Posted in Business Side of Writing, Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools, Writing Life

Creating during Anxious Times

Yesterday, a student who deals with depression and anxiety and, like all of us, now this pandemic, said that looking at the instruction manual felt overwhelming. Yet still she had sent in her assignment. In my letter back to her, I commended her for her accomplishment and then gave her some writing “work” advice.

Writing it made me aware of my own creativity. Or should I say lack thereof.  I’m finding it much easier to do a student lesson, critique someone else’s picture book or novel, than to actually create myself. It’s easy to jump on the news, Facebook (for socializing), etc. I need to take my own advice.

We all have upheaval in our lives right now with social distancing and worrying about the coronavirus. Some of you have children home full time now. You and/or your spouse may be working from home which is another adjustment. Or someone in the family has been laid off. It’s stressful. Perhaps these suggestions for making writing “work” easier will be helpful to you, too.

First, pick one task

Get that one done today and stop. Don’t worry about other writing things that need to be done. However, if doing one tasks leads you to wanting to do more, feel free. Just don’t agonize over those days when you can only do one thing.

But how do you know what task to do?

Set yourself a writing work schedule

1. Start by making a list of all the things you want to get done:
– read recent children’s books
– brainstorm ideas
– research for one idea
– work on first draft
– revise a short story, article, picture book, or chapter
– do market research
– listen to a podcast on ____ topic
– read blog posts on _____
– analyze feedback from others on my work
– write a cover/query letter for _____
– submit manuscript _____

Be as specific as possible.

See more sample task ideas at the bottom of this article and in the chart.

2. Commit to a time period whether it is a half hour or an hour or two. Pick three to five days a week.

3. Next, if you can, prioritize you list in order of most important. If none stand out, that’s okay too.

4. Then take your “to-do” list and plot them on a calendar OR during each scheduled time just pick one off of your list.

5. Add and cross-off items on your “want to get done” list.

Word by word, project by project, if you spend a little bit of time, you will make progress. Celebrate those accomplishments no matter how small.

Here’s a chart suggestion for recording what you’ve done so you can look back on it and be encouraged:

Second, remember you are not alone

We are all affected. Interacting digitally with others can help us not feel so isolated. My critique group is using Zoom to meet weekly. Don’t have a critique group? Offer to exchange critiques via email with other writers. (You can find them through SCBWI.org, on the Blueboard, through Facebook and Google groups, etc.) Talk to others in these groups. Comment on blog posts or podcasts that you found helpful. Share those links with others you know. And/or share on Twitter.

Third, encourage yourself

I’m finding myself doing a lot of what I call “comfort” reading—that’s rereading books that I know I’ll enjoy. Recently, it’s been the Harry Potter books. I’ve also connected with some old friends whom I haven’t talked to in years. I’m getting outside in the fresh air. What makes you happy? It’s necessary to take a break from all the bad news and uncertainty.

SOME RESOURCES:

“Turning Anxiety Into Creativity”

“What You Need to Know to Start Working from Home”

“10 ways to take care of yourself during coronavirus”

SAMPLE TASK IDEAS:

Subscribe to one blog post related to kidlit creativity. I don’t read them daily but spend time periodically to read posts. Some of my standbys are:

Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/

Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge
https://gpattridge.com/

Susannah Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Book Friday” https://susannahill.com/blog/

Institute for Children’s Literature blog
https://www.instituteforwriters.com/blogs/writing-for-children-blog/

Read recent children’s books. Whatever fits what you want to write. A novel. A handful of picture books. Chapter books. What did you learn?

Research one magazine market. Read about the magazine in the market book, go to the magazine’s website, read guidelines and editorial calendars, and sample copies if available. Take notes, if you like. I often write directly in my copy of a market book.

Search #MSWL on Twitter. Agents and editors give updates using this hashtag.

Brainstorm picture book ideas. January Storystorm posts on Tara Lazar’s site still up and can continue to be used. Here’s a link to day one: https://taralazar.com/2020/01/01/storystorm-2020-day-1/

Research agents on Manuscript Wishlist. https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/

Add sensory details to your short story or one scene in your novel. Taste, smell, texture, temperature, sound, and sight. What makes this setting unique?

Read an article on self-editing and practice one idea. Focus on a weakness. Do you have trouble with dialogue or punctuation? There’s help out there.

Read opening paragraphs in novels you like. Do you see a pattern? Can you apply it to your work?

Write up the backstory for one character. Then you can work in snippets of it throughout the novel. But beware of info dumps.

I could go on and on. All I know is doing something (like this blog post) makes me feel better than doing nothing creative. I bet the same will be true for you too.

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

One Danger of Electronic Records

 I often learn things the hard way. And again did so when I closed an account.

We’d moved from one part of the state to another and I set up new writing accounts (checking and savings) at a new credit union. After several weeks, I closed the accounts at the old financial institution. Then a few days later, I realized I wanted to look at an e-statement on the old account. However, no more online access! I called customer service to see if there was a way to get those past statements. Yes, for $2.50 each statement. Ouch. And they only had 6 months’ worth. I took them.

That got me to thinking. When we long ago switched from receiving paper statements to e-statements, it never occurred to me that I should download copies. I looked at our family accounts—there were e-statements back to September 2017 (28 months—length of time varies at each financial institution), so I saved all those copies. (Printing to pdf is my favorite method if the site doesn’t offer downloading as a pdf.) I need to do the same with my Visa account.

Why does this matter to us creatives? It may never matter. Unless you get audited by the IRS. Those statements substantiate that meal you bought while at a conference, the hotel bill, airline tickets, webinar and writing event fees, etc. You may have receipts for all these which makes the bank statement less critical, but it seems I always have something where I didn’t get a receipt. Those statements are a nice backup.

I also find them useful when preparing my taxes. I keep a spreadsheet of writing expenses, but sometimes have entered something without the amount. It’s quicker to look at a past statement than going through the receipts.

And speaking of receipts, many are in my email. I don’t usually bother to print them out or save them as a pdf. I think I should begin to do the latter. Not sure how far back I will go, but definitely for 2019. Perhaps there are other options. I’ll address those in another post.

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Uncluttering

cluttered-1295494_1280.pngMy friend Debra has been working hard on uncluttering her house. Some items she’s sold; others she’s given away. She recycled and tossed. She spent all day Saturday on papers. Now Debra’s finding herself enjoying a room that had previously been a catch all. This inspired me to take a look at my office. I haven’t been writing in there for several reasons, but the one most appropriate for this post is the clutter. It makes me feel guilty when I look at it. Which doesn’t promote creativity. And even though I hate not finding things I want, I’ve procrastinated from attacking the mess because it was overwhelming.
So, I started with one thing. I organized a small drawer. Items were recycled, trashed, donated, and kept. I can find things in that drawer. What a concept!
Next, I cleared junk off of a ledge and was able to dust it. Achoo!
Then, I worked on a stack of papers on one side on my desk. Just one stack. I filed, I recycled, I tossed. I found my buried coaster. It is such a good feeling to actually have a place to set a cup of tea.
That task led to another. Some of those to file items got put on top of the story box where they belonged, because there was no room in the box. Sigh. We were also doing our taxes and realized we’d been holding on to papers that we didn’t need to, or ones that should have been discarded several years ago. Cue the shredder. Both made me aware that my story file boxes could be purged.
Here’s what I got rid of starting with anything older than ten years:
– Manila folders of stories that have never sold.
– Physical rejection forms/letters.
– Printed cover/query letters.
– Printed copies of stories/articles – electronic versions are all on my computer.
I kept:
– My submission records for those rejected stories so I could find to whom I’d submitted.
– Manila folders and contents for stories/articles I’d sold.
– A few encouraging notes.
What I gained:
– Plenty of room in my story file boxes for my filing.
– Reminder of pieces I might want to resubmit.
– Encouragement from personal rejections.
– And nothing is stacked on those boxes!
Because I was spending time in my office, I was once again using my desktop computer–I’ve been using my laptop 99.9% of the time. That meant I discovered the desktop computer was acting oddly. Virus scanning didn’t do much. My husband unhooked it from power and cables, opened it up and found it also was choked with dust. A good vacuuming and we both are breathing better.
There’s more uncluttering to go. That stack on the left side of my desk. Other drawers. Conference folders shoved into a cubby. Cards I have trouble throwing away. But each time I see what I’ve accomplished, it’s easier to think about tackling other areas.
Someday I might even thin out my bookshelves. 😉

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

How Excel Can Help Creatives

notebook-1850613_1920.jpgI’ve talked several times about writing expenses and income, and often share my spreadsheet templates via email. (See posts here and here.) But this time I decided I should share them for free downloading.
The first is an expense template–this will work for writers or illustrators. Feel free to customize how it best works for you. I initially set this up based off of Schedule C, and still find it helpful when using TurboTax. It is set up to do automatic calculations for each month, and then monthly totals are transferred to the year-end sheet. It also has two extra sheets where I keep track of use of cars and equipment depreciation, and cost of goods sold.
Expense Template.xlsx
I also have an income template: Income Template.xlsx
But is that it? Is Excel only for numbers? I don’t find it so.
Some of the useful spreadsheets I have are a writing day log and a critique group log. These show dates, where we met, and who I met with. These are backups for my expense sheets and make for easy comparisons versus searching all my emails for when and where we agreed to meet. Here are those templates:
Critique Meeting Log Template.xlsx
Writing Day Log Template.xlsx
I also have two excel spreadsheets related to agents. One has agent information I’ve collected from sites and newsletters. (These are agents I think I might want to submit to.) Each agent gets their own tab (sheet) and I add more information and updates as I find it. I could use a Word Table as well for this, but entries get pretty lengthy.
The other spreadsheet is for agents who have rejected me. It includes name, agency, date, and form or personal rejection. I’m querying on a specific manuscript right now, but that could be info for another column. A Word Table would probably work as well.
Some people use spreadsheets for submission info. That could be for all submissions or for a specific manuscript.
If you don’t have Excel, consider Google Sheets–a great alternative. Though I mostly use Sheets for collating info from a Google Form I’ve created. Google Sheets are handy when you need to share a spreadsheet with someone else so you can both work on the same sheet. As soon as one makes a change, the info is updated.

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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

More on Writing Expenses plus Income

bookkeeping-615384_1280.jpgI decided it was time to add to what I’ve learned about keeping track of writing business expenses. You can see my initial post here.
First, I have a checking account dedicated to my writing business. This makes it easy to use my writing account debit card for business expenses. My expenses still go into a spreadsheet, but I have easy backup and confirmation with those debits on my banking statement.
Same goes for income. Writing income gets deposited into that account (or it’s related savings account). I’ve also got an income spreadsheet which shows what I earned. It includes when, where and/or what, and I have them classified by categories such as my teaching income for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL), book royalties or flat fees, magazine and online articles/stories, critiquing, and speaking. Having a column for an entity such as ICL makes it really easy to compare the total to my 1099 after year end.
But the last few years I started some additional spreadsheets to help me keep track of mileage expenses. One is a writing day/morning spreadsheet. It shows date, where we met, and who I met with. The second is a critique group spreadsheet. Besides the previous information, it also shows what manuscript I brought for critique, or if none, it says NA. This adds validation to my expense spreadsheet and gives me a double-check. If I start looking at either of these sheets and see blank spaces where there shouldn’t be, I check my email since most of our arrangements for these meetings are confirmed via email. And I throw those emails into a “Finances” folder. Again, backup if I ever get audited.
And speaking of mileage, each year at the beginning of the year I note the mileage on my car in a spreadsheet. For example, in 2017 the total mileage for my little car was 4704. (As a family we drive the other car most of the time.) 1274 miles were writing related! The total mileage and business-related mileage are questions the IRS wants answers to. It’s good to be prepared before you go to fill out the tax form.
Back to my debit card. Someone once asked me about the validity of using my writing account for beverages at a coffee shop when I’m having a writing day. Or a meal for another type of writing event. If I stayed home, I would not have those expenses. The IRS only allows 40% of those expenses deducted. But 40% helps. For example, in 2017 I had almost $500 in meal expenses. The majority were for out-of-town trips. 40% of $500 is $200 deducted.
Something unavailable to us in 2013 when I wrote my original post was email receipts. Many restaurants and businesses will now email you your receipt or at least offer that option. I’ve found a number of coffee shops use Square which automatically emails the receipt based on my debit card number. I just have to update the info when I get a new card.
I also have a separate PayPal account for writing related income and expenses. This is very helpful when I’m collecting from individuals for paid critiques or editing. It shows the payment from my client and the fee for receiving payment via PayPal. But then I don’t have to worry about a stranger’s check bouncing after I do the work. (Although I do collect 50% in advance when I haven’t worked with someone before.)
It’s work to keep track of all this information, but I’ve definitely found if I keep up on it, it’s not very time-consuming. And since spreadsheets can be set up to do automatic calculations, it sure makes tax time easier.
If you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them. Just enter them in the comments.

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