You Know You’re a Real Writer When You Tell the IRS.



The Tax Man Cometh.

My tax man arrives at the house this week. He excels in tax knowledge for self-employed artists and he prefers house calls.

He is one of the top reasons I push myself to get my books published and to sell my stories.

Tax session at a writing workshop.

I was a few years into the craft phase of writing fiction and was entering the business phase. How to get my name out there as a writer. How to get my stories published. How to find a community of writers.

Most of all, I wondered when I could start to call myself a real writer.

I was looking for a rite-of-passage.

Who knew I would find it in a Tax Class at the Midwest Writer’s Workshop in Muncie, Indiana? But I did.

The 90-minute session was titled, “Are You a Professional Writer? Don’t Wait for an IRS Audit to Find Out.” A CPA who worked for the IRS led the class.

In the end, I walked out with a lot of notes, handouts, packets and my mind reeling.

I also made a determination.

My writing wasn’t a hobby. It wasn’t daydream scribbling. Not stories I read for family. Not something I hoped would happen one day.

If I wanted to call myself a professional writer, I was going to register with the IRS on that basis as an Actual. Professional. Writer. Or a Schedule C for Small Business.

It’s all about the paperwork.

I knew once I registered as a self-employed writer, I would have to keep track of categories more specific to writing professionally, such as expenses, mileage, supplies, postage, dues, advertising.

More importantly, I’d also have to keep receipts and proof of book sales, article sales and payments for related writing services.

Every time I buy something. Every time I follow up on an opportunity to sell a story or be a guest speaker and get paid for it, I log it under the Income column.

With every slip of paper, I am confirming, proving to myself that I am a professional writer.

The Day of Reckoning.

My tax man has checked and filed my taxes from the very first year I declared myself a writer to the IRS.

It’s nothing to him whether I sell a story or publish a book, yet he knows how much I’m still struggling at boosting the income bracket. He knows I’m getting close. He sees my victories in the plus column and my expenses in the minus column.

Numbers don’t lie.

How it all adds up.

I know how strange it is that I’ve come to rely on a government institution and a numbers man to help push me up the ladder to success.

It works for me.

If being a professional writer is good for the IRS. If my tax guy keeps coming once a year to log in my progress as a professional writer.

It must be true. I must be a professional writer.

I’ve got the proof.


“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque; if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”  ~Stephen King


*All images are my own unless noted.



When the World Fits on a Desk.


I’d like to think size matters.

I have studio envy.

My sweetheart is an artist with a five hundred square foot, two-room art studio in the same house where I have an eight-by-ten spare bedroom as an office. My desk, bookshelf, reading chair, copy machine stand and filing cabinet just fit.

My desk is my talisman.

My desk is a kitchen table from my maternal grandparents’ kitchen. My grandmother was an incredible cook who raised eleven children, cooked for rich families and spent every Sunday making a batch of the best breaded and baked chicken I’ve ever eaten for all her children and grandchildren when we visited.

Memories are powerful.

Though I’d love to have a real desk with all the special features, I love my kitchen table desk more. The drawer that used to hold butcher and carving knives now holds flash drives and sticky notes. There is love in this desk.

I sit at my desk and create stories, mostly fiction. Many of them involve family and strangers, mermaids and dragons. They are retold fairy tales and futuristic possibilities. Love and loss, comedy and irony, and growing up are themes running through them.

The desk fits my little laptop, the machine that does it all: it researches, writes, connects with submission and agency sites, and saves everything in specific files.

As much as I dream of a bigger space to work in, I do pretty well fitting the world of storytelling within the space of one, small kitchen table desktop.


“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”  ~E.B. White



*All images are my own unless noted.



Part of the Journey: Critique Groups



Writing friends are a good beginning.

Over the years I’ve risen through the ranks of writing critique groups.

I started out with four of us good writing friends, all about the same level of experience. We had a few publishing credits to our name but were working our way toward being recognized as experienced writers rather than amateurs.

Open-to-the-public group.

When circumstances–mostly distance because we each traveled at least 30-40 miles to meet–led to my first group breaking up, I went on to a public writing critique group that met in a community center twice a month. A lot of unpredictability.  How many would show up, whether it’d be the same or new faces. Few were experienced writers, others were trying to get back into it after a long time away, and most were putting their first words together.

The rule was to bring five copies and read yours aloud. It worked to have strangers react to my writings in comments both verbal and written. I attended for over a year but after a particular meeting, I realized I took home one less copy of my short story than I had shared. Soon after I left the group.

Building a portfolio.

Two former students, maturing writers and unpublished, asked me to join them once a week at a fast-food restaurant. We three read our pieces aloud and gave general, good, okay, needs work feedback. The highlight of the meeting for me came at the end when we each wrote an impromptu story prompt and popped it into a hat. The rule was to pull one out and have something done by the following week.

I learned it took me 15 to 20 hours a week to write a short story from rough idea to final draft.

My portfolio of stories grew and grew. Some were unfinished but the good seeds were there to explore further some day. About a year later the group broke up.

It became more about my needs.

My writing group timeline so far was about six years.

When I didn’t have a group, I evaluated where I was with my writing. What skills had I gained? What skills needed strengthening? What part of the writing process was barely known to me?

Only as good as the best person in the group.

Critique groups are a collaborative effort. Members offer their tastes in stories, their experiences in writing, their knowledge of editing to every piece they read.

If the most skilled person in the group has never published a story, how will I advance toward my goal to be published? What if the group has members who don’t like to read? Who rarely bring writing to share? Who don’t show up?

Sticking my neck out.

A blog subject for another time, but I tend to be shy to talk in groups of strangers, so I am at a loss at conventions, for example, to share my writing life. But I am not shy to read my work aloud.

At a science fiction/fantasy writers’ convention, I signed up for open mic. I had ten minutes to read a full story. I didn’t win. The judges’ comments were fitting. The success came afterwards when a member of a vetted, professional writing critique group asked me to join.

The vetting process.

Being asked to become a member of this professional group was the easiest aspect of it.

I went online to read the requirements to be considered: submit a full chapter or full short story. Members critique the work among themselves and vote. The majority of yes or no dictates whether you are in or out.

I got in.

The members are experienced at publishing and writing. Five members can submit their work a week ahead in Dropbox, where each attending member is expected to make a copy of the submission, read and edit it. At the monthly gathering, going around the circle, we each take five minutes to verbally share our responses. The writer sits quietly, taking notes, and has five minutes at the end for any comments.

Once home, the submitted writer downloads copies of his or her story and the accompanying critiques from each member.

In addition to writing comments, members share possible sites, e-magazines and contests, of where a member’s story may fit for submissions.

I can resubmit an older work for a second round of critiques.

This group shares my preferred genre of fantasy and science fiction. They’re widely read and are professional writers who recognize the conventions of many genres.

Always a learning curve.

Starting from a lover of stories to a writer of stories to getting stories published is a learning curve. Sometimes it’s as small as the curve of a fingertip and sometimes it’s wider than a rainbow.

A writing critique group is an excellent tool. Much like the writing process itself, the writing group must mature with the writer and meet the needs of where she or he is on the journey.


“Read, read, read. Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”  ~William Faulkner


*All images are my own unless noted.