Archive for March, 2011

Income Tax, Writing, and the Five Stages of Grief

My hope this year was to write a helpful and informative post about how to pay your taxes as a writer and not go completely insane (or bankrupt).  It seemed like the kind of service people would appreciate.

Unfortunately, the tax code defeated me.  I do not have a helpful post about how to pay your taxes and stay sane because I did not myself succeed in paying my taxes and staying sane.  The forms and schedules and confusion were all too much.  I ended up drinking a bottle and a half of wine and making O Best Beloved do them.

What I did realize is that paying your taxes as a writer, or any other self-employed artist, is like grieving over a devastating loss.  That’s mostly because it is a devastating goddamn loss.  If they taxed a single billionaire’s income at the same percentage they hit my writing income for, they could fill a damn big budget hole.  It’s an awful big chunk of my eating money to lose in one go.  But I’m a student of human weaknesses; I can do grief all right.  I’ve studied my Kubler-Ross model.  I can’t help you with your tax forms, but I can help you with your tax emotions. Brace yourself for all five stages of grief this April:

DENIAL:  It’ll be fine.  Your income is super straightforward.  You write the piece, they send you the check, you write the amount down.  How hard is that shit going to be?  And it’s not like you made any real money for them to tax.  Hell, you’ll probably get a refund.

ANGER:  Wait, what the fuck?  You’re officially your own employer and your own employee?  No, fuck that.  What kind of world do we live in, where a married couple gets taxed like one person and a single working person gets taxed like two?  These people are bullshit.  This form is bullshit.  You must have done it wrong, because it’s all fucking bullshit and they make it that way on purpose, the sons of bitches.

BARGAINING:  Well fine then.  Tell you what — you’ll just pay yourself minimum wage and let them tax that.  And while we’re at it, let’s talk expenses.  Home office, you bet your ass I got a home office.  You know what else I need to write?  Food.  Gonna write that off, too, assholes!

DEPRESSION:  You know, maybe you could just fly a plane into an IRS building.  People do that shit.  Get good and drunk first, it’d probably be fun.  Like a roller coaster, but with more screaming and fire.  Now aren’t you a bad person for even thinking that?

UNDERSTANDING:  You’ve come through the grief.  You understand that they’re going to take 15% of the money you worked for and 0% of the money some banker made from owning a bunch of stock.  You also understand that you’re moving to fucking Mexico.

Of course, if anyone knows of a website or blog post that could actually help writers with their taxes this year, it’s not too late to mention it in the comments section here.  Or you can just share your grief with me all cathartic-like.

How to Write Faster Prose (And Why)

The title’s misleading here, since I’m going to talk about the why before the how.  You know this site by now; sometimes I lie a little.

What is “Faster Prose”?

“Fast prose” is writing that can be read quickly and easily.  We tend to think of reading speed as being governed by content:  complicated topics with esoteric vocabulary and terminology take longer to read about than common, everyday subjects.  To some extent that’s true.  But there’s plenty of “light reading” works out there — genre fiction, magazine articles, strictly for-entertainment stuff — that plods along, and it’s not the subject matter doing it.  Word choice and language usage make prose faster or slower.

Is Fast Prose Good?

This is writing, folks; there are no absolutes.  Prose that moves along quickly and smoothly from one point to the next, whether it’s plot events or arguments in an op-ed, is going to be more comfortable for people to read.  Most people like comfort; more importantly, most people recommend things that made them feel comfortable to their friends.  If you’re going for mass-marketability, be thinking speedy writing.  If you know you’re writing for a lit-crit crowd that likes to puzzle things out and then pat themselves on the back for catching the trick, maybe not so much.  If you’re writing for the internet God have mercy on your soul.

How Do You Speed Prose Up?

Cut Extra Words

Anyone with a journalism background already knows this one.  Adverbs are the first to go.  Any kind of conditional modifier is gone too — all those words we like to hedge our bets with, “mostly,” “often,” “perhaps,” and so on, toast.  We like to put them in our writing because it makes us sound reasonable; reason takes time and mental energy.  If you want faster prose you shortcut past all that.

Shorten Sentences

This post is an unapologetic example, and a far cry from my usual wordiness.  Look for commas.  Half the sentences with commas can probably be two short sentences.  Another quarter can be one sentence — just eliminate the weaker clause.  Brains understand short sentences immediately and move on.  Longer sentences slow the whole paragraph down.

Use Active Verbs

This is good writing advice in general, but avoid any passive voice.  Sentences with multiple verbs take longer to process.  One action word, one idea.  Multiple action words, multiple ideas.  Brains are lousy multitaskers.  Make it easy on them.

Break Up Paragraphs

Internet writers hark, but everyone else can use this too.  White space is a breath of cool air on a poor, tired brain’s face.  It feels like a pause without actually making the whole “reading your words” process stop.  And the goal is to keep the process moving as efficiently as possible.

Yeah, But What if It’s Boring?

Short, rapid-fire sentences start to sound the same after a while.  In a three-page magazine article that’s not too crippling.  In a novel it’s a big problem.

To save some space, break the old “show don’t tell” rule once in a while.  You’re allowed to intrude as a narrator.  “James wished he hadn’t done it” tells us the same thing as “James poured a whiskey neat, hardly even aware that he was cursing his foolishness under his breath,” and it’s quicker.  It’s also less descriptive — follow it with one or two more, equally-short sentences to convey the same weight.  “James wished he hadn’t done it.  The world seemed a smaller and grayer place, suddenly.  Even whiskey gave him little joy.”  reads much faster that the previous example — even though it’s several words longer.

Fast but interesting prose is a balancing act.  One short sentence describes something broad that drives the plot.  The next contains something tightly-focused that puts the reader right into the scene.  And so ad infinitum — literally switching every other sentence gets boring, obviously, but seek a general balance.  Blandly factual sentences aren’t always a writing no-no.  Just keep them very short and surround them with descriptive — and equally short — sentences.

Was this helpful or interesting?  Should I go back to writing about dinosaurs and alcoholism?  Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Internet Writing: Sometimes Viral Marketing Works

Most readers know that this blog updates three times a week:  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  So if the blog gets a startling number of visits on an off-day, I start to wonder why.  Did I do something sexy? I ask myself. Was I just particularly witty?  Was it something with dinosaurs?

Everybody loves dinosaurs.

It’s actually usually something like I stole the batman logo and a lot of disappointed comics fans wound up on the blog for like thirty seconds.  So I try not to get too excited.  (About the traffic, I mean.  I’m always excited about the dinosaurs.)

But in one of those weird moments of the internet working like it’s supposed to, I found out today that my blog has become suddenly popular with people trying to find out what Reachemol is.  Since Wednesday’s post was entirely about the clever marketing campaign that is Reachemol, I’m suddenly feeling more positive about this whole search engine thing that drives so much of online content these days.  I’ve done my share of SEO-focused writing (most of it for places other than this blog — y’all deserve better than that), and its rare that I actually see it direct people to what they’re looking for.  So color me touched that my careless mention of a viral marketing idea wound up dropping some viral marketing benefits in my lap too.

In fact, I’m now the fourth hit on a Google search for Reachemol, which I figure is about as expert as the Internet will ever think me to be on any subject.  And to think I would have missed it all if I’d kept my blog a little drier and more disciplined.  (It does tend to wander sometimes, doesn’t it?  I just feel like people get tired of hearing about writing mechanics day in and day out.)

So if you’re here because you’re wondering what Reachemol does and whether it will really make your penis bigger, go to Wednesday’s post to be disappointed.  If you’re here to learn a thing or two about writing and writing for the internet in particular (god help you), go ahead and learn from my happy accident — if you stumble across a viral campaign that you genuinely like, and have something to say about, drop the name.  It’ll probably give you a tasty little numbers boost.  And in the meantime your readers get some funny that you didn’t even have to work for.

And if all else fails, adorable ponies.

Fuck yeah pony indeed.  Image brought to you by http://fuckyeahnouns.com/, which will waste at least fifteen minutes of your life if you click through.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Off you go!

Lie To Me

I’ve decided that I like being lied to.

Unreliable narrators, carefully-withheld information, startling parlor scene revelations — I like books that won’t let me take the text for granted.  I want to be lied to.

So imagine my joy when billboards promising very strange results from a new drug — Reachemol — began popping up in my hometown.  “Big things happen when I take Reachemol!” proclaims one, featuring a very, very happy-looking man.  “Since Reachemol I’ve had more girlfriends than a pro golfer” announces another.

“Wow,” says O Best Beloved to me, “that is one well-marketed Viagra knock-off.  I assume it’s a Viagra knock-off?  It’s got to be a penis pill of some kind.”  (Yes, she said “penis pill.”)

So after a few weeks of seeing these very distinctive billboards around town I finally broke down and Googled “reachemol.”

I figured at the very least I could score some cheap penis pills.  You never know when you’re going to need them, right?  But to my delight, it turned out that Reachemol had lied to me.  Their website is here, and you can go see what it’s all about yourself if you like; otherwise I’m going to ruin the joke in a couple of lines.

Ready?

Here I go:

Reachemol is an ad campaign for billboard advertisements.  The website claims to have a drug that cures “Deficient Personality Disorder (DPD),” by making you generally sexier and more popular.  Then when you click on any of the links you get an error message.

reachemol-errorNow, I don’t really have any need for billboard advertising right now, but if I were in the market I’d say these guys have proven their worth.  I will give them a call if I ever do need weird ads that people talk about and eventually wind up Googling out of sheer curiosity.

The art of misdirection isn’t dead yet.  Has a writer or an advertiser lied to you recently?  Did you secretly kind of like it?  Tell all…

Things That Make You Too Nervous to Type

I was having some trouble explaining fonts to O Best Beloved lately.  I’m very superstitious about fonts as part of a query/submissions process.  I find myself analyzing publishers’ websites closely, trying to determine if they have cranky old-fashioned editors who will want to pretend that people still use typewriters (Courier), journalist-trained editors who don’t know the first thing about fonts (Times New Roman) or graphic-design background people who can actually tell the difference between Times New Roman and Georgia and will be angry if you use the wrong one (Georgia).

This led to me typing a few example sentences out while O Best Beloved stared over my shoulder at the screen, a thing which I have always hated but I love her anyway.  It went something like this:

In Georgia:  The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy fuck

MUCH LAUGHTER

Me:  Okay, okay,  I’ll be good.

In Times New Roman:  The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy god (DELETE DELETE DELETE) lazy godg (DELETE DELETE DELETE DELETE) lazy dog.

Me:  What the fuck?

The moral of this little scene is either that having someone look over my shoulder while simultaneously obsessing about font choices makes me so neurotic I can’t type straight or that I type the word “god” way more than “dog” and have learned bad finger habits (which would be a great name for a rock group).  Are there weird little things that completely shut down your ability to type?  Have you created a locked and barred study to avoid just those things?  Can I come live in it?  Leave a comment!

The Great Modern Irish Authors Present Dick and Jane

Irish literature!

It has a great and storied tradition.  But we’re all nursing hangovers from St. Patty’s Day, so who’s going to understand any of it?  I’ll just keep it simple and approximate the great modern Irish writers in the comfortingly familiar framework of Dick and Jane‘s “See Spot Run” dialogue.  You remember that one?  “Come, Dick.  Come and see.  Come, come.  Come and see.  Come see Spot.  Come see Spot run.  Run, Spot, run!”  It will help you understand the great tradition of Irish literature this holiday season…

THE GREAT MODERN IRISH AUTHORS PRESENT:  DICK AND JANE

J. M. Synge

SCENE:  Country field, rough and half gone to seed.  There is a stone wall in great disrepair along one side.  DICK lies beneath the wall in slothful pose and rough attire.  JANE, a wild-looking girl in the usual peasant dress comes to wake him in a great hurry.

JANE:  Be wake Dick.  Wake and mind, if you’ve the sense the Lord gave you in your head.  I god I should know such a lazy man!

DICK:  What?  Hush with shrieking, now.  The sun’s but half up.  What’s a girl for to go shrieking and the sun not yet half up?  I god.

JANE:  Wake and mind, Dick.  Mind what there is to see.  Come now, or never come at all, for it would all be the same to me, if this can’t stir you from your lazing.  What’ve you a mind to laze by the rocks for?  There’s slugs in the shade.

DICK:  You mind the slugs and I’ll mind the shade.  Be off.

JANE:  Nay, wake and mind.  The deacon’s bitch had the run today.  She run and run in the fields, and half the pack be running after.  The town’s turned out to see!  The bitch run and run, in the fields, the pack after her.  Wake and mind!  There she go, there she go — wake, and mind, how the bitch do run!  Did you never see the like?

W. B. Yeats

Who came to Jane’s call?
Who came, when ’twas death to come,
And the best had come, and gone, with their all.
Theirs was the glory of Rome,
And we who stayed are but dogs.
And we who stayed are but dogs.

Samuel Beckett

SCENE:  Evening.  A tree.  DICK and JANE

JANE:  Coming?

DICK:  If he went, we could come.  We could come and then we would have…come.

JANE:  Yes.

DICK:  But he won’t go.

JANE:  No.

DICK:  He never did.

JANE:  We could still go see.

DICK pauses.

JANE:  We could still go see.

DICK:  We could still go see.

James Joyce

The moment of Nicholas’s knackering not needing n’est-ce assays, wherein the doggerel lay, was through.  Enough.  Aye, says she, and the blind one too in the moment of knickering but not at the knackers.  Needless he said needless.  Germain to the matter enough sent Jane the moment of natter notwithstanding.  They came, and came, and came.  Oh the running!  The running and renning and renting.  Needless he said needless.  Aye the running!

The All-Purpose Writer’s Rant Page

So the thing about blogs is that people read them (if you’re lucky).  That means you kind of have to watch what you say on them.  No one likes a whiner!  More importantly, no one gives a whiner a book deal, particularly if said whiner has whined about things like editors, agents, the entire publishing industry, etc.  That stuff’s just no good in the ol’ blog.

Today I’m taking one for the team.  I’m whining for you.  I encourage you to bookmark this All-Purpose Writer’s Rant Page and refer to it every time you’re furious about something in your writing life.  And please, if I’ve missed a relevant issue, don’t be shy about letting me know — I can always update the page.

This one’s for you all.

THE ALL-PURPOSE WRITER’S RANT PAGE

  • Your agent/editor/publisher doesn’t get your work.
  • Your family doesn’t get your work.
  • Your fans don’t get your work.
  • In fact, basically no one gets your work.
  • You can’t condense a work of staggering genius into a summary/query/blurb.
  • People expect you to condense of work of staggering genius into a summary/query/blurb.
  • Stupid vampire novels are elbowing other genre fiction off the shelves.
  • Your back hurts.
  • Your fingers hurt.
  • Your butt hurts.
  • No one thinks your writing time counts as working hours.
  • Your family thinks you’re crazy.
  • Your friends thing you’re crazy.
  • Your spouse/partner/lover/cohabitant thinks you’re crazy.
  • Even your pet thinks you’re crazy, and it eats its own poop.
  • Deadlines are immediate, and then your work doesn’t run for months.
  • Your friend just published and his/her work is crap.
  • Your absolute most hated enemy just published and his/her work is crap.
  • Some total stranger just published and his/her work is crap, and it’s crap that’s going where your work could.
  • The money, Christ, the money.
  • Your parents still haven’t forgiven you.
  • You still can’t quit your day job.
  • You can’t get any writing done until you quit your day job.
  • What is this “series potential,” and why does a perfectly good novel need it?

…and many, many more, I’m sure.  Drop a comment and let me know!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,898 other followers