Business Savvy

Business Savvy

Business taxes
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

You have a few certainties in life: birth, work (you can define that however you want), death, and taxes. You don’t have any say-so over your birth or death. But your work and taxes? You have control there – even if you think you don’t. You still need to find that job that alleviates the tedium of existence (hopefully, you’re working at something that does more than that). However, you’re not assigned a position and locked into it for life. And while everyone will insist you don’t get any freedom in the tax department, that isn’t necessarily true. (And, no, I’m not advocating that you skip out on paying them) Because if you’re a freelancer? You have some wiggle room.

But you need to think through things.

The tricky part of working as a freelance writer (or any freelancer, really) is YOU have to manage all of the business end of things yourself. You’re the employer. While you work for a client, they’re not going to handle taxes for you. That falls into your lap. And how much you have to set aside from every job? That depends on where you live. But, on average, 25-30% is a good place to start. This makes sure you’ll have enough to keep the IRS, your state, and (potentially) your local governments happy. But, depending on your situation, you have some flex in that percentage.

For instance, you may not need to pay for your own health insurance. Or you can elect to not pay into social security. (It’s NOT a requirement) And as a self-employed worker, plenty of local governments cut you some slack if you work from home. It involves a TON of reading come tax time, and you may need to ask questions to understand all of the jargon, but you can find neat little ways to save yourself some taxes, courtesy of functioning as a business. And while an accountant can walk you through all of this (and happily take your money doing so), tax programs will do the same for a fraction of the cost.

Then there’s the REAL fun.

You’re an independent business. (Or, you know, you may work in collaboration with others) But that means you’re entitled to claim business expenses on your taxes. And when you look at it, that includes PLENTY of your day-to-day materials. Everything from paper to printer ink (even pens and pencils, if you want to go that far). You also get to list all of the subscriptions you use for your work – something I like to forget as I stare at the prices and agonize over whether it’s worth using some of my hard-earned funds or not. I can’t survive without Evernote or Grammarly; they’re in use EVERY SINGLE DAY that I work. And the free versions? While functional, they don’t provide the same services. I also use Adobe Stock Photos because (now and then), I need to chase down an image I can’t find in the LONG list of free stock photo search engines I have bookmarked. And all of them are business expenses I list on my taxes!

But I struggle to remind myself of that fact. When I look over my account each week, I need to take a deep breath and remind myself that certain things are worth the expense. (Which is crazy, considering I’ve smashed every financial goal I’ve set) Maybe other freelancers do so without a second thought. I’m someone that’s always watched every cent and needed to justify a purchase that wasn’t strictly necessary for survival. So starting on the freelance writing path? It took a shift in my mental processes. Despite all of my research and reading, I have to coach myself and go through a list of questions before hitting that, “Accept” button:

  • Will I use this often enough to justify the cost?
  • Is this going to benefit my writing?
  • Does the premium version offer more than the free?
  • Did you forget this is a tax-deductible thing?

If you’ve never handled business expenses, financial planning, or taxes on your own, it gets overwhelming. And doing my taxes this year? They were frightening and involved a TON of reading and research. But, between my husband and I, we got them completed without too much trouble. Luckily, I use a financial program to track every cent in and out. Plus, I keep my business receipts so they’re easy to enter into TurboTax. (If you stay organized, it makes the business side of things simpler to deal with) And reading? Yeah, I did as much of that as possible before I ever submitted my first proposal for a job.

You’re not going to get out of paying taxes – even with the freedom being a freelancer grants you. But you WILL find ways to make that particular guarantee easier to manage if you’re smart and do your homework. (And that means knowing you can’t claim the chair you bought for your cat to sit at your desk) And once you understand your way around things, it gives you a breath of fresh air so you CAN start to pick up the things you need to function properly. It’s a careful balancing act. But with a little work, you start to get it down.

Review of Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities: Everblaze

Review of Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities: Everblaze

Everblaze by Shannon Messenger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Ms. Messenger continues to develop a delightful series, building upon the Elvin world with the subtle strokes of a painter adding detail to a painting. It’s slow progress that gives the reader a chance to absorb the new information without getting overwhelmed. And it makes sense – something you don’t always get with similar series. It’d be nice if the characters showed the same progression of growth, but Sophie, in particular, seems to remain in a circular path that’s getting stale. There’s no need to introduce new abilities to keep her interesting. Still, her personality or even the chance to LEARN from the past would go a long way to make her more empathetic (an ironic statement to make, given the world Ms. Messenger has created, I know). Rather than feeling for her – especially toward the final chapters – you grow listless and even start to understand the Council’s position. Perhaps that’s what Ms. Messenger intends? (Doubtful at this stage of the story arc) And while the revelation of one of the antagonists was a surprise, the other unraveled too soon to hold interest. This left the volume unbalanced, unfortunately. Then again, this seems to be a common curse of the third volume in most series. Hopefully, the next book in the series will redeem the shortcomings.



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An Unfinished Symphony

An Unfinished Symphony

Home improvement supplies
Photo by La Miko from Pexels

For the majority of my life, I lived in “someone else’s” home. First came my parents (you know, pretty standard). Then there was the college dorm. And then I graduated to adulthood and a series of apartments. Some I preferred over others, but they all featured a common theme: white walls and beige, SHAG carpet. Not to mention that rule of not damaging walls when you hung pictures (or curtains to block annoying street lights). Oh, and painting? That was a HUGE no-no. So while I did my best to put my personality on each temporary living situation (if it comes with a renewable lease, it’s temporary), nothing felt like me or home.

But that changed four years ago.

Tired of dealing with the noise from people on the other side of the wall – and property managers who couldn’t care less – I decided I’d had enough of apartment living. I started crunching numbers. And finding out that a mortgage and utilities (which I had to pay ANYWAY) came out LESS than my rent? That was a low blow. So I started looking at houses. Some were scary, some were all right, and then there was the PERFECT house.

Maybe not to some people. Because it wasn’t new (I loathe new construction and don’t trust it). It was built back in 1949. And the den? Exposed wooden beams and covered in wood paneling, which I adore and (according to home shows) people find repulsive. Plus it came with a gorgeous stone fireplace, complete with the stone mason medallion. The kitchen was ridiculous, considering I don’t cook, but it made everyone who saw it jealous. And the size? Perfect for me and the cats. It even came with a yard large enough that I could consider a dog. And I was convinced my meager offer (which my realtor warned me was on the low side) would never get accepted.

My realtor called me two days later to tell me I had a house.

And that’s where this really begins. The moment I saw the house, I started envisioning plans. The walls (white) needed painting. I’d spent enough time with white walls, and I refused to do so a moment longer. But everything spiraled from there. And my To Do Lists kept growing. Especially once I moved in and found all of the house’s quirks. (Every house has them – old OR new) And while I know working on a house is aggravating and annoying for some people, it’s a source of sanity for me. Well, maybe not SANITY, but it’s a break from the rest of the insanity of my working life. There is therapy found in wielding a paintbrush. You can let everything else GO while you move your arm back and forth, watching color appear beneath your hand. It’s pure bliss!

I’m not one of those who believe in “starter homes.” Maybe it’s the generation I fall under. Or it could be the fact that I know the commitment that mortgage represents. This is the house I’m staying in. And that means I don’t worry about what my changes will do for “resale.” I’m making my house my HOME. So the home improvements? They’re geared toward my tastes. And now that I’m married, the preferences of the two of us. Whether anyone else thinks they’re “in” or “trendy” or any of those silly words.

I irritate people at Lowe’s and Home Depot when I complain about the lack of color in tile choices. We’re looking to add a backsplash in our master bathroom, and we refuse to use white, beige, or tan. They’re DULL color choices. (Plus, the walls are already a sandy color to break up the blues on all of the other walls) I’m glad most people want boring in their houses, but that’s not who we are. We’re looking for a splash of color to compliment the glass prints we have in there, taken from various aquariums – and they’re bright and vibrant. (And, in case you wondered, NO, our kitchen isn’t white)

Yes, the lists of work we need to do and want to do to the house (and yard) are lengthy. And each time we cross something off, we invariably need to add about five more things. But neither of us get irritated about it. This is what we do on the weekends, or when we step away from our computers. It’s time we invest into our HOME. And it’s our break from work. I’m not saying it isn’t work, but it’s different. And it calms the mind, relaxes the body (sort of – depends what we’re doing), and eases stress. Plus, it makes where we live and work more comfortable. So it’s a positive that benefits EVERYTHING we do.

How can you get angry at that?

I think that’s where people go wrong with the way they approach home improvements. They see work that HAS to get done for [insert reason here]. In reality, they should stop and look through a different lens. They’re making their house a happier home. It’s becoming more comfortable, more inviting, more workable. (At least, hopefully) And when you start approaching a change that way, it stops being a chore. You look forward to painting, to measuring, to building. You’re creating something out of your dream. And when you get to stand back and look at the result? It’s SO much more rewarding.

Silver!

Silver!

I admit, when I started submitting my short stories again last year, I had forgotten about the Writers of the Future Contest. (Which is a real shame, as it’s one of the most important contests out there for speculative fiction!) I stumbled across a reminder towards the end of the year, so I submitted “Everapple.” And this week I received an email with the results:

Silver Honorable Mention!

I’ve managed the Honorable Mention mark in the past, and I congratulated myself on that achievement. (And, don’t get me wrong – it IS an achievement!) But to get one step higher this time? I’m ecstatic. That lets me know my writing IS improving. And it gives me a drive to keep refining my craft.

But the big lesson? Never, ever stop. And never give up hope on yourself.

Review of Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Iron

Review of Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Iron

Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


As always, Ms. Clare’s ability to transport you back to the world of Victorian England is unparalleled. The details of the clothing, food, and architecture set the perfect backdrop, and you don’t even question the overlay of the Shadowhunter world. The nod to Jack the Ripper was clever, as well, with enough differentiation to keep the book apart and unique. And the ins and outs and intrigue of the social situations? Perfect for the setting – if somewhat tedious at times. (It’s understandable for this setting, but there are times where it bogs down the action and becomes cyclic – and that includes the final chapter) And while the plot lacked a dramatic twist – sorry, Ms. Clare, but I saw the direction you were heading from almost the beginning – it felt satisfactory in its own way. My interest lay in seeing the first threads laid down for “later” volumes in the greater Shadowhunter tapestry. And while a true fan of the series knows what comes next, it’s fascinating to see everything from a fresh perspective.



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Review of Katherine Arden’s Winter of the Witch

Review of Katherine Arden’s Winter of the Witch

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When Ms. Arden ripped my heart out within the first handful of pages, I expected to scream and throw the book across the room. (And not crying out in horror at that moment was only prevented by my husband sleeping beside me) Never in a million years did I expect her to travel that path after the journey she’d started with the previous two volumes. And there’s no doubt that she takes Vasya – indeed, all of Rus’ – down a dark and twisted road in this book. But the best fairy tales? (Well, any tale, really) They require the characters to fight for their endings. And she accomplishes precisely that. The emotion is so raw you feel it in your bones. And as difficult as it is to turn the pages, you feel compelled to do so. It’s the perfect blend of history and fantasy, and she’s to be commended. My only disappointment is the minor role Baba Yaga plays. She’s such a vital character in Russian fairy tales, and I would have liked to see more of her woven through. But with the sheer beauty of the journey of Vasya, Sasha, and even Morozko? It’s difficult to complain.



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To Thine Own Self Be True

To Thine Own Self Be True

Shelf of books
Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Anyone that participates in SOME form of health program has come across the phrase “self-care.” (Actually, it crops up all over social media these days, so you’ll see it there, too) The notion of taking time out for yourself has gained in popularity recently. It’s an interesting proposition – assuming you happen to have time in your schedule. Then again, I think self-care is supposed to encourage you to MAKE time. And those people are right. You can’t bury yourself in work, errands, and family every moment of the day and expect to keep a stable mental state.

But after that? They get it wrong.

Oh, sure: the idea of bubble baths and manicures SOUNDS luxurious. (No idea what men are supposed to do for their self-care; that never seems to come up, even though they’re included in exercise regimes) But those ideas are horribly outdated. I mean, seriously. When did we go back to the 1950s? It’s a subtle dig to set women back in their place, and I, for one, despise the notion. Also, I don’t find ANYTHING relaxing about either activity.

I’m tall. And the average bathtub? It’s designed for short people. This means SOME part of my body is always out of the water and freezing. I’m allergic to scents, so bath bombs? They’re out (standing next to them in the store causes my throat to swell). Plus, I share a house with Tonks. She’s not afraid of water. Any time I attempt to soak in the tub (not as a “self-care” regime, but usually with Epsom salts or an herbal preparation), she perches on the side and plays in the water – or falls in, and then I have to chase her around the house with a towel. There’s NOTHING relaxing about the process. (And before someone suggests closing the door, that results in frantic scratching and attempts to pry underneath. Again, it’s more stress than it’s worth)

And don’t get me started on manicures. My nails don’t do well under the best circumstances. I admit that I add collagen to my daily superfood shake to attempt to strengthen them, but that’s as far as I’m willing to “baby” them. Nail polish? It never turns out well. I lack the necessary chromosome to paint my nails without making a mess. And there isn’t enough bribery in the world to convince me to set foot in a salon. Chemicals? Are you kidding me? How is THAT supposed to get me calm? (Not to mention that it’s an expense – and one I have to REPEAT?!)

Let’s rethink this self-care thing.

At it’s most basic definition, what is self-care? Taking time out to give yourself a break. And that doesn’t have to look like anything specific! YOU decide what the free time becomes. And you don’t have to justify it to ANYONE. My self-care? It looks like this:

  • Curling up with a book and reading
  • Sitting down to write something NOT for work
  • Taking a nap
  • Watching nonsense on TV

It’s time that I’m allowing my mind and body to recharge. And that’s what I feel self-care IS. I’m not working, nor am I running around thinking or engaging in chores. My brain stops fretting about the million and one things I’m supposed to be focusing on. Everything relaxes and switches off. To me, that’s what self-care means. And it doesn’t COST me anything. (Okay, with the exception of my book budget, which we’re not going to discuss)

What you do to shut yourself down and reset is an individual choice. And it doesn’t have to fit in with the “normal” definition. If you LIKE baths and mani-pedis? Fine. I still think they’re a subliminal message to shuffle women into the background, but everyone’s entitled to their preferences. However, if you find yourself longing for something else? Then FIND it. Figure out what makes you feel like YOU and go for it. How you take care of yourself isn’t confined to specific rules. What’s important is that you DO carve out those moments.

Do they happen every day? Maybe not. Should you find them every week? Yes. (I admit, I sometimes lapse) You’ll find yourself functioning better when you set them aside. If you need to, write them down on your calendar – and defend them from everyone else! If someone asks why you have blocks marked out? Tell them you’re doing research. (Writers MUST read to survive) Or, honestly, tell them you’re making sure you remain healthy and survive. Because you DO need to take care of yourself. However that happens to look.

Review of Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower

Review of Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Finding Russian fairy tales is a difficult task. Finding retellings of Russian fairy tales that capture the imagination – and weave in the world of fourteenth-century Russia – is something even rarer. Yet Ms. Arden manages to do so. The Bear and the Nightingale was pure magic, and she continues her sorcery with the second volume of the trilogy. You feel the biting cold with every word, and she encourages you to look for chyerti around you. The world she’s created is genuine and vibrant and alive in a way many books based on fairy tales fail. And woven through everything, you get the old familiar (at least to me) tales in a fresh light. My only complaint? The final confrontation fell flat. Vasya’s sudden knowledge of the necklace around Tamara’s necklace – with no breadcrumbs leading to the moment – brushed on a deus ex machina moment. While it played well into the tale (much more so than the original tale of Kaschei the Deathless), the reader needed a REASON to understand the necklace’s existence. Had Ms. Arden but thought through that pivotal moment, the book would have come through as pure genius.



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AK Turns One

AK Turns One

Celebrating AK's first anniversary
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

This time last year, I went from sending out proposal after proposal every day to receiving my first interview and my first contract as a freelance writer. (Yes, there was much embarrassing dancing) And once the excitement (and relief) settled down, nerves set in. What if my feeble confidence ended up being misplaced? Maybe the client wouldn’t like my writing, after all. I could screw up the two-article assignment completely and land myself in the Pit of Terrible Writers. Then what? (Obviously, the answer’s you try again and keep going, but that’s difficult to come up with when you’re in the middle of an anxiety spiral) Those worries circled through my brain as I watched my deadline tick closer. And I went over every word at least twenty times and questioned my ability about ten times per word (not an exaggeration). Then I handed them over, precisely on time.

My client loved them.

And within a week I had a new client with another assignment. Followed by another. And the work kept coming. I gained confidence and rewrote every proposal I sent out – tweaking the language to polish my voice and allow my talent to shine. Scouring the job postings, I considered plenty of different angles. If I felt certain in my knowledge, the proposal went out. Slowly, I phased out my sample articles and replaced them with the “real deal.” Before long, I built my Library and removed the samples entirely. My rating spiraled up with every successful job completion. (I’ve never received less than five stars)

And suddenly? Clients came to ME! As a freelancer, having someone approach you for work is one of he biggest highs. They’ve reviewed your profile, skimmed through testimonials of previous clients, and looked over your portfolio. And they LIKED what they saw. Over the sometimes HUNDREDS of people clamoring for the job, they set you aside and asked for your talent.

Talk about an insane rush!

My workload went from one or two articles a week to three to four A DAY! At this point, I spend my entire day writing and researching. (When AK started, most of my time went to marketing myself and searching for work) I have a full-time client I work for, with several other long-term clients. These are goals I never THOUGHT to imagine a year ago when I started! Hell, I figured the occasional bone tossed my way was a lofty enough anticipation for someone starting from nothing. (NEVER doubt your abilities; you don’t know what self-sabotage may block you from) And while I feel bad over my lack of maintaining a social media presence, I’m delighted that my work (REAL work) takes up so much of my life.

But this anniversary has another meaning: financial goals. Because freelance writing IS my career. A year ago, I set a modest, reasonable goal for the end of the year. Prior to setting up a profile, I devoured books three books on freelancing. And that included the 2020 Writer’s Market. I knew the expected rates for a fledgling writer. And while I edged myself out from the bottom (I KNOW how to write and write well), I stuck to the bottom of the range. Guessing at the number of clients I might see by the end of the year, I wrote out a goal for myself.

And beat it within two months.

So I set a new goal. And then I crushed that one three months later. When the third goal hit the rearview mirror in under a month, I realized I’d underestimated myself. (Please don’t do that. You KNOW you have talent, and you need to invest in YOURSELF) It was time to knuckle down and set a financial goal with WEIGHT behind it. Something that matched the worth I was seeing. I wanted to pay off my credit card. That bill had bent my shoulders for years, and even the certain, regular paychecks of my previous job failed to make a dent in it. If I could eliminate the credit card, then I’d feel satisfied. It felt like a fair challenge.

This weekend? I did it. That boulder around my neck is GONE. This crazy, insane dream I was so afraid to chase after eliminated a “negative” goal from my list. Tell me how ridiculous that sounds! I exhaled the biggest sigh of relief, but I also cheered. My work, my writing accomplished that – in one year. There’s no better anniversary gift than that! (Although the Dinosaur Deadpool my husband got me for the occasion is pretty awesome)

Am I excited with how far my writing’s taken me? Yes, but this post is more than that. I want to inspire you to follow that “irrational” dream you’ve buried. I wasted SO many years making excuses as to why I couldn’t be a writer (yet). I piled dust on top of everything I wanted, turning away from something that made me insanely happy. And in just one year? I kick myself for doing that. Because the drive, ambition, and ability was THERE the entire time. All I needed to do was stand up and declare, “This is what I’m going to do.”

Your dreams? They’re worth it.