February 14, 2017

The Birth of a Story Idea...or a Two-Headed Dragon

Victoria in one of her creative moments.
If you write, someone has probably asked you this question:

"Where do you get your ideas from?"

The number of possible answers to this question probably exceeds the number of people writing stories. Ideas develop from several common sources, but how they transfer into a story idea, for me at least, is almost impossible to map.

Take this recent conversation I had with my granddaughter as an example:

Victoria:  Did you know lizards can lose their tails?
Me: I think I knew it, but then it might be because you've been talking about it.
Victoria: I saw a video of a dog chasing a lizard. He tried to bite its tail, and the lizard dropped its tail and ran away.  (She giggled) The tail was wriggling.
Me: Chickens do that.
Victoria: Huh?
Me:  When you chop off a chicken's head, its body will keep running around. That's why they say "running around like a chicken with its head chopped off."
Victoria: The dog didn't chase the lizard because it was barking at the tail.
Me: That's its protection mechanism. God made it able to drop its tail and get away while the tail wriggles and distracts the predator.
Victoria:  The lizard grows back its tail. Wouldn't it be cool if we could do that like lizards or starfish or an octopus?
Me: Yeah, that would be neat.
Victoria: One thing you can't grow back though is a head. If they cut off the head, you're dead.
Me: Yep.
Victoria: Unless you're a dragon in a movie and you cut off the head and two grow back. Then you cut off those heads and three grow back, then four, then five.  What if it grew a thousand heads back?
Me:  (laughing) That would be crazy.
Victoria:  (sitting straight up with her arms by her side and neck stretched upward) It wouldn't be able to move if it had a thousand heads. All the necks would get in the way.

Do you see the strange paths this conversation took? That's how a story idea happens. You start with something and then your mind goes off on slightly related tangents that lead to more tangents and more until you have something completely different...like a dragon with 1000 heads.

Next question?

February 7, 2017

Can I Deduct That? Some Tips for Writers

My author table at a workshop
where I taught several classes

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.
After attending an out-of-town writing workshop last year, I reminded a friend that the cost of the workshop was tax deductible. Her response? I don't bother with that.

Why don't writers claim deductions?

I keep track of my writing expenses, and if you write for a living or to seek publication, you should, too. I've had this conversation with more than one writer, and the most common objections include:
  • I don't have time to track the information
  • I won't have many deductions
  • I'm not making money/profit from my writing right now

For some reason, writers believe they must show a profit in order to claim the expenses related to their work. Although you will eventually have to show income and profit, you can claim expenses. (For clarification of acceptable business loss time frames, ask your tax expert.)

What qualifies as writing income?

If you don't currently have any writing income, consider some of the potential income sources available to you:
  • Speaking to writing groups
  • Teaching a writing workshop
  • Writing technical documents for clients
  • Writing resumes or web content for a client
  • Winning contests with cash prizes
  • Selling your work on Amazon
  • Selling copies of literary journals you're published in
  • Editing/Proofreading

As a training consultant, I write a large percentage of the materials I use with my clients. I, also, write resumes and create slides, exercises, and outlines for online training. I have specific income related to writing. But...

Even if you haven't earned any writing income,
you should keep track of your expenses.

How else will you know what you've spent in pursuit of your writing dream if you don't?


What can you claim?

If it supports your writing, it may be a writing deduction. Some common deductions include:
  • Paper
  • Ink
  • Postage
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Software
  • Office space (if the room you write in is used only for writing, you can claim it as a home office)
  • Internet access (research, online submissions, online workshops)
  • Workshop and conference fees (including hotel and meals if out of town)
  • Membership fees
  • Mileage to any writing-related event
  • Books related to your writing

A word about books

Do you write mysteries? You can write off the costs of buying mysteries.

Why? It's market research. Check the submission guidelines of any agency or publisher, and they will ask how your work fits into the current market. You must know something about the market, and the best way to learn and demonstrate your knowledge of the market is to read what's popular in your genre.

I realize not every writer has the business opportunities that I have, but if you're serious about writing, then you should be serious about the business side of writing, too. Most entrepreneurs get caught up in their creativity and fail to focus on the logistics of what they're doing. Don't fall into that trap.

NOTE:  I am not a tax expert. I rely on an accountant to help me determine what I can and can't deduct. It doesn't have to cost you a lot of money to work with one.

January 31, 2017

Picking a Writing Conference: 4 Questions to Ask

I attended my first writing conference ten years ago. Prior to that, I participated in a few college-based creative writing classes but wanted more without the hefty academic fees.

Conferences Open Doors

I met several authors at that first conference, and those introductions developed into relationships with people who are now some of my favorite authors. If for no other reason than getting to know authors on a personal basis, you should attend a writing conference. But that's not all I gained.

I learned a lot about the craft of writing as well as the world of agents and editors. One of the authors I met offered to help me stay on track to finish my novel. She did and I completed it with her occasional encouragement.

What Should You Look For In a Conference?

I've attended several conferences since that first one, some great, some ok. I've never attended one that didn't develop my skills and writing relationships in some way. Some questions you might want to consider include:

1. Who is presenting?

You don't have to recognize the names of the authors, agents, and editors on the faculty. As I mentioned above, I met several authors at my first conference who have become friends as well as my favorite authors. The only author whose name I recognized prior to that conference was the keynote speaker. She was good, but I didn't attend any of her workshops.

How did I know the conference faculty matched my needs? I read their bios, checked their credentials, and looked at the topics assigned to each person I found interesting.

2. What workshop topics do they offer?

This is a big one. Some conferences offer topics of little interest to me; others make it hard to pick between concurrent sessions. Most large conferences offer workshops on specific topics and panels where the experts field questions. A few of the smaller conferences I've attended offer writing classes with an author for the entire time. I've enjoyed and learned a lot from both types.

When I check out a conference, I tend to look for a mix of workshop topics on developing my craft, finding an agent, and editing techniques. If the topics or the facilitators of the workshop intrigue me, then I always learn something from the experience. I attended a small conference a few years ago that offered a panel on the food your characters eat. To this day, it was one of the most memorable panels I've attended.

3. Where, when, and how much?

I've seen a lot of conferences that I'd love to attend but can't due to the answers to these questions. Conference rates vary ($50-$1000+) dependent on size and offerings. A conference that lasts several days and includes meals will probably be expensive. One that's half a day and offers no refreshments typically is inexpensive. Don't forget to consider lodging and food expenses if they aren't included in the fee. The good news is if you're serious about your writing, you can claim these expenses as deductions on your taxes.

4. What extra perks do they offer?

Besides workshops and panels, many conferences offer other opportunities that enhance the experience for you. Some include:
  • Manuscript critiques
  • Mixers with the faculty (agents, editors, and writers)
  • Writing contests
  • Faculty-hosted tables during meals
  • Slush fests (think the slush pile live)
  • Writing time with an expert
  • Open mic opportunities
  • Volunteer roles (often come with reduced rates)

Making a Decision

When researching conferences, don't wait too long to sign up. Some conferences fill up early. Even if the conference doesn't fill up fast, some of the opportunities (critiques, volunteering, contests) have deadlines several months prior to the conference. Don't miss out because you waited too long.

If you don't know where to find a conference, one great resource is Shaw Guides or do an internet search on writing conferences. Also, check the ads in writing magazines such as Writers Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers.

If you have a favorite conference or amazing conference story, will you share the info in the comments section of this post? Thanks!