Friday, January 29, 2010

2010 Writing Aspirations

This is the last post of January. Hard to believe, isn't it? Since we examined healthy habits and what we're doing right all month, I would love to share my writing goals and hear yours.

Adult Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) in Morro Bay, CA
Photo by mikebaird

What do you want to accomplish in 2010?

Right now, I'm finishing up the first draft of book one in a three-book series. I will finish the series this year and I'd love to write a fourth book by December 31. I'm realistic, though, and will be happy just to complete the three. (For those of you gagging, I write category romances which are shorter than single title.)

My other goals are continuations of what I do every year. Submit to editors and agents as I complete each book. I also plan on entering a few contests. I haven't narrowed them down yet, but I am keeping an eye out for potentials. Another annual goal is to study six books on the writing craft. Such a chore, right? (Wink, wink!)

What are your goals this year? I'd love to hear your aspirations!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Writing Habits Sustain You

I'm reading an excellent book by Twyla Tharp. It's called "The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life." I'd only read two pages when I suddenly grabbed a pen and jotted down quote after quote. This book speaks to me. I get it. And it's based around a truth I find incredibly comforting. Creativity depends on hard work.

Ballet Dancing
Photo by gracewong

For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Tharp, she's one of America's greatest choreographers and dancers. This woman knows, lives, and breathes creativity, and I feel blessed she chose to share her thoughts on the creative process.

One of my favorite quotes: "It's vital to establish some rituals--automatic but decisive patterns of behavior--at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way."

She asserts that artists must stay in shape with regular workouts. Writers must write regularly. Dancers must dance regularly. Painters must paint regularly. But she takes it a step further and says that we must also make it easier by ritualizing the process. It might be one small thing you do, such as getting a cup of coffee before you sit at your computer, but it alerts the brain that it's go-time.

A day or two off can make you rusty and can easily turn into a week or a month. She admits you're not always going to be in the mood to create. That's why training ourselves to automatically start is vital to the creative process. We can't rely on willpower alone.

"Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn't scare you, doesn't shut you down... To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that's habit-forming."

What do you think? Are you surprised to learn that our most celebrated and talented artists wrestle with their muses too? That only by their dedication and devotion to their art do they leap ahead?

Join me on Friday to share our aspirations for 2010.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Right Writing Habits?

I hear a collective sigh of relief that last weeks' financial posts are out of the way. Phew! I know, I know, discussing finances is dry stuff. That's why this week, I've saved the best for last. We've been talking about what we're doing right in January. Next stop: writing.

Happiness
Photo by baejaar

What writing habits are working for you? Which one could you absolutely not live without?

It's a hard question for me to answer because so many things contribute to my writing progress. Here's my short list of habits that work for me.

- Goals. I set annual and daily goals. I review them every week. Yes, I could improve on this by sticking to weekly goals too, but why beat myself up for not being perfect?

- Write every weekday. I don't always meet my word count, but I write something every day. It keeps me sharp, continues my progress, and solidifies my concept of myself as a writer.

- Protect my writing time. This automatically protects my downtime. My family does not appreciate it when I've wasted my writing time and try to sneak productivity at night. Frankly, it makes me feel bad. It's not necessary, so I don't do it. I'm fully able to meet my goals during the time I've set aside, but procrastination is not an option.

What's the one thing you do that keeps you writing?

Welcome to all the new followers!

And sorry, everyone, but spammers found my blog, so I had to enable word verification again.

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss how habits are vital to writers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Financial Planning: Saving for the Future

As a writer, you may be earning more than you ever imagined, or you may be earning nothing. It all depends on where you're at in your career. Writers at all levels can benefit from planning for their future, though. Unpublished, multi-published, doesn't matter. We all plan on retiring at some point, and who doesn't need an emergency fund?

Traveling in Maldives
Photo by nattu

Let's talk retirement first. As a member of the self-employed workforce, you do not have the benefit of a company pension nor are you able to contribute to a company-sponsored 401K plan. This does not mean you can't save for retirement, though. Take advantage of Roth IRA's. Most people can contribute up to $5000. Check out "7 Things to Know About Roth IRA Rules for 2010" at www.goodfinancialcents.com for a terrific look at how IRA's can benefit you.

A few other ways to save for retirement are:
* pay your house off
* save money in cd's
*buy US treasuries
*invest in the stock market
*save in a money market account

If you pay your house off, you no longer have a monthly mortgage. This allows you to need less income. Yes, I know many experts say not to pre-pay your mortgage because of the tax benefits, but paying additional interest to get a percentage of that interest back at tax time doesn't add up. Skip paying the interest altogether by pre-paying your mortgage. Peace of mind is priceless.

Another good idea is to save money in CD's. They're a safe long-term or short-term investment. You can use them to save for retirement, but if you need to withdraw before the term is up, you sacrifice a portion of the interest earned--not your principal. No, you do not get tax advantages from doing this, but CD's are safe and can be as long-term as you want them. Make sure the CD is FDIC insured.

One of the safest investments out there is to buy United States Treasuries. They are federally backed by the US government. Check out Treasury Direct for more information.

Just because you don't have a 401K, does not mean you can't invest in the stock market. It's easier than ever with the advent of Internet trading sites. Do your research, subscribe to a few financial publications, and don't view it as a game. Remember, the stock market offers no guarantees on your money. You can lose your entire investment. Make sure you only put in what you can comfortably lose.

A money market account is a great place to build an emergency fund or to keep liquid assets. It's separate from your checking account, although you can write checks from it, and money market accounts usually offer higher rates than savings accounts. If you open one with an FDIC insured bank, the first $250,000 of your money will be safe. Here's a link to the FDIC fact sheet. Go to bankrate.com to compare rates.

Okay, we looked at a few places to invest money, but will we actually do it? Yes, but it requires a system, an easy system. This might not work for everyone, but if you're struggling to come up with the income taxes you owe or you find the idea of saving for retirement laughable, you should give it a try.

As soon as you sign your first contract, go to your bank and open a new savings account. This account will only serve as a holding tank for your quarterly taxes and investment funds. No other funds should sit in this account. You will probably need to deposit a minimum amount to leave there because this account is not intended to accumulate for long. You will simply deposit a portion of each check into it, and when it is time to pay your taxes or transfer money into a retirement or savings vehicle, you'll withdraw the amount.

Whenever you receive payment: record the date, the amount, who it's from, and what it's for. Every three months, you will need to pay taxes, so when you get a check, transfer the amount you owe for taxes into your new savings account. In a notebook or computer spreadsheet, record how much is in that account and designate what it's for.

For example: You get a check for $3000.00 in January. You receive it from your agency (minus your agent's 15%) for book A. The gross amount was $3450.00. You've determined you'll owe approximately 30% (*this figure is purely hypothetical) of the net to the IRS, which is $1000.00. Before you transfer that money, decide what percentage of your income you will save for your retirement. Let's say you've decided on 5% of gross, which is $172.50. Transfer both the taxes and the retirement, $1000.00 + $172.50 = $1172.50, to your separate account. Write down the following:

Date: 3/10/2010
From: Agency
For: Book A
Amount: $3000.00
Savings Taxes: $1000.00
Savings Future: $172.50
Total Savings Taxes: $1550.00 ($1000.00 + previous balance of $550.00)
Total Savings Future: $613.75 ($172.50 = previous balance of $441.00)

Decide how often you will contribute to the retirement venues you've chosen. I don't recommend setting up a monthly automatic payment through your bank account, only because your income will be sporadic. Consider making contributions on a quarterly or bi-annual basis.

Writers can plan for their financial future, but it takes a system. Spend a few hours learning about your investing options. Draw up a plan and set up an easy method of saving so you won't have to worry about not having money for taxes or for retirement.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Financial Planning: Estimating Income

Salary is such a touchy subject, isn't it? People have no problem sharing intimate details of their lives, but money? No way.

Money, Money, Money
Photo by dborman

Writers experience the full spectrum of salaries. It's exciting, because there's a chance of earning a high income, but it's difficult to have a realistic idea of how much money you can make. Some published writers will make less than a thousand dollars this year while others will make millions.

How can we create an accurate five-year financial plan? A two-year plan? A plan for this year?

We can't. But we can research and come up with a tentative plan.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. How much do I want to earn from my writing this year?
2. How much do I want to earn annually five years from now?

I would not recommend answering 1. $1,000,000 and 2. $10,000,000. I'm not trying to stomp on your dreams because it may very well be in your future, but the vast majority of writers will not make this much money. Let's align our expectations with reality.

Your writing salary will depend on many factors, including your genre, publishing house, release month, marketing, number of books you write, and whether you have an agent or not.

If you are already published, you may have an idea of how much you can expect to make with each of your books and freelance projects. Then again, you may not. Writers may not see royalties from their books for more than a year. Unpublished writers are even less able to project income.

If you haven't been published yet, there are a few factors to consider when attempting to estimate your future income.

  • Do you know if the book you're writing would most likely be published in hardcover or as a trade paperback?

  • Do you know a typical advance and the royalty percentage offered to new authors with the publishers your book would most likely be contracted with?

  • Do you know the number of books you can write in a year? Will your publisher allow you to write that amount?

  • Do you plan on having an agent? Don't forget the agent's 15%.

  • As we discussed on Monday, taxes must be paid, and since you're self-employed, expect to pay through the nose.

Unfortunately, I can't give you salary figures for the different genres, nor can I list the advances and royalty percentages you can expect. However, there are two resources that can help. Brenda Hiatt's Show Me the Money is an excellent resource for writers. She gathers salary information from anonymous writers and breaks down typical numbers for various publishing houses.

Publishers Marketplace is another great resource. The full site costs $20/month and gives information on all of the book deals. No, you won't learn the exact amount an author was paid, but you will learn who the book sold to, if it was a good deal, and the agent who sold it. The free, condensed version, Publisher's Lunch, gives a daily snapshot of publishing news.

When you have a rough figure of possible income for your book, you can start estimating. If you're close to getting published, meaning agents and/or editors are routinely requesting your work or you're finalling in contests, estimate you will sell one book in the next twelve months. To come up with a five-year plan, you'll need to research the amount of books the publisher you're targeting will release by an author in a year. If most of their authors write one or two books annually, you can hope for the same.

Will the projected income from these books replace your current salary? If not, brainstorm other ways to earn money from your writing. Maybe you could publish novellas by e-publishing or submit articles to magazines? Write your ideas down and estimate the additional income they could add. No one is saying you have to pursue these options, but it's comforting to be prepared to make extra money during off times.

Join me on Friday for our final installment about financial planning: saving for the future.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Financial Planning: Taxes

This month's celebration of what we're doing right continues with another top resolution: finances. Since writing is a form of self-employment, dealing with the financial end can seem complicated, even mystical.

Income tax
Photo by alancleaver

Finances don't have to induce a migraine headache nor are they rocket science. This week we'll look at them from a writer's perspective. Don't be scared! You already have the skills; after all, you balance a checkbook, file taxes, and manage your money.

Writers need to do two things: save receipts and keep records of their income. These two things will make tax time easier. On Friday, we'll look at a simple method of recording income, but for now, we're focusing on saving receipts.

I have a manila folder marked "2010 Writing Receipts." Complicated, huh? What goes into this folder? Receipts for the dues I pay to writing organizations, for reference books, conference fees and related expenses, magazines, my website, office supplies, and anything else legally appropriate to deduct from taxes. EHow's: How to Deduct Expenses Writing Income answers many questions about appropriate deductions.

Saving your receipts saves you money. Deduct expenses on your tax return to legally keep your hard-earned cash. Store the receipts with your tax return that way if you're audited, the receipts serve as proof. It's as easy as that.

Freelance writers and authors are considered independent contractors. You don't have an employer to withdraw taxes from your paycheck. Unfortunately, Social Security and Medicare taxes are your responsibility too. With no employer footing half the bill, you're responsible for the full amount. Another great eHow article: How to File Self-Employment Taxes details the steps to file. If you owe more than $1000.00 in SECA taxes, you will pay them on a quarterly basis. and you'll estimate how much you owe.

Check out "Estimated Taxes" through the IRS website for the nitty-gritty details. Be aware, depending on where you live, you may have to pay state and city quarterly taxes too. An Internet search or a call to your county office should provide the answers for you.

Another great resource is "If You are Self-Employed" at the Social Security Administration's website. Read through the links listed at the bottom of the article for the full scoop.

When filing your annual taxes, you will use a Schedule C. Fill in the appropriate six-digit code stating you're a sole proprietorship. Some localities require self-employed individuals to file for a sole proprietorship. Check with your state and county for information. Another interesting article on the topic is eHow's "How to File for Sole Proprietorship."

Filing for a sole proprietorship is not your only option. You can also incorporate. There are pros and cons to both, but most newly published writers will probably best be served by sticking to a sole proprietorship. As your career flourishes, you may want to have more legal protection or reduce the amount of taxes you're paying. Incorporating can legally accomplish both.

Don't feel you need to learn this all on your own, though. A CPA can guide you through the tax process and make suggestions based on your situation. Never be afraid to use a professional!

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss financial planning: estimating income.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Embracing Your Healthy Habits: Part Three

Today we're talking water. Hydration is vital to writers. The benefits of water can't be overstated. It keeps you alert, feeds your organs, boosts your metabolism slightly, and it's calorie free.

Simple, like Water...
Photo by albertopveiga

What do you drink the most of? Soda? Tea? Coffee? Milk? Juice? Water? I drink coffee in the morning and water or hot tea the rest of the day. Sometimes I'll crack open a soda in the afternoon. Since most drinks are empty calories, I make a conscious effort to drink more water than anything else. I'd rather eat my calories than drink them.

Here's my tip for staying hydrated. I get in the zone when I'm writing, so I always have a large glass of ice water nearby. After an hour or two, I'll reach for the glass and be surprised that it's empty. I don't even realize I'm drinking it! That's the healthy habit I'm embracing today. It's easy to get extra water in your body when you fill up a glass and keep it next to you while writing.

If you aren't convinced about the health benefits of drinking water, read Brain Power Improves Right After Drinking Water at Discovery News. It also gives tips on neck and back alignment when sitting at a computer.

Do you stay hydrated? What's your secret to getting enough water?

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Embracing Your Healthy Habits: Part Two

Is your diet a black hole of non-nutrition? Do you feel guilty about the types and amount of food you're eating? Does the food you eat affect your writing?

1.11.09: CHD, here we come!
Photo by thedalogs

First of all, you must be eating something nutritious every day. Even a piece of lettuce on the burger counts; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Second of all, I do believe the food we eat affects our writing. Here's why. When I eat something I perceive as bad, I start to feel bad. When I feel bad, I'm not positive. Self-destructive habits creep in. If I don't feel good about myself, I'm not going to have a marathon writing session.

I'm a huge believer in moderation. There are no off-limit foods for me; however, I make an effort to eat fruits and vegetables every day because I know they give me nutrients necessary for optimal brain power.

fruit (and vegetable) salad
Photo by jenny-pics

Much of sitting and writing is related to our mood. If we sabotage it by eating something we perceive as unhealthy, we're going to feel unhealthy. Unless I'm having a really bad day, I do not eat junk food while writing, because it definitely affects me. That's the healthy habit I embrace.

What healthy eating habit do you have? Does it help your writing, hurt it, or not alter it? I'd love to hear from you.

Join me on Friday when we'll discuss staying hydrated.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Embracing Your Healthy Habits: Part One

This week we're looking at what we're doing right for our health and why it helps our writing.

Dive
Photo by cmaccubbin (I have perfect gymnastics form, too. In fact, I vault every morning, don't you? :)

Most of us have windows of time we use to write: an hour first thing in the morning, a few hours in the afternoon, or an hour or two at night. We're squeezing it into an already busy schedule. How do we fit exercise and the whole healthy eating thing into our life too?

Contestants on The Biggest Loser have to work out around six hours a day to lose enough weight to stay competitive, but the average person doesn't. I'll bet you're fitting in small bouts of exercise and you don't even realize it. It's easy to fit all kinds of movement into your day.

New Cast
Photo by rockymountainhigh (This is one of my favorite shows. It proves if you want something bad enough, you'll do what it takes to get it.)

I walk up the flight of stairs from my living room to my office at least three times a day. When I end a writing session, I stand and stretch my arms over my head, then I bend forward to touch my toes. It's a yoga move, but it's also relaxing. When I take the puppy outside, I do a few circuits of squats or leg lifts.

My body thinks of it as exercise even if I don't, and that's what counts. At night while watching television, I do stomach crunches. It only takes about three minutes, but it makes such a difference.

In the winter, my treadmill is my main source of cardio, but if I skip a day or two, I know I'm at least getting some exercise with my mini-sessions throughout the day.

But how does this relate to writing? Exercise pumps oxygen to our organs, including our brains. It also releases endorphins, which are mood boosters. When we strengthen our muscles, our body is better able to support long writing sessions. No more aching neck or back! Plus, we feel good about ourselves when we take care of our bodies. Good feelings promote confidence, and that's a huge factor in writing.

New Year's Resolution: 36/365
Photo by sashawolff

Another benefit of exercise is its cost-saving qualities. It's cheaper to exercise than to pay for diabetes and high-blood pressure medications.

My sneaky exercise fill-ins take less than ten-minutes total of my day. Can anyone truly claim they can't do a few stretches, squats, or crunches each day? Sorry, no one is that pressed for time.

What sneaky exercise habits do you incorporate into your schedule each day? Do you think your body notices? Does it help you sit and write longer because you aren't in pain?

Join me on Wednesday when we'll look at the healthy eating habits we overlook.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Small Stuff

Do you have an everyday talent you're proud of? No, I'm not talking about being able to drive a race car or how you ran the Boston Marathon a few years ago. I'm talking about the exceptional things you do every day or week.

Ligne Roset Maly Bed
Photo by wnorrix
Don't think too hard. There has to be something you do exceptionally well on a regular basis. Here's a list to help you brainstorm.


  • You make your bed so beautiful every morning it could be pictured in a magazine.

  • You always make time to talk to your cat.

  • You can shovel your driveway in ten minutes flat.

  • You can create a meal out of food you have in your pantry, even if you haven't shopped in three weeks.

  • You hug or kiss every family member before bed.

  • If your plants could speak, they'd weep with joy when you're near.

  • No one can make pumpkin muffins like you.

  • You pick winning fantasy football teams every season.

  • You always have the right thing to say when a friend is down.

Go ahead and write down the things you're amazing at. Don't be shy. No one has to see them but you, but remember it's okay to feel good about your talents, no matter how trivial they seem.

Also, I've written a new article, Don't Survive the Unpublished Time: Thrive!, and it's available on my website. It offers practical tips for seasoned, not-yet-published writers to get through the "almost there" phase. I've also linked it in the sidebar for future reference.

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lasting Changes

Is there a nagging sense of inadequacy about something in your life? It may be simple or complex, but it's there, and it bugs you. And since it's January, you vow you're going to change; you'll mentally erase your failures of the previous year.

Tai Shan, National Zoo's Panda Cub at 1 year old
Photo by bootbearwdc

I don't know about you, but my changes are nearly identical each January, which obviously means they haven't lasted. Why do I make the same promises over and over? Why can't I make them work?

Since this month is all about embracing the old, I thought about some of my old resolutions that did stick. Ten years ago, I decided to drink more water, and it became a lifelong habit. Three years ago, I decided to read the Bible every day; I still rarely miss a day. And isn't it funny that I never have to make resolutions regarding my writing?

I pondered this phenomenon a while. Why do I follow through with some changes and not others? After much reflection, a slice of leftover cake, and a cup of tea, I realized why.

The changes that lasted depended on two beliefs:

1. I believed I could accomplish the resolution.
2. I believed my life would be better if I did.

What are some changes you've made over the years that have made your life better? Why did you stick with those changes and not others?

Join me on Friday when we'll celebrate the small stuff.

Monday, January 4, 2010

January 2010: New Year, Old You?

As soon as January rolls around, I can be sure of two things: my jeans won't fit and the magazines will proclaim "New Year, New You." Not to worry. The new year brings me a cosmic surge of exercise energy, my jeans will fit in a few weeks, but the whole new me thing? I'm boycotting it this year.

Happy New Year!
Photo by jurvetson

I like the old me. The one that whines about laundry every Monday, eats more chocolate than apples, occasionally drinks a Coke before noon (don't tell Mom!), and adores her family and writing. I don't want to change. Not today.

This month, we're embracing the "old you" and focusing on what is working instead of what could be improved.

From our eating and exercising habits to our writing routine, we'll flesh out the things we're doing right and use them to make 2010 our best year.

To all the new followers--thank you. Thank you very much for taking the time to follow my blog. I hope you'll join the conversation and leave a comment, but, if that makes you uncomfortable, you're welcome to lurk!

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss which old habits to embrace. They're not as bad as we think!