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.



Getting Back into the Running



I admit that I’ve been feeling down.

Sure, writers have to have thick skins. This business is full of rejections, and I’ve received plenty of them this past year. For the most part, I’ve dealt with them well. Shook them off or buried them deep or swept them aside and tried again and again and again to get a short story accepted or get an agent for a novel.

But it has weighed on me.

I wondered about my committment. I wondered if I was good enough. All the same feelings talked about in a million writers’ sites, workshops, retreats and books. I’d like to say I knew how to rise above the slush pile rejection pit and move on.

But no, I’ve stayed a bit long in the blues.

All It Takes is One Good Story.

Then I wrote a short story a few weeks ago and finalized it today. Born out of an idea I had simmering in my imagination.

I shared the good draft of it with my writing critique group. They had valid reactions and smart suggestions.

I rewrote it a few times.

Now it sounds good. Now it reads well.

Submission Sites Ahead.

Time to call up the short story submission sites again. Adapt the story’s format to match the guidelines and send it off.

Will it be accepted? Rejected?

I can’t think about that.

I’ve got to keep on running, oblivious of what may come.


“Dance above the surface of the world. Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.”  ~Red Haircrow


*Images: All images are my own unless otherwise attributed.




Winter: My Favorite Writing Season

IMG_0110January: Refocus. Move within.

Holidays are as chaotic as they are blissful. December is almost a writing washout for me as days are filled with making lists, checking them twice, fulfilling the merry expectations I’ve set for myself and responding to the ones asked of me by others.

When the last party invitation is met, final batch of treats baked and eaten, when the decorations return to storage, I go to my desk and sigh.

Winter is my favorite season.

The more snowy the weather, the angrier the skies, the better I write and the longer I write.

Why not Good Weather?

In good weather, the days in my neighborhood are filled with walkers, dogs with walkers, bikers, lawn mowers, etc. Cars are off to the grocery, church, wherever. I feel that scurrying.

My best writing accomplishments come when I look up and realize hours have passed when it felt like moments.

Bright sun, dry skies, active creatures can be intrusive. I become a clock watcher, forcing the words to come, anxious for a break. Making up excuses for a break.

Siren Songs.

I’ve come to believe that what is distracting me during good weather seasons is the energy people and critters give off.

Even if I see no one. Windows closed. Blinds shut. The energy waves come through the house and over my desk. Subconsciously, maybe, these energy waves are as distracting as if two people were playing ball in my room.

Siren songs calling me away.

Why Nighttime Works for Many Artists.

During the night, most people quiet down, head for sleep. It’s a time when many writers and other artists do their best work. Undistracted. Using my theory, outside energy waves are tamped, silenced.

Solitude is easier to achieve. Focus is easier to maintain at night.

The same happens to me, but I am not a night owl. Not most of the time. But the idea is the same.

Winter is My Nighttime.

Winter sunlight is cooler, darker.

Even without snow or ice, people are more apt are to be inside, settled into quieter activities from January through early March.

In winter, from morning to noon to evening, my ideas hatch faster. My stories grow quicker. My writing time increases.

My most productive writing season is winter.



“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation, a closure that assumes the order of completion. Winter is a season unto itself.”                     ~Haruki Murakami




January: A Prompt in Itself


Prompt Others; Prompt Myself

I first used the word “prompt” when teaching high school English as an educational tool for students to jumpstart their individualized, brainstorm-like induced stories.

“I remember….” is an often-used prompt for fiction and nonfiction.

A photo of a man standing by a human-made wooden structure with artificial eagles perched by a real eagle’s nest is a visual prompt.

After I left the classroom and pursued my own writing, I joined a newly-formed writers’ group with two former students. I made the third and was happy to follow their rules of organization. We met every Monday at Tim Horton’s. We came with copies, read our work aloud and offered verbal comments.

The final act of every gathering was my favorite. Each of us received a small strip of paper on which to write a prompt right on the spot. We placed it in one of the writer’s fedoras and picked a prompt that wasn’t our own.

The following Monday, we shared the story coming out of the prompt in addition to anything else we’d written.

Just Because I Taught English

Just because I taught writing and wanted to write a novel, I wasn’t exactly schooled in how to accomplish 70,000+ words of engaging fiction.

Short stories were practices in creating beginning-middle-ends, in characterization, in dialogue and narration and in showing description.

I’d take my writers’ group chosen prompt and spend a week on it and have a full story completed by Monday.

After nine months, the group broke up, but I came away with a portfolio of several short stories in various stages of polish. Over the years, I’ve gone back to that file and tinkered with some and submitted some.

A Prompt From Anywhere

Out my window, a dingy white car with a noisy muffler makes its second of a minimum of three daily stops next door. My neighbor is an elderly woman and the mother of the daughter driving up the driveway to check on her.

Or is she?

Prompts come from anywhere and everywhere. As seeds, they bloom stories and stories and stories.

It’s January.

The first month of the year prompts us to make resolutions to rededicate our energies toward specific goals.

I am prompted to exceed my number of accepted story submissions.

Many good memories remain of that early writers’ trio. One of the most significant is realizing the power in the prompt.

I am never without story ideas. And if I get stuck somewhere along a story line, I look around me in hope of a prompt to lead me forward.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”  ~Orson Scott Card




Finalizing the Final Draft

IMG_0412The final draft of my first (as yet to be published) novel is done. Or is it? If you are a future debut novelist, you know how vague the term “final draft” can be when it applies to your own work. Or at least, to mine.

Learning the Craft of the Draft

I hope not to embarrass myself by saying I’ve been writing this mermaid novel for at least four years. [Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea]  The journey has included taking workshops, seminars, a webinar or two, having conversations with writers and reading or scanning lots and lots of books, blogs and magazines.

In spite of all the information, my early writing felt like a crazy, all-over-the-place groping for meaning and the only way I could go in order to A) learn the fiction writing process and B) get the novel done.

Was it the right thing to do?

Between Draft and Manuscript

Sara Megibow, an agent with KT Literary, spoke at a conference session entitled “Biggest Mistakes” that writers make when pitching or querying a work. In my paraphrasing, one of her reasons for not being interested is the work’s incompleteness. She said, “You’re at draft only. Your manuscript isn’t ready.”

The year was 2013 and I was preparing to pitch my completed manuscript, or was I?

The Early Draft

“A Four-Step Plan for Revision” by Raymond Obstfeld In The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing (Writer’s Digest Books. 2002) elaborates on draft distinctions:

“Early drafts lay down the basic story and characters while the final drafts fine-tune what’s already there.”

As I was writing this post, an article on my favorite blogger’s site, Jane Friedman, popped up. “How to Finish Your Book in Three Drafts” is great material and great timing by Stuart Horwitz who calls “the first draft the ‘messy draft,’ which is all about getting it [the story] down .”

I was definitely messy as I wrote, rewrote, ditched, scratched out a section of, scratched out a lot of sections of, returned old material to and started all over again.

The Final Draft

When the beta readers had done their work, I revised again and again.

At last, my final draft was done, the one Stuart Horwitz calls the “polished draft,” which [had been] all about making the story “good.”

I was ready to query and pitch my manuscript.

When the Story Goes Nowhere

My mermaid novel received mild interest.

One queried agent asked for the whole book after reading the first fifty pages before it was rejected. Another agent was excited about my pitch but later turned down the novel. An editor said it wouldn’t get past “acquisitions.”

I knew I was getting close but also felt something may still be lacking. Perhaps, as Sara Megibow had told a large audience of writers that year, the error may be in my thinking the novel was a manuscript when it remained a draft.

Final Draft as Plural

I was back at the books, blogs, workshops, etc., to seek an end to my story. To stamp FINAL on the final draft.

Raymond Obstfeld said, “Although the phrase ‘final draft’ suggests the last time you’ll revise, that really isn’t the case. Final draft really refers to the final process of revising.”

Seek Professional Help

A professional editor is currently reviewing my mermaid novel as the journey continues.

Afterward, I will be back at it again. This time will be the final, final draft.

Thank goodness, I really believe in my mermaid novel and will do all I can to learn how to tell her story most effectively.


“Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity, edit one more time!”  ~C.K. Webb





Where Will She Sit on the Shelf?


I’ve sat in on enough writing sessions facilitated by writers, agents, editors and other workers in the publishing industry to know that if my book doesn’t conform to market standards, good luck on getting it published.

Today’s post is on meeting that challenge and moving forward.

Maybe a Story Really Does Tell Itself

My original intention when I began telling my mermaid story was for it to be a romance. A beautiful fishlike young woman washes ashore where a beautiful young man discovers her and along the way love arrives.

The story didn’t unfold as I’d planned.

My mermaid remains a young female but her story focuses on her journey toward the realization of who she is and where she belongs in the ocean world.

A young man is a part of her narrative, along with issues of ocean pollution and extinction and motherhood and love.

Genre Dilemma

My novel is complete. But what kind of novel is it?




Women’s Fiction?

Adult Mainstream?

All of the above?

None of the above?

I can’t imagine anything worse than a story being refused because the marketing department has no idea how to advertise it and the bookstores have no idea where to shelve it.

What do I do?

Change the story?

Keep the story?

Forget the story?

Advice from Experts

I expressed my dilemma with book editor, Rebecca Heyman. Her response was a recommendation to read three novels. One is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.


Erin Morgenstern’s story doesn’t fit a standard type; it’s fantasy, romance, maybe even steampunk.

No spoilers here: In Night Circus, two old competitive peers, artists in magic and illusion, pit their apprentices against each other for an eventual showdown.

The story itself is magic. It enchanted me with its vivid details, compelling storytelling and mystical tone.

The structure of the story is also as unique as the tale itself.

Have readers found this strange, unusual novel in their bookstores, real or digitalized?

They certainly have.

Forging Ahead

My focus now isn’t on whether or not there’s a specific shelf for my mermaid novel but on how compelling and memorable my story is for the audience who will read it one day.


Being Mermaid: Manatee Born


I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel about a mermaid in today’s ocean whose story is as much about being a woman as it is about being a mermaid, maybe more. Being Mermaid: Creating Story

I’ve spoken about worldbuilding in previous “Being Mermaid” posts. Today’s focus is about the mermaid herself.


Characterization is an element of the writing craft referring to the description of the characters in a story, which can encompass a wide range of personality traits, actions, looks. My mermaid character needed to be as plausible as possible, so I went looking for researched facts and my imagination to develop this half-fish, half-human creature.

Mermaid as Manatee

As legends go, sailors on the old wooden ships declared they’d seen mermaids, and in some stories they’d said they were sung to and lured into the sea, whereupon these mermaids would attempt to drown them. Such deadly woman-fishlike creatures were also called Sirens in mythology Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea

Have you ever seen a manatee? Hard to imagine anyone, except maybe a sailor who’d been on the sea for months and months, could mistake a manatee for a mermaid.

Yet, there had to be something to the stories, and the legends were where I sarted to develop the background character of my mermaid. As a result, three main aspects of a manatee’s life became a part of a mermaid’s life: diet, environment and reproduction.

Vegetation Diet

Like manatees, the mermaid characters eat strictly sea plants, particularly the sweeter seagrasses.


Manatees have a wide range of travel in the U.S., going as far north as the Carolinas and west to Texas but they tend to live mostly in and around Florida’s waters and canals, especially during winter. The key to their envrioment is the temperature of the water. They can die from cold stress if water temperatures drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Manatee facts have become a part of the mermaid’s character as well. She is more at ease in salt water than the versatile salt or fresh water manatee, but a mermaid cannot survive long if the ocean temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrentheit.

To ensure the lifespan of the mermaids in my novel, I’ve located them on an isolated island in the Caribbean Ocean, unless something freaky happens to drop the temperature.


A significant issue in my mermaid novel is the role of the female mermaid and her ability to reproduce, the key to the survival of any species.

The mantatee gives birth to one calf every two to five years; twins are rare. After a gestation period of almost a year, a mother nurses her young for one to two years before the baby becomes independent.

Reproduction is a problem for the mermaids on my made-up island of Little Mangrove. A mermaid has an on- and off- fertile cycle. If she does get pregnant, her gestation period is one year, and she cannot become pregnant again until two years after giving birth. Twins are a much-heralded birth when they occur, which, like the manatee, is rare.

About that Tail

A manatee is a slow-moving, gentle, playful animal who normally swims at three to five miles an hour but can hit up to twenty miles per hour in a short burst. Its tail looks as thick as its fleshy, barrel-shaped body.

A mermaid is not the same, except for having a tail. Somewhere along the evolutionary trail of the mermaid, she grew fish scales on her bottom half, not the fleshy skin of the manatee, and though the mermaid has a tail, it is lighter, filmier and more fishlike than a manatee’s.

A mermaid swims fast, very fast, able to keep up with the dolphin at twenty-one miles per hour and the shark at thirty-one miles per hour. However, some of the big game fish, such as the marlin at fifty miles per hour and the sail fish at sixty-eight, can out-swim a mermaid in the long run.

Building Character

Building characters is a challenge for any writer. Sometimes the details of a character’s life come quickly; othertimes, there’s a lot of research necessary to make a character believable, especially when that character is a mix of legend, heresay and reality.

“Believe in your character. Animate (or write) with sincerity.” ~Glen Keane (Animator for Walt Disney, incuding “The Little Mermaid.”)

[Photo credit: Andrew Imanaka vis]