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.




Fuel the Imagination: Make Soup


When the words won’t come.

A former high school student of mine, Kat Frost, posted a photo on Facebook of her working with her jewelry. She makes beaded necklaces, earrings and bracelets. She’s also a writer. In this specific post, she said she was working through writer’s block.

I understand. My response to her was of how I cook, specifically, I chop vegetables, when I’m working through a story.

Storytelling doesn’t stop when I shut off the laptop. The plot and characters continue to live in my head, but I may have lost sight of what to do with them.

I sit at my laptop or over my handwritten paper and wait to jar loose what the story needs, where it should go, who must talk or think or dream. Sometimes continuing to write shakes the ideas free and the story picks up its pace again.

When it’s time to walk away.

Then the time comes when I believe I’ve exhausted all options. I can’t think of one more possibility.

Time to shut down the writing equipment and walk away. At this point, I move to the kitchen.

It’s time to make soup.

Cooking does it for me.

I enjoy cooking. My mother cooked in country clubs and restaurants. Everything from contemporary American meals to traditional Slovak cuisine to leftovers, my mom created delicious meals. Maybe it’s in the DNA, but her children know how to cook as well.

I didn’t realize right away what I was doing whenever I decided to stop writing to make soup.

I thought I was chickening out, escaping the challenge of completing the story. Here I was getting up from the writing rather than sticking with it until I had worked out the flaws or gone beyond the white space.

Now I know that though I leave my desk, my story stays with me as I chop vegetables, dribble oil in a hot pan, drop in sliced onions and minced garlic.

I don’t run away from my story. It’s right there in my imagination. Working itself out.

Tricking the brain.

No science data here just a feeling.

The right brain is the creative side. It needs freedom to move around and express itself. The left side is about regimentation. It wants to work out the details, go over the arguments again and again, nag at me to eat, to sleep, to go do something.

When the left brain is so engaged, the right creative brain is weakened.

If I do something that the left side can dominate, it won’t pay attention to the right side making its way through its creative processes.

I trick my brain into thinking it’s making soup. By keeping it occupied doing physical, structured work, my creative side can do its own thing without interference.

When my story character is in a real jam. When the chapter fits on the outline but has no business in the story itself.  When any other situation has me staring at the page, writing and deleting the same lines. When I get stuck and the talk in my head isn’t story as much as it is brain talk. I stop.

My imagination has gone on a break. It’s taken a walk. Faded into the sunset.

While cooking, my brain’s preoccupied with food details. Its focused on peeling, slicing, cubing and mincing. It glories in knowing the oil must get hot enough before adding the first vegetable, then the second, then the next.

When my brain is otherwise engaged in the menial tasks of food preparation, the imagination runs freely. The elements of narrative, plot, conflict tumble around and around, shaking out details and possibilities.

The story figures itself out because nothing is stalling it. I’m not getting in the way of the creative process.

I go back to the writing with renewed ideas.

And, later, soup.


“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me. I keep working steadily, because I believe it is our privilege as humans to keep making things. Most of all, I keep working because I trust that creativity is always trying to find me, even when I have lost sight of it.”  ~Elizabeth Gilbert


*All images are my own unless otherwise noted.






Ninja Cats



My Charges: Sprite and Merlin.

One of my favorite opportunities to surround myself in my writing and the business of writing is when I house- and cat-sit for family. For the last eight days, I have been watching two identical brothers, Sprite and Merlin. It is the first time their people have left the kittens alone for more than a few hours.

I keep a brief journal for the cats’ people. Nothing fancy just when they eat, whether they played, if they did something memorable.

These two clowns, sweethearts, entertainment centers drew out of me a different sort of journal. From Day One to Day Eight, I marked their process of getting to know me. They still remain hesitant to eat while I am in the room, which, in the end, bothered me more than it bothered them.

They’d rather play Ninja.

Day 1: Our people have abandoned us.

10 am: All is quiet. We are exhausted in our abandonment.

1 pm: I, the bravest of the brothers, stand at the top of the stairs but within one small leap from my people’s bedroom door. I see her walk past the bottom of the steps as she enters the kitchen. I say nothing though she smiles at me. I dash back into my people’s room.

We must not be seen. We are now Ninja cats.

2:30 pm: I hear her moving about, throwing away the one can of food she’d divided for each of us, my brother and me. She put it in our bowls for breakfast but we have ignored her attempts to get us to come downstairs, even with food, even with bad singing.

8 pm: She’s replaced the afternoon morsels that we didn’t eat with a mere teaspoonful in each bowl. When she is out of the kitchen we eat it up. She leaves more food in our bowls before she quits for the night.

Day 2: We have her fooled.

8 am: We left one of our toys in the downstairs bathroom overnight. But she doesn’t know who did it. We also ate up the food she left in the bowls when she went to bed. We Ninja cats need our energy to play all night and hide all day.

5 pm: We stir and slip into the kitchen to eat what wet morsels remain in our bowls. Food is critical for our secret survival here in the house.

8:15 pm: She has spotted us at the top of the stairs. Wait! She’s going for the bench by the door. Oh, my feline goodness, Stick! Stick! The stick with the dangle string is our favorite toy! We are tempted when she waves it on the floor. But we are Ninja. We will not bend.

Okay, we will come down a few steps but only a few. We watch. We don’t engage.

8:20 pm: She has gone into the living room, taking Stick with her. We must not weaken.

8:30 pm: She sits on the couch. Stick and its string dangle over the coffee table.

We will pretend we are playing. We bat at the string and bite the plastic tip of Stick to make her think we are having fun–but we are not.

9 pm: We slip into the kitchen to eat the food in our bowls. Then we slip upstairs to our people’s bedroom where we play loudly the rest of the evening to make her think we are bowling.

Day 3: Not to be enticed.

8 am: We wait until she is out of the kitchen before we eat. But one of us, dazzled by something in the front yard, jumps on the stool and stares out the window. He lingers too long in the open. She barely says “hey there” and we are gone.

2 pm: We must see why she has the TV on. We want Stick but we’ve yet to conquer the bench seat lid. The braver of us goes to the couch where she sits, taps her knee and runs. She is smarter than we think. She releases Stick from the bench and waves it on the floor as we watch from the top of the stairs. We come down and play only until she stands up from her seat on the bench and we are gone.

6 pm: We needed our power naps. Now we are awake and we hear her music where she sits at the desk. From another room in the house, we make a noise as if we’ve tipped over a glass. But when she gets up to investigate, she sees nothing, including us.

She puts a small teaspoon of wet food in our bowls as if that will entice us to eat. We cannot be persuaded. She returns to her desk–none the wiser.

9 pm. She cleans out the dried up food from before and replaces it with fresh. Sometime in the night we eat.


Day 4: Into the light and the carpet castle.

8 am: She has opened the front door. We are drawn to the sunshine but we do not stay long for she is working in the kitchen. It is daytime, which means we must disappear into our people’s bedroom.

2 pm: She is making a sandwich and will not see one of us as we climb to the top of the carpet castle in the living room in front of the back patio doors. I, the bravest one, play with the curtain as I lie on my back in the sunshine. I slip out when she comes into the room.

3:30 pm: The sun and our carpet castle are too much temptation. We miss them. We slip into the living room and I up onto my top perch. My brother loves the cave. We keep an eye out for her. When she walks into the room, we are gone.

4 pm: She sits on the couch. We enter the living room, but she rises and we run up the stairs. She picks up the garage door opener. Is she abandoning us, too? No, she walks the driveway. We are nowhere to be found when she comes back inside. But she must know we have been downstairs; some of the food that she has placed in our bowls in the morning is gone.

5 pm: She comes upstairs but she does not enter our people’s room but goes into her own sleeping quarters. While she is occupied, we slip to our bowls and see that she has thrown away the older food and replaced with fresh. We are Ninja cats and this is how we eat now.

6:30 pm: She is in the basement, cleaning our three litter boxes. We accept her servicing our area. To show our gratitude, I, the braver one, comes up to her to say hello and let her pet me. My brother stays beyond the litter box area and watches.

In the living room, we hang out on the carpet castle.

8:30 pm: She puts food out but we do not eat until she goes upstairs for the night.

Day 5, 6: We have fun.

8 am: I, the bravest of brothers, enter into her bedroom in the morning. I must be rubbed and scratched. She is good at it. I escort her downstairs. Though I stay in the kitchen while she puts food in our bowls, I don’t eat.

I jump up on the bench. She takes out Stick. We play. We have fun. My brother joins me.

Day 7, 8: We go wherever we want.

8 am: We miss our people but we jump on the bed in her room and say hello. We are petted. We play in her suitcase.

8:30 am: We eat the normal amount of food for breakfast. She seems fine that we do this.

We go wherever we want in the house. We take our naps in the carpet castle. She picks up a bunch of Kleenex we’ve scattered during one of our many romps and puts the box back on the shelf when she cleans our litter boxes in the basement. She props up the framed photos we let fall when we chased each other on the end tables. She readjusts the waste basket in the bathroom and picks up the toy under the unrolled toilet paper.

She wonders when we did all these things. Though we are friends with her now, we are still Ninja cats. We have our secrets.

8:30 pm: She puts the normal amount of wet food mixed with a little dry into our bowls. We eat as soon as she leaves the room.


“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.”   ~Pam Brown

*Images are my own unless otherwise noted.


What Would You Write If You Had No Distractions?


House sitting is a free writer’s retreat.

I have a wonderful brother who lives in the country and has two cats. When he is gone for an extended time and my calendar can be cleared, I move in. My asking price is a full refrigerator. If I don’t have to get in my car for any reason, all the better.

I’m not an overpacker when it comes to clothes. However, the amount of writing projects, unread writing magazines, even pencils, pens and tech gear makes it look like I’ll be here two months and not ten days.

Taking time to adjust.

The cats seem to be nocturnal. I see them for two hours in the late evening. The mail’s been stopped. No trash pick up. Wow. What freedom. Nevertheless, to be all by myself with no distractions takes a bit of adjusting. Maybe I need to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Maybe I need to text my friends.

I look at my to-do list and select items that don’t take as much of my imagination to accomplish. A list grows of possible literary agencies who may want to represent my fantasy novels. That’s something I can do while I ease into my new self-defined structure.

Proof is in the email.

When someone emails me “How’s it going?” at the end of the second day, I list what I’ve done. He responds, “That’s great.”

I look at my accomplishments. He’s right.

And so it goes.

Today, I am into writing, capturing words for a new story, completing this blog.

Five full days left, and I am in the groove.



“How can you hear your soul if everyone is talking?”

~Mary Doria Russell


*All images are of my own making unless otherwise stated.




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.