill as a business expense and $900 from your overall personal expenses.

Claiming $100 as a business expense and $1000 on your home expenses is fraud.

If you aren’t sure about your deductions, hire a professional, but remember that you are still responsible for the recordkeeping and for the documents you file.

Disclaimer: Don’t trust me. Go to IRS.gov and confirm the information for yourself. I’m not responsible if you get audited. Also, state income taxes are separate beasts, and you’ll have to tame them for yourselves unless you are fortunate enough to live in a state without them.


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Other Media

Friday Five: Top Netflix Bingewatches

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1. The Office

True confession: I have watched The Office at least a dozen times. Probably more. Every time through the series, I am struck by how the writers make me root for even the least likable characters on the show. Michael can be at his most childish at one moment and then do something genuinely caring and kind the next. Sometimes I want to smack him, but I always want him to succeed. #thatswhatshesaid

2. Stranger Things

The X-Files meets The Goonies: what’s not to like? But seriously, the writing on this show is tight. The characters are interesting. And there are demogorgons.

3. Longmire

This is my most recent binge. Longmire is a modern western mystery series. The cast features some great actors: Lou Diamond Philips, Katee Sackhoff, A Martinez, and Peter Weller. The Indian characters are my favorite, especially Jacob Nighthorse. #charactercrush

4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

This is totally my kind of humor, and the story line focuses on overcoming hardships, which is my favorite theme of all time.

5. Fuller House

I grew up watching D. J. Tanner on Full House, so I had to watch D. J. Fuller on Fuller House. All the great characters come back at one time or another. Plus, seeing Candace Cameron Buré doing one-leg push-ups made me decide to work on my own upper body strength. Yes, it’s cheesy. But sometimes, you need to watch the cheese.

What are your Netflix favorites? What should I watch next?

Book Business

The Finance Department: Federal Income Taxes (Part 3)

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Federal Income Taxes: Profit, Loss, and Write-offs
The Finance Department (Part 3)

If your book business earned $1,000 this year (aka profit or income) and you spent $1,000 on your business’s expenses (book creation, marketing, office supplies, etc.) (aka loss or expenses), how much do you owe in federal income taxes?

$0.

Why? Because your business expenses consumed all your business profits. In other words, your net profit (profit minus loss or income minus expenses) for the year was zero. And you only pay taxes on your net profits.

That is why keeping records of all your book business expenses is so important. How much you invest in your business makes a huge difference in how much you owe in taxes! Remember we aren’t talking about discretionary spending. You can only write off items that you had to buy in order for your business to exist.

Making the effort to document and store your receipts may seem like a waste of time, but apathy will cost you. Consider the following example. (Note: For the sake of keeping this simple since there are so many variables, I’m assuming that through other income you are already above your standard or itemized deductions. This example also assumes that you fall in the 10 percent tax bracket. If you fall into a higher tax bracket, then the value of your receipts is even more.)

Your books earn $1,000.

You spent $1,000 on book business items.

So, in your book business bank account, you currently have $0.

Tax Time! The federal government is already aware that you earned $1,000 (thanks to 1099s submitted by publishing platforms).

If you saved your receipts and documented your expenses, you would owe $0 in federal income taxes.

But if you do not provide the government with documentation that you reinvested that money, they assume it’s all profit and expect you to pay taxes on it.  Therefore, you owe $100 in federal income taxes. 

But you don’t have $100 in your account! Doesn’t matter. You owe $100.

Owing $0 vs $100 is a big difference!

You can throw away a lot of money by not keep records of your business expenses.

This is where the Schedule C, which we covered in last week’s post, comes into play. To review, you receive 1099 MISC forms from your publishing platforms, which tell you how much money you earned (profit/income), and you use your own receipts and records to subtract your legitimate book business expenses (loss/expenses), and that’s the number your book business’s taxes are based on.

What Are Legitimate Expenses?

From https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf

Examples of Items You Can Write off 

  • mileage (trips to the post office to send books, to stores for business purchases)
  • shipping costs (postage, envelopes, packing material)
  • giveaway items (cost of items used for marketing giveaways)
  • advertising (online ads, book marketing services)
  • cover art purchases
  • font purchases
  • royalty payments to coauthors or writers you published
  • conferences related to your business
  • research trips related to your books
  • subcontractors (graphic designers, editors, typesetters)
  • office supplies and equipment (laptop/computer, flash drives, printer, paper, ink, pens)
  • home office (portions of property taxes, utilities, interest on mortgage, insurance)*

Examples of Stuff You Cannot Write off

  • Starbucks beverages (even if you write there)
  • book purchases unrelated to your research
  • tax compliance efforts and products (tax software and accountants)
 

Remember: You could be audited one day, and you must be able to defend every single item you have chosen to write off. Do not try to stretch it and claim iffy deductions. The IRS isn’t known for its gullibility. They won’t buy it, and you’ll not only pay back taxes but also hefty fines.

The Takeaway

Keeping records of your business expenses could save you a sizable amount of money in federal taxes. If you make recordkeeping part of your work routine, it will save you a lot of hassle at tax time. Create digital copies of all your business receipts and file the originals in a safe place. When tax time rolls around, you’re ready to fill out your Schedule C. Then, store them away again. Keep all your receipts for seven years in case you are audited and need to defend your decisions.

*More on these subjects later.

Disclaimer: Don’t trust me. Go to IRS.gov and confirm the information for yourself. I’m not responsible if you get audited. Also, state income taxes are separate beasts, and you’ll have to tame them for yourselves unless you are fortunate enough to live in a state without them.


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