Cleaning and Reorganizing My Writing Space

Hiedi_Cartoon_Housekeeper.jpeg_full[1]I rarely do a thorough cleaning of my home in springtime. The weather’s often too cold and rainy, plus there are simply too many other writing events and responsibilities to tend to. I prefer to clean in the summer, when I can leave doors and windows open. The carpets dry faster and I’m usually energized enough to take things to recycling and donation centers.

Unlike the upstairs, which gets regular vacuuming and dusting, I haven’t given my basement office a thorough cleaning for two years. I’ve managed to run a vacuum over the carpet and dust my workstation occasionally, but I’m talking about removing binders and knick-knacks from the shelves, wiping down every surface and tackling a couple of cobwebs high in the corners.

I’m inspired to do this right now, not only because the weather’s warming up, but because I’m currently reading a book about holistic wellness. The author says that a good cleansing of one’s home can improve emotional well-being and I agree.

Office cleaning is unique. No one else can do it for me because I also need to take a long look at the things in my office…the books, unfinished writing projects, the unframed pictures still perched behind my printer, and the numerous papers pinned to the bulletin board in front of my desk. Some of them have been there so long that they’re no longer relevant.

I need to rethink what needs to be filed away or removed altogether. Which pictures should go where? Which writing projects should I return now that weeks, if not months, have passed? I still need to sort through file folders and purge information I no longer want or need, but hey, like writing itself, organizing one’s writing life is an ongoing process.

Whatever happens, there should be improvements by the end of summer, I hope.

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Staying on Top of the Writing Biz

Author CaptionWriters who are as serious about selling their books as they are about writing them know all too well that one’s writing life quickly becomes a business. Aside from arranging events, blog tours, social media shout-outs, and so on, there’s the actually selling of books and record keeping that accompanies it, or at least it should.

If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will track your sales, but if you’re self-published, well, that’s on you. Keeping track of income and expenses is an important part of the writing biz. Here in Canada, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to know about every dollar you earn from writing and every dollar you declare as an expense.

Since I’m not an accountant and therefore unqualified to give technical advice, I’m offering only two general tips that come from twenty-five years of selling my books through gift shops, bookstores, craft fairs, and writers’ events.

The first is stay on top of your bookkeeping. If you’re self-publishing multiple titles and selling at numerous events, then it’s important to know which title sold where and for how much. Bookkeeping tasks can mount up fast, especially during the Christmas season, so I find it best to record my sales on a spreadsheet right after every event.

It’s also important to note any expenses you wish to declare for each event. There are a number of online accounting packages like QuickBooks to help you out, but if you only have a couple of titles and know how to use Excel then that will at least keep you from frantically rummaging through shoeboxes of mangled receipts every April.

Here’s where my second piece of advice comes in, and this is probably stating the obvious, but if you’re selling books through your own website and accepting different forms of payment from different countries with different taxation requirements, then consider hiring an accountant. The same advice applies even if you’re not, but are having trouble figuring out what is a legitimate expense and what isn’t.

I’m lucky to have three accountants in my family, but if I didn’t I’d definitely hire one. It might seem pricey, but a professional can help you set up an efficient recordkeeping system and possibly save you thousands of dollars over the long haul.

Even if you have only one book out, it’s still a good idea to keep track of how many copies you sold, when, where, and for how much. These stats alone will help you figure out which events are viable, and if your books are appealing to the right demographic. Trust me, demographics vary from community to community.

When it comes to the business of selling books, there’s a lot to think. Do you need a GST number? Should you form an incorporated business? If those questions make your head spin, I totally get it. If you’re procrastinating with overflowing shoeboxes on a shelf somewhere, you know who to call.

Serendipity: How a Dire Situation Became Something Better

Serendipity is what I’d describe as chance encounters with unexpected and excellent outcomes. They don’t happen often in my life, but our family experienced it twice this week, and we needed them both.

I won’t bore you with descriptions of the many phone calls, pharmacy trips, assessments and stress that happened in April and May to try and get my 84-year-old mother more frequent and professional care for her dementia and pancreatic cancer. My sister and I were her advocates, and our family doctor initially thought professional home support and medication would be enough. But as her condition rapidly deteriorated, we began lobbying the powers that be for either palliative care treatment or a hospice.

Everyone tried to be helpful, but there are rules and protocols before one qualifies for hospice or long-term care facilities in British Columbia. As it turned out, impromptu assessments by R.N.s without my knowledge or any feedback from them resulted in their underestimating the depth of my mom’s dementia and relying on inaccurate information from her.

When it became clear that she wasn’t eating solid food, but living on ginger ale and Boost for several days, my sister got on the phone. She wound up talking to a sympathetic woman who suggested that a palliative care doctor could come and assess Mom, and this time, they invited us to be there, so I went. Twenty-four hours later, the doctor’s office told me that she would be placed in a hospice, but at a facility that was still a fairly long drive away. We were hoping for one closer to home, however no beds were available,  but  at least she was going where she’d get the care she needed.

Twenty-four hours after that I received a call, I received another phone call saying that a bed had just become available at a hospice five minutes from my home, and asking if I could bring her there at 2:30 that day. It was both a welcome surprise and a huge relief. She’s currently in a wonderful, caring environment.

MojoThe next dilemma was what to do with her fifteen-year-old cat, Mojo. I’d placed a poster at the vet, boarded him there a few days, asked friends, associates, and work colleagues, and did a shout-out on Facebook. As our family and friends were already inundated with pets who would not welcome a newbie and the cat shelters were all maxed out (we checked), we reached the conclusion that he’d have to go to the SPCA. A phone called to the Vancouver branch assured us that they have a high adoption rate, and that a number of people would be interested in adopting a senior cat. Still, life in a cage seemed depressing.

As it happens, my sister has a part-time retirement job as a cat-sitter. Although she fractured her kneecap last September and doesn’t take on new clients, she has a small number of long-term clients. The day before we were planning to take Mojo to the SPCA, she was tending to a client’s cats when a vet technician she’d met months before showed up to give one of the cats an injection.

They began talking and as my sister updated her about our situation, the tech volunteered to find Mojo a home. She apparently volunteers with a couple of cat placement centers. She told my sister that she’d make a couple of calls and see if she could find him a foster home right away, then look for something more permanent.

We held our breath, hoping she’d come through, and sure enough, she called the next morning. We were to bring Mojo to her workplace, where a foster family would take him home. Given that Mojo’s a Himalayan (not purebred) with gorgeous blue eyes and a friendly personality, we have every confidence that he’ll be placed in a permanent loving home.

Sometimes it takes prayer, other times visualization, or staying positive to achieve the best possible outcome in a tough situation. I think I used all of the above, and I’m thankful for the people who appeared in our lives to help us through a difficult situation. When the opportunity arises, I plan to pay it forward.

Acquiring Mental Strength

o-MENTAL-STRENGTH-facebook[1]A few weeks ago, I came across and interesting article about things mentally strong people do that no one else does. It intrigued me because I’m immersed in a year that’s requiring a lot of mental and emotional strength. But as I was reading the article I was struck by how many of the 12 points listed also applied to my writing life, not just my family life.

For example, among the twelve points listed, the first one is practicing gratitude. I’ve been doing this as a writer from the day I sold my first piece back in 1983. I’ve enjoyed many moments of gratitude since then and have managed to acquire some of the other points on the Entrepreneur article list.

For example, mentally strong people create their own definition of success, delay gratification, don’t blame others, adopt practical optimism, acknowledge their limitations, and don’t compare themselves to others.

I can’t claim to have conquered all points listed. I still have trouble saying no, I still let my inner critic vocalize too much, and I still let fear get in the way of going all out in certain aspects of my career. But I’m working on it.

One of the things I’ve learned after nearly forty years of writing is that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I have something to share with newer writers just starting out. And that means a lot.

If you’re interested in reading all twelve points listed in the Entrepreneur article, you can find it HERE.

The Powerful Connection Between Nature and Writing

Front Yard Flowers-3, 2019.jpgWriting and gardening seem to go hand in hand. I’ve read wonderful blogs from authors whose photos and enthusiasm for their gardens is amazing. I’ve read biographies about deceased authors who were also passionate gardeners.

Although I haven’t done much gardening as an adult, I loved growing flowers as a kid. My favorite were gladioli. I still like big flowers, dahlias and sunflowers in particular. But after my husband started a vegetable garden in earnest last year (we enjoyed oodles of zucchini and kale) and we had some trees topped or removed (we still have plenty of trees, trust me), the sunlight has poured in, revitalizing flowering plants (which will hopefully attract bees) that have been there for years, but never really blossomed, until now, as you’ll see in the photos.

Front Yard Flowers-1, 2019.jpgMany authors know that one of the best ways to sort through novel plotting problems is to take a walk, whether in the woods, by water, or in a park. There’s something about the tranquility, the sounds and smells of nature that ease our conscious minds while allowing our subconscious our brains to quietly knit ideas together. It’s no wonder that some writers prefer to write outside. Beaches, outdoor cafés, benches, campgrounds, can be inspirational.

At the other end of the spectrum, those of us who’ve been working hard to finish and/or edit a manuscript find the outdoors a way to re-energize and just breathe. There are certain outdoor places where I don’t think about writing at all. While in Mexico back in January, I spent a great deal of time outside walking and seeing the sights, with little thought to writing at all.

As most authors already know, writing about nature is an integral part of storytelling. Without a setting, we don’t have a fully developed novel, and while some stories might be set totally indoors, many are not. Writing about what we see, hear, smell, and touch adds depth to a story that relies too heavily on visual senses.

By the way, last week I wrote about weird and wacky days of the week. Tomorrow, May 23rd, is world turtle day, according to my WWF-Canada calendar. Not wacky or weird. Just poignant. Because I fear that we’re losing too much nature at a horrific rate and that one day we’ll be forced to step inside some sort of dome if we want to see it and inhale the many fragrances. It makes me want to do more to keep what we have before it’s all gone, and to enjoy the outdoors more often.

Weird and Wacky Special Days

long_one[1].jpgLast week my husband said, “Happy lost socks day,” to which I replied, “Huh?” He told me he’d heard on the radio that this was lost socks day. At that point, he glanced at the three unmatched socks abandoned on his side of the dresser.

Skeptical about whether such a day truly existed, I looked it up and sure, enough, May 9th is indeed officially known as Lost Sock Memorial Day. I found a website called Holiday Insights which lists a whole array of unique and in some cases bizarre special days.

Many months ago, I read a marketing tip advising authors to find a special day to tie in with their books. Who knew that Valentine’s Hallowe’en, Labor Day, Canada Day, and so forth barely cover the massive number of special days we can celebrate. Here’s a few more festive occasions in May that you might want to acknowledge, or not.

May 15 – National Chocolate Chip Day (that’s today. Eat a cookie.)

May 16 – National Sea Monkey Day (why? I wonder)

May 17 – Pack Rat Day (I know people who celebrate this daily)

May 18 – No Dirty Dishes Day (unless you’re on holiday, is that even possible?)

May 18 – Visit Your Relatives Day (maybe they’ll do the dishes)

May 20 – Be a Millionaire Day (wonder how that one works)

May 23 – Lucky Penny Day (a rare event indeed, here in Canada)

May 24 – Don’t Fry Friday (never do)

May 25 – Tap Dance Day (love it!)

May 28 – National Hamburger Day (aren’t most days?)

Of course, more serious holidays are also listed, but the point is there’s pretty much an occasion for everyone. If you like to make greeting cards, just imagine what you could do. If you’re looking for rather unique approaches to marketing your books, the opportunities are endless, so have at it.

The Tough Financial Road For Writers

Types_of_Freelance_Writing_Services[1].jpgI learned a long time ago that when it came to writing and income, I’d be taking more risk than I wanted in trying to earn a living from writing and publishing fiction. When I started getting paid for my published short fiction, the average paycheck was about $100, which meant I’d have to write and publish far more stories than I could possible manage.

After sharing my paltry income experience with a writers’ group back in the early 90’s, one of them loudly announced that she didn’t want to hear it. I learned then that not all writers want the truth about writing income. Since that time, I’ve read of, or even met, writers who wrote fiction as a means of earning needed retirement income. I worried for them. In fact, I worry for anyone who is depending on writing income, especially given the latest stats to come from the Authors Guild 2018 Author Income Survey. In a nutshell, the survey shows that writers’ incomes are dropping significantly. Keep in mind that this is one survey, but I’ve read of similar results from UK, Australian, and the occasional Canadian survey as well.

If you don’t want to know what the Guild report says, then stop reading here. I don’t mind. If you want to read the entire report (it’s interesting), you can find it HERE.

I want to focus on three highlights: 1) the median income for American writers in 2017, was $6,080, down 42% from 2009. 2) book earning incomes fell by 21% to $3,100. 3) on average, self-published authors earned 58% less money than traditionally published authors. A number of reasons are cited for these circumstances. Like many of us, the authors who took part in this survey supplemented their income through teaching, speaking engagements, and writing reviews.

I can certainly attest to the significant decline in ebooks sales for indie authors. In 2008 when I published Fatal Encryption, readers were trying their new e-readers and Kindles, and authors were buying one another’s books and reviewing them regularly, which Amazon eventually frowned upon. I used to sell paper copies on Amazon too until they decided to allow secondhand booksellers to sell my books at a cheaper price. It was either learn from this and adapt, or quit. I’ve chosen to adapt.

After reading the Authors Guild Report, I want to mention two things. One is that most authors (of course there are obvious exceptions) haven’t made a decent living from their work for well over a century. You can find references to what your predecessors have endured going back to Charles Dickens’ time and earlier.

My second point is that the desire—if not urge— to create won’t stop writers from expressing themselves in whatever form they choose, despite low income potential, nor should it. Dream big. A decent income does happen for some authors. It might not be easy and could take years of work, but nothing worthwhile comes easily, but then you already knew that, right?