Monday, January 24, 2011

Triumph Comes Through Perseverance

Novelist Jodi Thomas was the guest speaker at the January 22 meeting of the North Texas SCWBI. Jodi hails from Amarillo, Texas, and writes western romances. She began by telling all the writers in the audience that "You are not normal." And: "The longer you write, the harder it is to hang around normal people."

That's very true. My circle of friends consists almost entirely of writers. I used to be active in AAUW (American Association of University Women) but I dropped out when my husband and I began living in Mexico for several months every year. Though we sold our house on Lake Chapala in 2005, I have fond memories of the years we spent South of the Border. (I also have nightmares about some of our experiences, especially driving on the dangerous roads down there. And I'm delighted that we found a buyer for our house in 2005, before the current drug violence had really taken hold.)

Anyway, when I came back to Texas full-time, I resolved to devote myself to writing and writers. So now my social life consists of participating in critique sessions, going to SCBWI chapter meetings, and attending writers conferences.

At the meeting Saturday, Jodi said: "Writing must become an obsession if you want to make a living at it." Heck, I've found that my writing has become my obsession even while I'm NOT making a living at it. I'm gainfully employed as an editor and I earn just enough at that to support my writing habit. All day every day, when I'm not busy with a paying assignment, I'm working on my novels.

Jodi advised looking ahead five years and imagining three successes. The three things I'm looking forward to:
  1. Waterspell is published and is doing great.
  2. The movie rights have sold.
  3. I'm collaborating with the screenwriter.

Hey, if you're going to dream, dream big.

Jodi discussed several issues of concern to writers, especially time management, character development, and plotting. I won't pirate her talk by typing up my notes in this space. But I must mention the one piece of advice that I found most helpful: "Give characters fears and secrets." Most writers can readily name their characters' fears, but I hadn't thought so much about their secrets. Knowing those will lead to greater depth-of-character.

Jodi's first book was published in 1988. Her 30th novel just came out. Since I firmly believe that e-publishing is the way of the future for novels, I looked her up at BN.com to be sure her works are available as e-books, and they are.

Good advice can come from unexpected sources. Jodi found this engraved on a headstone in an Amarillo cemetery: "Triumph comes through perseverance."

I'm persevering. Been persevering for a while now. Will keep on persevering. (Maybe if I type the word persevering enough times, I'll learn how to spell it without spellchecker help.)

Jodi also reminded her audience that attending meetings with other writers is not writing. Checking e-mail is not writing. Blogging is not writing. Well, technically blogging IS writing. But time spent blogging (or social networking) is time NOT spent on a manuscript.

So here I go, back to work, back to my obsession. But first: lunch.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Frugal Writer


Much is made every spring of the average taxpayer’s frantic efforts to meet the April 15 filing deadline for federal income taxes. However, for those of us who are self-employed and who pay quarterly estimated taxes, January 15 is a much bigger deal. (This year, it’s January 18 since the 15th was a Saturday and yesterday was a holiday.)

Even before some of us have packed away the Christmas decorations, we must spread out our receipts and tally up how much we made as writers, and how much of what we spent during the previous year can be counted as business expenses. In effect, we must prepare our tax return three months earlier than everybody else, because we have to know how much to send the IRS for our fourth and final quarterly tax payment.

How well did we estimate our business income and expenses for the year? Did we send enough in April, June, and September? Will we owe a huge amount in January?

When I’d sorted through all my business records for 2010, I discovered that I’d made only two-thirds as much money last year as I did in 2009. It was nothing to do with the Great Recession—fault lay entirely with my Grand Obsession. I spent as much time as possible in 2010 working on WATERSPELL, my fantasy trilogy. Whatever paying assignments came my way, I accepted, but I spent no time beating the bushes for work. Hence the steep drop in my income.

The good news: I’d used my 2009 income to estimate how much to send Uncle Sam for my first three quarterly tax payments (April, June, and September 2010). It turns out that those payments actually covered my entire tax liability for the year, so I didn’t owe the IRS a dime for the fourth payment that was due today, January 18.

The bad news: I’m pretty well broke.

When all is said and done, however, what does a writer really need in order to write? Just ink, paper, electricity, and a brain. So here are my tips for saving money on these four essentials.

INK

Buy your toner and inkjet cartridges at LaserMonks.com. They have the best prices around. During their recent 60-percent-off sale, I bought a toner cartridge for my HP LaserJet 1022 printer AND a black-ink cartridge for my ancient Epson color inkjet for just $36.63 (shipping included). My discount on the two items was $46.02. I’ve been getting my ink and toner from LaserMonks for years now. The quality is excellent, the prices are bargains, and my purchases support the monks in their good works.

PAPER

Office Depot gives me $2 for each empty ink or toner cartridge that I bring in for recycling. They used to give $3, and for a short time--through Jan. 22--they’re offering $5 each. Gather up those empties and go recycle them while you can get five bucks apiece! Considering that (full) cartridges only cost $6 or $7 at LaserMonks, and you can get from $2 to $5 back at Office Depot for the empties, that’s pretty cheap ink. I then use my “Recycling Rewards” to buy paper at Office Depot. Their house-branded copy paper is nicely bright and good quality, and they often put it on sale. And recently, I used an Office Depot coupon to buy reams of HP paper for just $2 each. Watch the sales and use the coupons they e-mail to regular customers, and you can save a bundle on cases (and on single reams) of paper.

ELECTRICITY

I used to assume that signing a two-year contract with TXU Energy would get me the best price, but then I discovered that their contractless, month-to-month MarketEdge plan was by far the better deal. MarketEdge, they say, “automatically lowers your monthly price when natural gas prices fall and gives you the option to choose another TXU Energy plan for free if natural gas costs rise too high for your comfort level. This plan is indexed to the NYMEX price of natural gas, which changes monthly.” Not much, it doesn’t. I’ve stayed with MarketEdge, month by month, for years now, and my average price per kWh is never more than 11 cents, and it’s usually under 10 cents -- quite a bit less than their locked-in rate for customers who sign contracts with them.

BRAIN

I was skeptical of supplements that claim to sharpen a body’s brain, but I’ve come to believe that lecithin actually does. Plain old soy lecithin, 1200 mg softgels, in the cheapest generic “economy size” bottle, is far less expensive than many supplements. And since beginning to take one a day, I’ve noticed a real improvement in my ability to concentrate. As I revise my WATERSPELL manuscripts, I feel that my wits are sharper and my insights deeper. Walgreen’s has regular buy-one, get-one-free sales, which make it really economical to take a brain pill daily.

So there you go: Cheap ways to get writerly essentials.

Oh, I almost forgot--a writer also needs TIME. Which is something I seem to be wasting right now ...