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Sunday

Taxing Times for Freelance Writers

Tax Day is coming up fast. April 15th is less than three months away. If you are self-employed as a freelance writer or independent contractor for a publisher or agency, then you may already be feeling the crunch.

How soon should you start cranking out those numbers, and where do you start? 

Which receipts do you need to keep? Can you really deduct everything you buy at the bookstore and all those magazine subscriptions? How about continuing education costs and admission fees to cultural and sporting events?

Are your eyes rolling back into your head yet?

Many freelance writers hire professional certified public accountants (CPAs) to keep track of taxable income, allowed deductions, depreciations and other details. (I do.) If your family finances are complex, you may find the enlistment of a CPA to be a worthwhile investment.

My CPA more than pays for his cost, just in the tax savings he finds each year. What’s more, I suspect he has protected me from unintentional tax transgressions more than once as well.

Sometimes it feels as if freelance writers and self-employed individuals have “Audit Me” targets painted on our foreheads. It happens. We were audited several years ago, and the government actually ended up owing me money. (OK, that’s another story, and it was a little over $50. But I felt like a #winner, anyway.)

Plenty of writers produce their own paperwork for tax time.

Bloggers, poets, novelists, columnists, stringers and other freelance copy producers suddenly find themselves donning finance hats to prepare for April 15th. Many of us are adept with words, but we may struggle with numbers or balk at the prospect of reviewing current tax laws.

My friend and writing colleague Angie Mohr, who happens to be a certified management accountant, is offering a helpful resource. Angie’s eBook, titled “Tax Preparation & Planning for Freelance Writers” (published in 2011 by Hounslow Press as part of the Small Business University eSeries), contains practical pointers for preparing taxes.

Check out these chapters:

  1. Setting Up an Income & Expense Tracking System
  2. Freelance Writing Revenue
  3. Home Office Expenses
  4. Automobile Expenses
  5. Direct Writing Expenses
  6. Can I Write That Off?
  7. Filling Out Schedule C
  8. Minimizing Your Tax Bill
  9. Tax Planning for Next Year
Usually priced at $8.99, the 75-page eBook is available for $6.99 as a PDF download until January 31st. (Amazon offers the book free to its Prime members.

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Friday

Proofreading Goofs and Gaffes

Proofreading pays. After all, the devil is in the details, as many have said. Is it so?

If you are a published writer, perhaps you know the pain of discovering an errant letter, a misspelled word or a wrongly placed punctuation mark after your work has gone to print. Maybe you have found an entire paragraph uploaded twice in a web article or a verse of poetry missing from the final product.

Alas! The devil may indeed be in the details.

Not long ago, a long-lost high school friend found me on Facebook. She subscribed to my online articles and became a loyal reader. (How we web writers do love our devoted subscribers!)

Then it happened. I posted a link to a timely article on my profile page, and my friend left a cheery comment. In the next line, she pointed out an error in the piece. A double negative twisted the entire intent of the second paragraph.

Oops!

Occasionally, names can trip us up. Just ask my friend Virginia, who finally found her name in print. But it was misspelled and read like an answer to a junior high biology class quiz question on female reproductive parts.

Sometimes a typo or two can make us laugh at ourselves.

My friend and writing colleague ShawnTe Pierce was kind enough to allow me to share a comical goof, which she caught and corrected. Here's how she described it:

“Sometimes I will write a quick article as if I am writing a memo on an acct. (like I just did here, lol) abbreviating longer words. The word should have been ‘assessment,’ but I glossed over my shorthand and was left with ‘asses.’ The sentence read, ‘In order to make a final asses of the layout, you will need...’”

Yep, glossing is where the trouble usually starts, and it happens to even the best writers. 

Proofreading pays.

Years ago, I put myself through journalism school by moonlighting as an editor. I’d file my beat stories and then grab giant stacks of book galleys. Blue pencil in hand, I’d mark and mangle. I’d decipher, delete and delineate. And it was profitable.

Sometimes proofreading can be a lot more fun than it sounds. And occasionally, careful editing uncovers unintentional gaffes.

Once I was working on a manuscript for a noted evangelical pastor, writing on sexual abstinence before marriage. Here’s what he said in the final chapter:

“If you follow the guidelines of Scripture, as we’ve discussed in these pages, you should make out just fine.”

OK, I don’t have a footnote on that one, but it was unforgettable.

How things have changed.

The internet explosion has blown the once-guarded gates of publishing wide open. Now anyone can be a blogger, or even a published author. At the same time, web writers and self-published novelists alike often go it alone. Frequently, no editorial staff monitors material before it appears.

Maybe we all need our own editors.

What’s the most intriguing or embarrassing typo or error you’ve ever had published?

 Image:  
Facepalm photo - Creative Commons Licensing

Wednesday

Easy as A-B-C: How to write acrostic poetry

Acrostic poetry is easy and fun to write, although it can also take plenty of creativity. The best acrostic poets employ theme and language skillfully to paint word pictures and to communicate ideas clearly and colorfully.

Acrostic poetry offers a simple start for aspiring poets. (Yes, you probably tried a few of these as a kid in school.)

Find your key words,
Underline them, or put them in bold.
Now add your lines.
Copyrighted by Linda Ann Nickerson 

Poets may experiment with a countless variety of acrostic forms. Here are three of my own favorites.

Basic acrostic poetry

This is the simplest form and a great starting point for beginning poets and students to try. Simply pick a word, write the letters of that word in a vertical column, and build the poem thematically from there.

Here is an example of a traditional acrostic poem I wrote (and copyrighted).

Perhaps you have a wonderful idea to share,
Or you may dream in colors mankind has never seen.
Everyone else has no idea
That you live in vibrancy unknown.
Revealing your vision can shake the world
You simply must put it into words.
Copyrighted by Linda Ann Nickerson 

These are a few additional examples of basic acrostic poems:


Alphabet acrostic poetry

This form of verse is a little trickier. Each alphabet acrostic poem contains 26 lines, and each line begins with a different letter of the alphabet (in sequence).

Here’s an original (and copyrighted) example I have written and published.

Acrostic poetry is fun to write,
Because nearly anyone
Can do it.
Describing acrostic poetry is simple.
Everyone knows the alphabet.
Finding ways to start each line is tricky.
Good writers will reach for great words.
How many lines will the poem have?
In most cases, alphabet acrostics have 26,
Just one line for each letter.
Keeping the words straight,
Lined up in neat columns,
Makes all the difference.
Now others can read the alphabet
Only by looking at the first letters.
Poetry is fun, if you know how.
Quite a few people enjoy
Reading and writing creative verse.
Simply putting pen to paper
Takes ideas and insight..
Understanding poetry
Very often is trickier.
When we take time to ponder it
eXamining imagery, poetry may
Yield something of beauty.
Zooming in on truth.
Copyrighted by Linda Ann Nickerson


Rhymed acrostic poetry

This type of acrostic poetry is even more complex. Essentially, it follows the basic format for acrostic poetry, but the lines are metered and rhymed.

Take a look at this original (and copyrighted) example:

Regarding an A-B-C poem,
Have echoes in mind, if you know ‘em.
Your lines, they may flow.
Most readers will know
Each stanza contains there its own gem.
Copyrighted by Linda Ann Nickerson 

This example, actually is a rhymed acrostic limerick poem, using the standard five-line limerick format. Check out two more  rhymed acrostic limericks: Maybe Mercy Mends a Mess and Un Reve Peut-Etre (A Dream, Perhaps?).

Here are a few more examples of rhymed acrostic poems:

Occasionally, acrostic poems feature highlighted letters midway through their lines, or even at the tail end of them. Others may jumble these highlighted letters for creative effect.

Image:  
Webweaver Clipart


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Tuesday

Do you find writing a work or a wonder?

The wordsmith’s life can be daunting or drudgery, bold or boring, stimulating or sleep-inducing. What do you make of it?

As long as new ideas, story leads and source availability keep coming, writing is a blast.

Just ask my long-ago college English professor Sharon O’Brien. (Nope, I’m not telling how long ago it was.) O’Brien has authored several books, including Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice, New Essays on My Antonia and The Family Silver: A Memoir of Depression and Inheritance.

Here’s how O’Brien described her own writing life.

“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning,” she said. “I wanted to know what I was going to say.”

Do you love it?

Sharon O'Brien
The art of wordsmithing is sometimes surprising.

See? Writers even shock ourselves, once the ink and ideas begin to flow. Occasionally, an astounding turn of phrase may appear, almost knocking the writer right out of his or her chair.

Sometimes, the thrill of the chase is enough. Tracking down hidden facts for a breaking news story is exciting. Playing with words to craft a clever description is fun. Finding a novel twist for a timely feature is rewarding.

Maybe we just have to get over the fear of the dreaded blank page or screen.

Sure, we’ve all felt the eerie emptiness that occasionally freezes our fingers, leaving the creative process seemingly dead in its proverbial tracks. At such times, I like to revisit the unstructured free-writing exercises of English Composition classes and just start filling up the page with whatever comes.

Try it. See what happens. You can always go back and edit later. Look for nuggets of gold in the pile of gravel you may find. It’s probably in there someplace, if you hunker down and hunt.

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Image:  
Story Hunter
WP Clipart
Sharon O'Brien
Dickinson College faculty photo

Monday

How do you balance substance vs. spam in blogging for search results?


The most successful bloggers and web writers generally aim for quality content and search engine optimization (SEO). It’s a balancing act for sure, and the game just became more complex than ever with another new Google algorithm in action.

First, what is SEO?

Simply put, SEO means copy is tailored to maximize its likelihood of coming up high in results to internet users’ queries on the major search engines. 

Writers may employ keywords, celebrity names, hot headline subjects and other wordings that are apt to pop up in popular internet searches. By doing so, web wordsmiths hope to draw in as many readers as possible.

It’s easy to overdo it with SEO strategies and lose the art of good writing. What’s more, many eager bloggers and website designers are tempted to load up their posts with ads and web-links, aiming to increase earnings from monetization.

That’s not all bad, as long as it’s done in moderation, using solid strategies.


Search engines balk at spam.

Google’s own “Inside Search” blog posted a warning this week, reminding blog publishers to beware of spamming. The massive search engine unveiled another algorithmic alteration January 19th, and pointed directly at spam-filled blogs.

According to Google’s own description, the change “looks at the layout of a webpage and the amount of content you see on the page once you click on a result.”

Apparently, the new algorithm is aimed primarily at blogs and websites that “make it hard to find the actual original content on the page.”

What does this mean for blog writers?

Somehow, we have to walk the fine line between mindfulness and monetization. We need to stress substance over spam. A few links and ads, placed neatly within the body of blog posts and sidebars, are certainly appropriate. Promotions and listed links should relate topically or contextually to the subject of blog posts.

My friend and writing colleague Marie Anne St. John offers this advice for bloggers: “Google isn't going to tell us outright how much is too much, but stand back and look at your page with fresh eyes.” That seems like a solid strategy.


How many ads are too many ads?

Without resorting to standardized mathematical formulas, which baffle many wordsmiths (read: English majors) anyway, writers will have to find a way to weigh each blog post or online article.

Essentially, entries offering more original, value-added content are likely to be more readily accepted by the top search engines than posts overflowing with promotions and links. Well-constructed blogs will be visually appealing and readable, rather than jumbled layouts of unrelated ads.

For example, this blog post contains seven article links. Can you find them? One leads to the Google blog. Another goes to Marie Anne St. John’s blog (Write, Wrong or Indifferent). Five links direct readers to related articles I’ve written for various sites.

Are seven links too many? Probably not for a blog post totaling more than 550 words. But seven links in a 100-word post might be considered excessive.

What would you rather read and write, substance or spam?

OK, that’s a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious, right?

Perhaps the ubiquitous bots and mysterious web-crawlers would agree. And who wants to be slapped on the wrist by a massive search engine or two?


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Where do you hunt for creative writing topics and article ideas?


What do novelists and news writers have in common, besides a love for the written word?

Probably plenty. But here’s a telling trait all writers share. Wordsmiths work hard to come up with a constant supply of new concepts for coverage. Ideas are everything to those who work in words.

But where do the best ideas originate?

It’s not as if some mysterious muse will whisper sweet story subjects into our ears. No fantabulous fairy godmother is going to tap us on our heads and magically fill us with fresh content concepts.

Gathering the stuff of stories can be hard work. It takes time!

Consider this quote from one of the world’s great minds:

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away.”


Who said that?

Was it William Shakespeare? Charles Dickens? Emily Bronte? William Safire? Nellie Bly? Edgar Allan Poe? Robert Ludlum?

Nope. Guess again.

That quote came from a prominent scientist. In fact, he won the Nobel Prize twice, once for chemistry (1954) and once for peace (1962). Linus Pauling (1901 – 1994) said that about ideas. This honored chemist knew the importance of sorting out speculations.

The principle, of course, holds for writers as well.

Deadline writers and beat reporters understand this full well. We scratch our heads over story ideas. We chew the bud. We noodle around. We mull things over.

And then we write.

We sit and struggle to find the right words. We peck and pound at our keyboards and finally file our articles.

Then, almost immediately, another deadline appears on the radar.

Yep, we need a constant proverbial pipeline of new creative concepts. Keep ‘em coming, folks!

Image:  
Fairy Godmother