Every April 15th you have a chance to join the biggest literary community in the US: the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers whose Form 1040 read “Occupation: Writer.”
Unlike applying to a writers’ colony, everyone is automatically accepted. However, the IRS then calls in 1% of the applicants for an interview–also known as an audit–to decide who cuts the mustard. Writers who pass get to keep their deductions; the IRS brands the rest mere hobbyists.
Fortunately, advice for writers abounds in the Internal Revenue Code, the IRS’s regulations and the Tax Court’s case law. Heeding this advice will greatly increase your chances of writing off your expenses. What’s more, the guidelines resemble the tips your writing coach might give you.
Uncle Sam’s Writing Tips
* Write more. The more time you spend writing, the more serious you appear to the IRS, regardless of genre or content. Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, even though he only typed and retyped the …
In the recent movie Seven, Brad Pitt tracked down a killer who modeled his crimes after the seven deadly sins. If the killer had taken a more professional view of sin, he might have plotted quite differently. For a doctor, I suppose, the great sin is leaving a sponge in the patient. For an accountant, it’s got to be moving money from your clients’ ledgers to your own. And for a writer, of course, the deadliest sin is plagiarism.
Every writer has heard stories of careers ruined by a single, inexplicable slip of passing someone else’s work off as his or her own. Yet every writer also knows the importance of thorough research, including hitting the books with secondary sources–in short, using other writers’ work. So where’s the line between deadly sin and dogged reporting? And how do you keep from crossing it without losing your own readers in an ocean of attribution (“according to a story by Jane Schmoe …
It seems like everybody’s doing it. Part-time writing, I mean. This past summer, for example, full-time First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton started a weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate of Los Angeles. Full-time singer/songwriter Judy Collins was plugging her first novel, Shameless. And Little, Brown announced it was advancing full-time actor Ethan Hawke $300,000 for his first novel.
If they can do it, why can’t we?
Of course, for every part-time writer who snags a $300,000 advance, there are hundreds of other writers who struggle to pay for postage. Part-time writing has many rewards, but big money isn’t always one of them. A 1994 survey conducted for the Authors League Fund reported that the median hourly wage for “limited part-time” writers (those giving it fewer than 30 hours a week) was $3.47. And that was the good news. Part-timers who spent more than 30 hours a week at it earned a measly $2.96. In my own experience, I’ve had years …
Let’s say you’re writing a piece titled “How to Grow Bigger and Brighter Begonias.” Before you start writing, organize your research material through a system of indexing and filing; you must know where everything is and how to get at it easily. (If your notes or interview transcripts aren’t extensive, you can simply number your notebook pages, then make a list of broad information categories with references to page numbers.
* Stop thinking of your article as an article. Concentrate only on the first step-your opening. What is it about growing begonias that most interests you? What will be most interesting and valuable to your target reader?
Start writing with a good begonia-related line that will grab readers’ attention, set the right tone and get to the point quickly (be sure you know what the main point of the piece is). If your lead and what follows feels right, keep writing, all the way to the end.
However, if you …