Freelance Fridays: Tax Time

After a couple weeks’ worth of balmy weather, springtime seems to have arrived early, bringing at least two annual inevitabilities along for the ride: mud and tax prep.

While I feel compelled to offer the standard disclaimers at this point–I am neither an attorney nor a CPA–there are a few general things I can point out, such as that if your business structure involves any employees or partners, you may need to start your tax preparation process well in advance of April 15. Employees and contractors are due their W2s and 1099s by the end of January, and if your business has to file any K-1 forms, they’ll most likely be due around mid-March, unless your fiscal calendar does not follow the standard calendar year. Other fun things, such as annual reports and state income taxes for workers, may or may not apply to your operation.

Although the IRS has extended the traditional filing deadline slightly for the current tax year (it’s been bumped back to April 18 across the board this year, and if you live in Maine or Massachusetts, you’ll get an extra day), it’s never a great idea to wait till the last possible minute to file, because some sort of time suck invariably comes up: a math mistake, a missing form, a complicated work sheet, an uncooperative printer. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to run a year-end profit and loss statement on your freelancing income and check for missing or duplicated data. I like to label a couple of folders for the outside tax-related forms that always come in for specific personal and business items–stuff like medical expenses, 1099 forms from people who paid you, student loan payments, and mortgage interest. If I forget to do that, they’ll end up scattered everywhere.

If you have other income sources (from a spouse, investments, or a second job), you’ll want to see how your freelancing money is likely to affect your overall income tax liability. Remember,

too, that as an independent freelancer, you’re technically self-employed, which makes you responsible for paying both halves of the payroll taxes you and your employer would have been splitting if you were a traditional employee. Since it’s mid-February now, you still have a couple of months to set money aside if you expect to owe some taxes when you file.

Do you have any quick tips for tax season? Share them in the comments!

Kate

I’m blogging my way through my first novel in 2016. Subscribe to the RSS feed on the home page or find me on Facebook for new updates!

The Life-Changing Power of Literacy

adult literacy stats

It’s my first year serving on our local literacy board, and this week, I’m prepping for a bake sale as part of our annual fundraiser.  In the past few months, it’s quickly become clear to me how little most people understand the impact of services like these on the surrounding community.  Literacy education has life-changing power, and nowhere is this clearer than in impoverished areas.

As Americans, we are relatively fortunate. Out of 217 countries ranked by the CIA World Fact Book, the United States comes in 45th for literacy. Yet the economic odds are still stacked against those among us who are less literate—or illiterate—as they face tougher job hunts, difficulties managing money, and challenges accessing and assessing various types of information.  Among other problems, low literacy rates are associated with a greater likelihood of incarceration, health problems, and teen pregnancy. While the term literate commonly refers to possessing the ability to read, modern scholarship recognizes several types of literacy, including digital literacy  (the ability to locate and analyze information online) and financial literacy (the ability to make informed money management decisions). Our own program has been and will continue adapting its offerings to better fit with these emerging needs, particularly in the areas of addressing unemployment and building digital literacy.

That need continues to grow. In 2013, the New Yorker reported that in an analysis of teens and young adults in 24 participating countries, the United States came in second to last in literacy.  Last March, Fortune shared another study concluding that literacy rates were dropping among millennials. That’s right: Compared to both their elders and their international peers, American millennials, the same generation achieving higher levels of education than ever before, even while racking up more and more student debt, aren’t doing so hot.

Adult literacy programs are one way to bridge the educational gap for my generation, as well as those preceding. Providing these services takes dedicated staff and volunteers. The economic value of literacy, however, cannot be overstated. The investments we make in literacy today will pay off handsomely tomorrow.

Kate

I’m blogging my way through my first novel in 2016. Subscribe to the RSS feed on the home page or find me on Facebook for new updates!

Writers Wednesday: Breaking the Rules

One of the first things any good business owner does upon returning from vacation is catch up on stray messages. While weeding out my inbox, I came across this gem from Steven James over at Writer Unboxed, and although the post was a couple weeks old when I found it, the timing was perfect for my purposes.

As I mentioned last week, my primary 2016 writing goal is to make the jump to fiction and draft my first novel by next Valentine’s Day. Presently, I have one failed NaNoWriMo challenge, several outlines in various stages of completion, and about a half-dozen different bits and pieces of stories in various genres on the table, none with significant word counts. (By “significant,” I mean “more than 2,000 words.”) The most promising concept must clear at least one major hurdle before it can progress.

Take any college-level composition class, and you’ll be instructed to follow a fairly rigid set of steps in completing your draft. Assuming you have the bulk of your research out of the way–if, indeed, your project requires research at all–the next major step is the outline. In fictional narratives, we usually call it by a different name: “plot.” What is going to happen in your story, and how does each event connect to everything else? Your outline keeps your project on topic. You know exactly how many scenes you will be writing and what is going to happen in every scene.

Theoretically, that is. As a journalist, though, I rarely had the time to outline articles before drafting them, nor did I necessarily begin at the beginning. Reporters take the most important part of the story, the lede, and build out from there. In a traditional news article format, the lede is what you’ll be reading first. The writing process, however, frequently starts two or three paragraphs from the beginning as we work on the “nut graf,” a brief paragraph that explains the opening lede in, well, a nutshell. Your nut graf is the core of your story, and once you have it established, you can move on to creating an interesting lede, supporting points, and kicker (the end of a typical news piece, designed to drive the story’s point home).

It’s probably not too surprising, then, that I found James’s commentary so freeing. I don’t write linearly as a rule, and this is one of those cases where I suspect that it’s all right to break the rules occasionally, as long as you first know what they are. If you’ve struggled to get past your first couple of chapters, try deviating from the script for a little while and letting your characters be themselves. I’ll still be writing outlines, but now, I won’t feel so compelled to follow them.

What writing rules are you breaking in your pursuit of creativity?

Kate 

I’m blogging my way through my first novel in 2016. Subscribe to the RSS feed on the home page or find me on Facebook for new updates!

Freelance Fridays: For the Love of the Craft

 

Welcome back, gang!

It’s been a busy few months here in offline land. Between the holidays and family business, we found plenty to keep ourselves more than occupied, but now that spring is en route and I’ve gotten a note-covered manuscript out the door, things are starting to slow down around the office. We finally took a real honeymoon, 18 months into our marriage.

In this season of new beginnings and hopeful resolutions, setting aside time for reflection and rejuvenation is essential. Goal-setting will get you nowhere when you’re already burned out. To work, to create, to innovate, you must choose to fall in love with what you do, over and over and over again.

Freelance Fridays: Coffee
Drink up freelancers, it’s Friday!

For me, a short break from the office routine allowed me to rediscover my love of scrambling around the countryside with a camera. (You can order a few prints here.) More than that, however, the respite rekindled my interest in writing for publication

Although I’ve critiqued a few fiction manuscripts for others, most recently a young adult mystery, my clips portfolio is strictly non-fiction. I have yet to publish my first novel. And since we’re being honest here, I haven’t exactly written it, either. That’s something I’d like to change.

I’m showing myself a little tough love this year by giving myself a deadline. I want have a completed manuscript ready to shop around, or at least a full draft ready for edits, by Valentine’s Day 2017. And since I know I’m not the only one with publishing goals, I’ll be walking you step by step through my creative process.

Step One: Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

What creative passions are you rediscovering?

Kate