Certain signs signal various significant turnings of the year. Birds fly south. Or is it east? Maybe north? Frankly I don't spend much time outdoors with a compass charting the movements of indecisive waterfowl.
But even a dedicated indoorsman such as myself can observe the anguished human faces on the street, and hear the plaintive cries of agony borne on the night wind (and no, I don't know from which direction the bloody wind is blowing, let's leave that to the meteorologists, shall we?).
Even I can see the chalk outlines left by those poor unfortunates who at last cried 'No more, enough!' before shuffling off their mortal coils by way of extreme over-tanning or actually eating a gas station pickled egg.
Even I know what dread event these signs portend -- tax time.
That's right, gentle readers, if you are a citizen of the US, it's that time of year when Uncle Sam takes you fondly by your ankles and shakes you until every last cent you've seen in the last year falls out of your pockets, because let's face it, war ain't cheap.
Now, if you've made any money off your writing in the last year, I'm here to help. Because if there's anything the US government holds dear, it's the idea that every American is free to earn a profit by the sweat of her brow and the set of his jaw. Equally sacred to the American governing psyche is the idea that they've got dibs on the first and biggest slice of that sweet free enterprise pie.
The first thing writers need to know about filing their writing income is this -- FILE IT. That story you sold to Ominous Bathroom Squeaks and Eldritch Attic Squeals Monthly for 15 bucks? That pair of flash-fiction entries you pawned off on Public Transit Funnies, a Bus Station Free Magazine for a coupon granting you $2.00 off any foot-long club at Subway?
Maybe you're thinking 'Hey, why bother reporting that, nobody knows about those!'
How wrong you are, Grasshopper.
They know. Maybe it's the Carnivore communication surveillance system. Maybe the IRS has an Obscure Small Press Reporting Division. Maybe that mean-eyed old lady down the street is on the phone with the IRS every day, after she goes through your mail and steams open all the envelopes -- it doesn't matter how, but believe me, they know.
So, the first thing?
Now if you've made any serious coin you've been sent a 1099-MISC from the publisher(s). You should keep up with these things. I used to put them in a folder and then lose the folder and then move to Mississippi and assume a new identity as Frank Tuttle when I realized I'd lost them all, but then I got married and she keeps important papers in a brilliant thing called a drawer. I'll bet you have some of these drawers in your place too. Open them up and put stuff in them, it's an amazing time-saver compared to identity theft.
At the end of the year, you take all these 1099 forms, wipe the tears from your face, and enter them in the boxes according to the helpful prompts on the TurboTax software. When the crying diminishes to a bearable level, proceed.
Next, let's consider deductions. The word deductions comes from the Latin dede, which means 'not for,' and uction, which means 'you.' In tax parlance, deductions are money amounts which everyone but you can subtract from the taxes they owe.
For instance, I write on a PC. I built this PC myself, from components I purchased separately, for the sole purpose of writing. Now, if I were anyone else, I could deduct the total cost of the machine from my taxes owed, since it's a business expense -- but since I am demonstrably me, this deduction does not apply, and, notes TurboTax, 'ha ha ha.'
See how that works? It truly simplifies filing.
Let's look at some other deductions which you, as a writer, cannot claim:
- Home Office Deductions. Oh, you have an office, in which you write? Well, let's have a look. It can't be attached to your house. It can't house a TV or other casual entertainment device. It can't possibly, under any circumstances, be even remotely suited for any purpose other than writing, and it can't be very good at that. So you have a detached office which contains nothing but a chair, a desk, and a PC running nothing but Word? But it has a roof? 'Ha ha ha,' intones TurboTax. 'Trying to pull a fast one, are you? DENIED.'
- Office Expense Deductions. You're a writer, and even the IRS grudgingly concedes that the act of writing might in some way involve putting down words on some medium, be it electronic or paper. Okay, this looks promising. You bought a printer to print out manuscripts. You pay for internet service because 1950 was 68 years ago. These seem to be legitimate deductions, so let's investigate further BUZZ HA HA HA NOT SO FAST, TAXPAYER! Those deductions are only valid in years where acceptable total solar eclipses occur in northern Peru (see Schedule 117863-E, 'Solar Interruptions, South American Totality Table 167-75E, lines 46 through 78), and guess what pal, this ain't it.
- Other Deductions. Mitt Romney has a 376 page embossed-leather-bound acid-free paper book with gold-gilt edges filled with 'Other Deductions.' Are you Mitt Romney? Didn't think so. Move along.
Sadly, that about covers it. You've toiled over every word, you've poured over ever sentence, you've labored long into that good night trying to illuminate a single tiny facet of the flawed jewel that is the human condition.
Or, in other words, you've earned slightly less than minimum wage.
Bon appetite, my friends!
And for the love of all that is holy, don't miss the filing deadline.
Top image credits: https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-angry-man-pulling-hair-image14925628#res5678350