Paperback Writer

Happy Halloween… bwahahaha….

Dragon Run

Children played in the river. Taking turns jumping from the end of the pier, one-by-one, they swam out into the tidal river, bringing up proof of their bravery in the form of handfuls of chocolate pudding mud, or an oyster shell from the shifting sand bar, or the rare prize of an empty blue crab shell.

I stay far from the river. Oh, I can swim. Like a fish, as they say, but I’ve not been near the water for nearly twenty years. I wish the children would stay away from the river, but I have stopped attempting to dissuade them from swimming here. There is a perfectly good municipal swimming pool just a few miles away from the river with the choice of lap swimming, or warm water swimming for small children and elderly people. Still, all of the children seem to prefer the brackish water of “the Dragon,” as the locals like to call this area of marshy inlets and wide breaks.

It was twenty years ago that the Dragon last woke…

Summers were sweet when the days were measured by the time between the school’s end and the school’s beginning. The last days of summer vacation were particularly sweet because they bore an air of necessity – to squeeze in the last bit of carefree fun before the start of school and a hint of excitement – for the beginning of a new school year – although Tommy Lee and I would never admit to it.

This summer had been so sweet because it was also the first time Tommy Lee and I kissed. I think we both knew we would never be boyfriend and girlfriend, but there was the unspoken promise of a guaranteed date to the prom, so there was less anxiety than usual.

We spent that summer diving from the end of the pier, bringing up mussel shells and black mud gloves until it took two baths to remove the smell.

It was also the summer we had uncovered our greatest underwater treasure of them all. The tide was dead low, which, as the name implies, means the lowest of low tides you were likely to see. A sandbar had cropped up in the middle of the river, and we were determined to get there. It required a good amount of ingenuity. The water was too shallow to swim, and the mud was too soupy and deep for walking, so Tommy Lee came up with the brilliant idea to pull out two sets of water skis. The rubber capped toe and heel holders were ratcheted onto our feet and laughing and challenging one another; we turned water skiing into a cross-country sport.

The Dragon, at this particular point in the tidal estuary, was about a tenth of a mile wide. We would be traversing almost half-way across the river on our wooden planks. Tommy Lee had a knack for spinning a story, so when an arc of minnows jumped from the shallows, he began one of his stories. This one was about the Dragon that was the river’s namesake. 

Tommy Lee described a sea creature that resembled an eel, but with a line of needle-sharp fangs and webbed arms that it used to propel itself just under the mud. What else could harass minnows in the shallows?

The behavior of the minnows was more pronounced than usual. I never concerned myself with what might be swimming in the deep water at high-tide and certainly not the shallows at low tide. It was in the channel that Tommy Lee and I had witnessed with our own eyes a pod of four dolphins. Their hunting behavior had driven the little fish to leap out of the water, just as the minnows were doing, in a sweeping arc above the water before falling back to their fate. But Tommy Lee’s story was so real, so visceral, that it made my skin crawl. It was the sort of story that made you look over your shoulder and imagine the Dragon that Tommy Lee painted.

My overactive imagination saw the undulating slimy fin of the Dragon break the surface of the mud and the shallow water.

I was gripped with fear, the sort that makes you laugh and squeal at the same time, but the next time I glanced over my shoulder, I was certain I saw one knobbly elbow of the webbed creature break the water’s surface. The V-shape of rippled water was heading toward me, and Tommy Lee was well ahead.

I let my adrenaline take-over. My skis schlop-schlop-schlopped through the mud and shallow water. For a second, I felt like I was walking on top of the water, my feet in the wooden skis were moving so fast. I kept moving my feet in the direction of the sand bar. Tommy Lee was already there. He was unstrapping his skis and laughing, pointing past my shoulder.

“It’s almost got you! Better hurry!”

Contrary to the smile on his sun-kissed face, I felt an inkling of truth in his goading. I moved my legs until my thighs burned. The swarm of minnows passed me, leaping and arcing out of the water. Just a few strides away, the sand bar stuck out of the water, gray from white sand mixed with black marsh mud. My right ski hit the hard sand of the bar. Then the left. I jumped out of the skis, leaving them lodged in the soft, wet sand. I rolled across the bar, coating my backside with sand that I would come to regret in a very real and painful return trek back across the shallows.

Tommy Lee nearly split a seam laughing.

“You shoulda seen your face. You really thought the Dragon had you.”

I looked back out across the shallow water. It looked farther to shore than it had looked from the shore to the sandbar. I reached down, scooped up a handful of mucky gray sand, and flung it at Tommy Lee. He spun out of the way and laughed harder.

I was too winded to laugh.

“Woah. Check this out.” He kicked something that was sticking out of the sandbar.

I could clearly see from where I was sitting that it was something metal. It wasn’t the corroded, barnacle-encrusted, rusty kind of metal detritus one was likely to find in the Dragon – old bits of boat hardware, remnants of chicken-wire crab pots, the odd pitted aluminum can. This was shiny enough to gleam gold in the setting sun.

Tommy Lee pulled, then got down on his hands and knees and dug at the thing. While I crawled over, he dug at the thing until he could grab it at the top and shift it back-and-forth like the stick shift in an old car. Something held it firm in the mud, but his little bit of success in making the thing wiggly gave him the motivation to dig further.

“That’s an awful lot of work for what’s gonna turn out to be an old boat rudder.”

“Nah. It’s gold.”

I touched it when he stopped working on the thing and started digging again. “Brass maybe,” although one would expect a brass piece to have turned green, then black with tarnish. 

This held a true gold color.

Tommy Lee was committed. He dug and pulled and shifted the rod until with a squelching “flurrrpt” the thing popped out of the sand bar.

He fell back on his backside, and I could only stare in wonder. It was exactly what it looked like from above, not a rusty, tarnished bit of boat debris, but an ornate rod of solid gold, and heavier than either one of us would have imagined when freed from the sand bar. On the end that was buried in the sand was mounted a jewel-encrusted egg, also of gold filigree. It was a scepter, plain and simple, although there was nothing plain nor simple about the ornamented totem.

Along the shores of the Dragon, the native people had called this place home for more than 12,000 years. We both wondered if it could have come from some of those ancient people of the Dragon, but how could it be. Native artifacts were known for their adherence to the materials that were at hand – turtle and mussel shells, hemp twine, pearl, and mother-of-pearl beads and ornaments.

This was gold, laden with red, blue, and green stones set in a filigree knob.

We went on a school trip to the Fine Arts Museum the year before, but even there, they did not have anything this fine behind thick glass and laser alarms.

Tommy Lee swished it in the salty water of the Dragon to clean off the mucky sand bits that clung to it.

“What should we do, Tommy Lee?”

He looked up at me, and in that instant, I saw someone different. He was no longer the ruddy-cheeked boy, middle of the pack sporty jock who attended the local public high-school. 

His eyes shone with a crystal blue I had never noticed before. His hair whipped up in the wind like someone had turned on a fan at an Abercrombie photo shoot. The sun that was setting behind him glinted a sunbeamed crown over his eclipse. And I caught my breath. Could it have been just a week ago that I had kissed this boy-man? This king of the Dragon?

I blinked. The wind died down, and the sun sank, and Tommy Lee was Tommy Lee again. I snort laughed, which would have been horrible if I had done it in front of the boy-man who had stood there on the sand bar just a few seconds ago.

Tommy Lee grinned, and I was comforted by his boyishness.

“We call the press, is what we do. We found a dad-gum king’s torch!”

“Ahm, I believe it’s called a scepter.”

“Yeah. What you said.”

But for all of Tommy Lee’s excitement, I was every bit as anxious. We still had to make a return trek to shore.

“I think we should leave it, Tommy Lee. It’s not ours.”

“Are you crazy?! Look at this thing. It’s not anybody’s.”

“Well, I’m gonna start back. The sun is already setting. It’ll be nearly dark by the time we get back to shore.”

On the side of the river from which we had come, the security light beside the house was beginning to flicker. It was on the east side of the house, so furthest away from any sunlight, but I had not been exaggerating. It would be nearly dark by the time we got back. The long walkway divided the backyard from the back door of the 1960s brick ranch house to the wooden pier that jutted out into the shallow water. If we just made it to the pier, we could climb up the wooden ladder at the end to attain what felt like safety.

I shoved my toes into the rubber cups on my water skis, my heel squashing the back cup, so I had to struggle and smash my index finger in trying to work it up over my heel. I pulled up the button in the back and slammed my fist into my heel, ratcheting the skis onto my feet so they wouldn’t be pulled off in the mud.

“Come on, Tommy Lee. We need to leave,” and I started without him.

He seemed to be taking his sweet time getting his water skis ratcheted on his feet. Neither of us had considered the difference made by the weight of a solid gold scepter in traversing the river. Whereas I was able to skim the surface more easily, my skis only barely touching the muddy bottom before I shuffled my ski forward, Tommy Lee struggled behind me. The weight of the gold and his general solidity made the trek more difficult for him. He moved a foot forward, then before he could move his second leg forward, the first one became mired in the mud, just deep enough to ensure that he was plodding more than shuffling. He had to lift each foot. The weight of the mired ski and the weight of his treasure made each step a slog.

He laughed. “Geez. I never imagined this little bit of extra weight would make it this much more difficult.” I could hear in his voice that he was labored. I was half the distance back across the river when I noticed his voice sounded far away.

I glanced over my shoulder, and that’s when I saw it.

The day Tommy Lee and I had seen the pod of dolphins from the relative safety of our kayaks, the sight of their fins was foreshadowed by the triangular disturbance in the water of small fish trying to escape whatever was chasing them. An arc of tiny fish jumped from the water. That was immediately followed by an arc of larger fish, leaping away from whatever was chasing them.

This time, I saw the leap of minnows, followed by the leap of a school of larger fish, then the splash as a three foot gar leapt from the water in an attempt to escape whatever it was that was making the even larger triangular disturbance in the water behind it.

That’s when I saw it – a dorsal fin rose up out of the shallows, a wake of mud following it like a royal train.

But this was no dolphin fin. This wasn’t even a shark fin, so easily mistaken for a dolphin. The fin that crested the mud and water was fleshy, the color of the chocolate gray marsh mud. It had a solid sharp spine at the front, maybe two other spines in the middle, and all of it wrapped in webbed flesh that shone dark but reflected the glisten of the setting sun.

“Tommy Lee! Get back to the sandbar!”

But Tommy Lee either did not hear me or did not heed me. He kept plodding onward toward the shore.

I struck out faster than I thought my legs were capable of moving, until my skis were practically gliding on top of the water. With a final dive, I lunged toward the wooden ladder at the end of the pier. I had to kick off the skis to make the ascent. Throwing my body across the planking, I turned, extending my hand to Tommy Lee.

But Tommy Lee wasn’t behind me. Tommy Lee wasn’t on the sand bar, which was fast disappearing in the rising tide and the setting sun.

“Tommy Lee!” I screamed, calling him until my voice rasped and my father and the neighbors came out of their houses and one-by-one ran down to the river’s edge.

Tommy Lee was never found. It’s been twenty years, and in that time, my replay of the events has only led everyone to believe that I was either delusional with fear, or I made up this fantastic story to cover up my own culpability in his disappearance.

Was it fool hearty to strike out across the shallows on water skis? We had waded out before, sinking up to our thighs in the chocolate pudding mud. That was fool hearty, but everyone who lives on the river knows, if you find yourself sinking too deep, you just go out flat on your belly and pull yourself along like a mudskipper. There was no real risk in what we were doing that night. I’ve never been afraid of the river, or the pudding-like mud that is home to so many fiddler crabs and tiny zooplankton. To this day, I’m not afraid of the water, or the tides. But now, I know what lives in that primordial ooze at the bottom of the river… and how Dragon Run got its name.

May the Fourth… Be With You Too—Or How STAR WARS is rife with writerly advice

(All quotes herein are those of Master Yoda.)

“NO! Try not. Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

Edgar Allan Poe

And that’s how you define a writer. A writer is not trying. A writer writes. If they “do not”, but talk about when they are going to write, then they’re not a writer. Yeah, sure, some of the words you write may be clunky, but you did it. The work of editing is not trying. It is also “doing”!

“Patience you must have, my young Padawan.”

The art of writing, and writing to completion, doesn’t happen in one sitting. New writers who ask other writers to read their work before it is complete are exhibiting that sort of impatience. New writers who expect instant success and are debilitated when it doesn’t happen right away, are exhibiting that sort of impatience. Writing is an investment in yourself that requires you to also be patient with yourself. Ohmmmm.

Dorothy Parker

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

The writing community is not so big as you may think. Don’t burn your bridges just because someone didn’t love your work. Thank them for the feedback and move on. By the same token, defend yourself against trolls. Hit that delete button without responding. Look at an agent’s track record for the markers of professionalism. Look at reviews of that publisher/editor. Don’t waste your time and energy chasing those who are unworthy of you and your hard work and laude those, (even if they don’t necessarily like your work) who are professional in their response and their actions. The industry has a long memory… and so do writers.

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”

Mark Twain

If you’re in it for the accolades, reconsider why you’re doing this. Do your best. Finish the story. Start the next story. Stop dreaming about your interview on network television. And when the local book club invites you to come to their gathering of five people to discuss your books, accept graciously, (and take a hostess gift, you prima-dona.)

And finally,

“Always pass on what you have learned.”

Virginia Woolf

As in science, it does no one a service to keep the secrets of the universe to yourself. Even if you only know a little bit, share it with the writer who knows less and learn from those who know more. I look forward to hearing from you and learning what you have to share.

Murder and Taxes

Okay, okay, it’s “death and taxes”… unless you’re a writer, in which case, it’s murder and taxes. I know, a lot of people dread April 15th. Not me. I revel in it.

No, I’m not an accountant making bank (and getting very little sleep), AND as such, take anything I say with a grain of salt. This is not legal advice. The simple whatsit of it though is that it comes around every April 15th, and it’s the day I celebrate as I look over the evidence of a valid career choice.

Every year, I eavesdrop (sometimes I participate) on/in a conversation with other writers about writing deductions. We can argue some of those points all day long, but the fact of the matter is, like any other business, you can write-off a lot of expenses.

Don’t take my word or advice. Go here  https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf  to print out a Schedule C for all us simple filers, and that pretty much tells you what you can write off as deductions on your writing income. It’s filled with lots of fun little tidbits like:

  • Advertising – what? You didn’t see a return on all those FaceBook Ads? No problem. You can still count them as a deduction. FaceBook, BookBub, printing costs of promotional materials, give-aways, all those pens with “Sofie Couch” that went into one old lady’s handbag at your last book signing. Yes. Even that.
  • Commissions and fees. Do you stock your books in a Mom and Pop shop that charges you a percentage upon sale? Did you have to actually pay for booth space at the local church bazaar? Those are fees. If you use Square to run sales yourself, Square charges you a fee. That’s a write-off.
  • Contract labor. That would be the graphic designer who made your cover or formatted your self-published book. Did you pay a freelance editor? They’re not an employee. They are contractors. Write it off.
  • Insurance. Do you insure your stock? Do you have insurance on your LLC to protect yourself from whatever harm may befall you in that big bad writing world?
  • Legal and professional services. Do you have an agent who charges you a percentage of your earnings? Do you use a lawyer to read over your contracts? Those are legit write-offs. Don’t take my word for it. Look it up.
  • Office expenses. Hahaha! I love this one. Every trip to Staples gives me pleasure when I get to write at the top of my receipt, “Writing—Office Expense, 2019.
  • Rent or Lease. Do you rent dedicated space for your writing? Yep. Write it off! In my hometown, there are several cooperative writing spaces that charge a nominal monthly fee for use of an “office” during the day. Maybe that’s something to consider next year.
  • Repairs and Maintenance. Well, not this year, but hopefully, next year, I will have my dedicated space all ready to roll out the carpet, then you can bet I’m going to have some “repairs and maintenance.” (First, I need power and insulation, but that’s another blog post.)
  • Supplies. This is my other favorite one. Notebooks, pens, ink cartridges, etc., etc. Again, save your receipts!!!
  • Taxes and Licenses. Yes, you can write off “taxes” on your taxes. I have a business license from the county, a Limited Liability Corporation certificate, and sales tax.
  • Travel and Meals. This one is also fun, because, heck, you should travel for your writing just so you have an excuse to use it. Going to a writer’s conference? Deduct. Going to a Writer’s Chapter meeting more than an hour away? Kerching. You can write off ½ of the cost of a meal, hotel accommodations, and mileage!!!  I love the mileage thing. I probably never take as much on this as I’m allowed, but only because I want proof of my mileage backed up by a receipt, so every trip to Staples for office supplies, every trip to the Post Office, every trip to the printers for test copies of my book cover… Those, with the accompanying receipt, is a mileage deduction. The rate per mile can change each year, so look it up. You’ll be shocked how much you can write off in mileage.
  • Wages. I should be so luck as to have a personal assistant who posts for me to social media, answers my e-mail and sets up book events. But if I did, I would definitely deduct that person’s wages, as well as the expenses associated with having an employee – the payroll tax accounting, the employer taxes, the cost of driving back and forth to aforementioned payroll tax accountancy.

And THAT’s all before you deduct expenses for an at-home office. Now is the perfect time to start organizing a file for next April 15th.

So don’t dread tax day. Celebrate it! And celebrate your active pursuit of a career as a writer. And as always, save those receipts!

Now, go write some words!

My SuperPower!

My Superpower!

ACK!!! I found myself lying on the floor, my hand across my forehead, moaning in despair. This was the effect of the fourth or fifth interruption in probably thirty minutes when I was trying to write. But then, while I was laying there on the floor, I started thinking, day dreaming, as writers are apt to do from time-to-time, and I started pondering over this common occurrence—me lying on the floor after someone, usually my spouse or young adult child—interrupts my train of thought. When they do that, something occurs in my body that feels like… pain.

Let me backup a little and explain how I feel about writing. I went to school to study to be a scientific illustrator, but a series of unexpected twists led me to rhetoric. Yes, I said “rrrrrhetorrrric”. You have to roll the r’s for the greatest impact. (It also makes you sound a little bit Scottish, so that’s pretty cool too.)

And seriously, it was not a waste of educational funding. I know, I know. I was uncertain at first too. (My parents were absolutely uncertain), but then I heard the definition of rhetoric:

 the art of discovering the available means of persuasion with regard to any situation.

Let that rain over your body for a minute. “The art of discovering the available means of persuasion with regard to any situation.” I’ve put it in quotes, but I don’t’ recall who defined it in that particular form. Aristotle was the first to define it, but he used beautiful, grandiose Greek words.

I didn’t have to think about it long before I realized, hey. That’s a super power. If I could discover the means to persuade someone to my way of thinking, isn’t that the definition of superpower? Who needs mind control? What use do I have of super strength. My words could be my superpower, my available means of persuasion, my pen “…mightier than the sword.”

So that’s what I did. I went to college to develop my superpower.

Most of us already know about the power of words to inflict pain and emotional scars. But if I were to focus on that aspect of words, that would make me a super villain, so I chose to focus on the positive, transformative power of words. (Plus, we see enough evil villainy every time we turn on the television. It’s important to understand how the villains operate to alter perceptions, but I don’t have to be a part of that, thank you very much.)

Here are just a few examples of the power of words:

The strength of vocabulary to advance our understanding of the world. Have you heard the RadioLab talk about the color blue? We look up in the sky and we say, yep. That’s blue. But that was not always the case. People used to look up at the sky and say, “hmm. Looking awfully white today,” Or “that ocean there is pretty wine red today.” Don’t believe me? You can check out a fun discussion about the history of color, our perceptions of color, and how those things become a commonality in language to coincide with our understanding of colors. https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/211213-sky-isnt-blue In a nutshell, we don’t recognize a thing like color until we have a mental coat-hook on which to hang it.

Words have the power to change our hearts. Sharing and building a common vocabulary becomes a means to explore (and build acceptance for) taboo topics. It turns out, when we expand our vocabulary, sharing new words to explain and describe topics that were once considered to be forbidden or at least very frowned upon, we develop our understanding of that thing. We are able to say to one another, “that thing X makes me uncomfortable,” to which another person can reply, “I’m sorry that X makes you uncomfortable. Here’s why it’s absolutely normal in my world…”.The first person doesn’t have to agree right away, but they’ve been informed, using the common vocabulary and those words create hooks toward understanding.

Immortality. (Kind of). In the world of writers, words have the power to extend our history, extend our thoughts beyond our physical lives, and the power to speak to another person’s soul. You may have seen that scene play out whereby people in love, separated by distance, vow to look up at the moon and know that their soulmate is also looking up at the same moon and in that way, they are connected by distance. That’s the written word. You might say, it is a tool toward immortality, so long as the words live. It’s our recording of our thoughts for future generations, but also, it’s a means of sharing history, cultural consistencies at a single point in time… to be shared with future generations.

So there I was, lying on the floor… in pain… When I’m writing, you could say, I’m using my superpower. And when you disrupt my writing, well, that’s my kryptonite. I still love my interrupters, but they do have the power to send me writhing to the floor in pain… because every superhero has her kryptonite.

How to Get Out from Under the Soul Sucking Day Job

How are you going to be creative if your 9-to-5 job is sucking away at your soul?

It’s all in how you package it! My Dad used to say of his 9-to-5 job working in a windowless cubicle, “I always remind myself, I could still be staring at the back side of a mule.” How’s that for motivation?

I’m not advising that you make the best of it by comparing your soul sucking job to the more soul sucking alternative. I’m advocating a more forward-thinking approach that has made all the difference for me.

Many years ago, I found myself in a position whereby the day jobs were beginning to pull at my threads and unraveling my seams.

I was homeschooling my two children. I was trying to contribute to the family coffers by working weekends at the family owned and operated antique mall, and I was managing my first duplex rental property. I was also trying to be creative with my words. Something had to give.

No, no, no, I did not give away the children, and I still wanted to be a part of the family antique mall. I had a booth there as well, so I had to go out at some point and hunt for goods for my little store. Basically, I was doing a lot of things and none of them all that well and it was beginning to suck my soul.

So I repackaged what I was doing.

RePackaging Yourself.

First, you have to figure out what it is about your job that is sucking your soul. In my case, it was simply that it was not the job of being a writer, so I took a moment to think about what I was doing and how it might be done if I was a writer. Below is an example of my process:

Identify what it is that you want to be when you grow up

In my case, I wanted to be a writer, but you can insert the art medium of your choice: painter, ceramist, photographer…

Again, in my case, it’s always been about writing. So I thought about what I was currently doing and how I might better align those things with my dream job.

Property management.

My duplex house was across town. I was still doing the lawn care, because I didn’t want to be a bad neighbor, but with two small children, keeping up was taking its toll and being a property manager – that kind of property manager – did not align with my dream of being a writer. So I sold it. This is not something I do lightly. I think of property like the game of Monopoly. If possible, don’t sell. Never sell Park Place and never EVER sell or mortgage Baltic and Mediterranean! But I sold my little Baltic Avenue, and I took the proceeds and plowed them into a little “cottage” in my back yard. Almost immediately, I was able to rent it on a short-term basis as a “writers’ retreat”. Just making that one little change altered my outlook. Sure, it wasn’t bringing in as much (gross) as the duplex across town, but once you figured in the fact that I was no longer paying a mortgage on that duplex, no longer schlepping across town… and I had created something I could conceivably use for my own writing, it created a huge shift in my thinking. (Note. Today, I am happy to say the cottage is booked more often than not, so I don’t use it as my own writer’s retreat but providing it for other writers has been soul-enriching.) Curious? You can see (and book) it here:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/487795?guests=1&adults=1&s=nrCoZRPR

Antiques.

I had a booth in the family’s antique mall, but as I have mentioned before, I am not a gambler with my money. I’ve never felt confident going out and spending perfectly good money, risking the investment in something that may or may not sell for a profit. But I love books! So it never really felt like a gamble to buy/find used books that I myself might want to read. And so long as I priced it competitively above whatever I paid, I felt like it wasn’t a risk if it didn’t sell. Instead, I was just creating a really big “to-be-read” pile. In my little 10ft. by 10ft. booth, I started selling a few hundred dollars worth of books per month, a little less than I was making on the antiques, but it was a pleasure, and once again, it started to fill my soul and allow me to see myself in my dream role – as a writer.

Once you’ve settled on the goal, make the plan. Set a date.

Do you want to be working a 3-day week at your 9-to-5 job and have the other four days to pursue your passion? Look at your finances. Can you live on 3 days worth of income? Do you have those passive income streams set-up? When will they take effect?

The Children. Private school was not an option. $$$. Public school had proven to be a less than ideal fit for my quirky artistic children. And I never felt fully qualified to homeschool my kids. WHAT? They’re my own kids, for crying out loud, and what is the “right way”. That’s about the same time I discovered a thing called unschooling. At its worst, it’s free-range chaos. At its best, it’s a beautiful, child-centered, enriching thing with few constraints or limitations. I won’t get on my soap-box, because I’m sure that soap box looks as different for every homeschooling/unschooling parent as there are children. I made a return to the structure of their Montessori pre-school days and “followed the child” within a structured environment. It never ceases to amaze me, where they have taken me. I taught them to pursue their interests, and in so doing, I learned as much myself about following my own passions wherever they may lead.

Recently, I made another shift. I bought one of those nice little sheds, you know the kind? Two windows, a door in the center, and about 12ft. by 20ft. Then my mother-in-law gave us her little windowless shed when she moved into a condo. So all that stuff that was going to be stored in the cute shed, hand tools, lawn mowers, etc., could be moved to the windowless shed. And voila, my office was born. Okay, it’s still a shed stuffed with furniture that will eventually be used in my office once it’s insulated, heated/cooled, drywalled, painted…. But there is a plan. And how do I make it pay for itself? Those ancillary rentals on the same property just got a whole lot more appealing when you read that there is a “Little Free Library” on the property… that is an actual library! Yes, my office will be a 12ft by 20ft. library, filled with that crazy “to-be-read” pile of books, to share with guests and neighbors!

If you’re reading this, I’m thinking, maybe, you have one of those soul-sucking jobs. So here’s your assignment: think about the cross-overs between your current job and your writing, or other dream endeavor. Are you tired of working behind a desk for a large corporation? Could you cut your expenses and take a lower paying job that allowed you to go part-time? What if you rented out a room in your house? Could you give up the soul sucking job altogether for something more in keeping with your dreams? Does it mean shifting your hours at work to ensure you free-up your ideal creative hours for pursuing your art? Think about what you’re doing that’s eating away at your dream of pursuing your passion and shift the way you look at it.

Now, Go Write Some Words.

(Disclaimer: This series consists of my humble opinion. Every situation is different. This is simple homespun advice based on my own experiences. Seek business counsel, accounting advice, legal advice, from a professional.)

Developing Passive Income Streams

I think writers are either incredibly ego-centric, or just so persistent as to border on pig-headedness. Don’t worry. I count myself amongst your ranks. Who else would tackle the task of writing a novel. Not just one book, but many over the course of a lifetime. Who do we think we are? Seriously, who gets up thinking, today, I’m going to write a 300 page novel? And you and I both know, it’s not a 300 page novel in a day. It takes grit. It takes a pretty tough hide when daily you’re confronted by more sensible things to do with your time. It takes persistence.

It’s the same with creating passive income streams. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s a marathon.

Marathon Runner

What, you ask, is a passive income stream? Those are sources of income that flow to you long after the work has been completed. Those are things like: stock dividends, royalties, rental income. The list goes on.

You’re probably saying, “yeah, sure. If I had some rental property to rely on as a passive income stream….” For years I’ve been saying something similar: “Yeah, if I had been born a trust-fund baby…” The sad truth of it is, I wasn’t. Lots of people are not, but when you decide upon what form you want your passive income streams to take, you make a plan, set goals, and do it. It’s the long con, er, game. It’s like saving for retirement, it’s like… writing a novel. But in this scenario, exerting effort to develop your passive income streams enables you to devote more time to your art.

I can only speak from personal experience, so while there are many different sources for passive income, I can only speak about my own. I’m not a gambler. I can’t even spend a buck for a scratch lottery ticket without major misgivings. “You got to be in it to win it…” and I’m definitely not “in it”. So my passive income streams have mostly taken on the form of things I can see, touch, feel, smell… rental property, antiques, and on-line sales.

Rental Properties: This first one, rental income, I sort of fell into. I wasn’t given a house to begin with, but I did grow up around this sort of thing. My father, whose hobby was hard work, would come home after his 9-to-5 as an estimations analyst, shuck his work clothes for different work clothes. The second set of clothes were usually not all that clean. And from the time he got home until dark, he built houses… which he would then rent or sell, then start the next house. Over the course of his lifetime, he built 5 homes from scratch and renovated as many more. And when I say, “from scratch”, I mean just that. He hand dug footings when he didn’t have enough money to hire a backhoe. He laid block, he wired, he plumbed. He would usually enlist the help of his brothers or friends for a weekend when it came to the actual roof raising, and he returned the favor in kind, then he would spend the cold winter months working on the inside of the house, every pay day, saving money to spend at the local home improvements store. When he reached a point in construction that left him stymied, he would drive around the county, find a house under construction at the same phase, and go up to the guys building it, and ask questions. Each house took him about 5 years to complete, start-to-finish, paid for as he made the money.

So in that sense, yes, I was given a great gift. I grew up around it, saw the process (five times at least), and learned a thing or two about being a property owner/manager.

Barn Raisin’

I purchased my first house for $29,500 in the late 1980s. The monthly payments, around $260 dollars at the time, at 8% interest, 30 year loan, was as much as I could afford. I think the rent rates at the time were almost double that, but there was taxes and insurance, and repairs. Oh my, were there ever repairs. I sold that house and bought another for twice the price. Circumstances forced me to cut that second house in half and rent out one side while I lived in the other side. The sort of renovations were mostly gross cleaning and painting. I can swing a paint brush, by god, and if need be, a sledge hammer. And finally, I sold that to buy the property I currently manage on the same lot as our home. It had an ancillary cottage on the property. (And by “cottage”, I mean gutted shed.) But there you have it. It was home and gave me a separate space to rent out, then another space in half of our house, so today, I have two Airbnbs. I have over 200 five-star reviews, and that has afforded us a source of comfort in knowing, if our backs were to the wall, we could make it.

The Antiques biz: Drive down any Main Street Community and you’ll see them – those antique malls whereby a group of hobbyists band together, rent one large space, then divvy it up, each paying a percentage of the costs, selling their wares, and (hopefully) making a profit. My mother started one of these when she “retired” twenty-five years ago. It was her dream job – shopping, owning her own shop, shopping, repairing and repurposing furniture, shopping… 20 odd years later, my father passed away. Mom couldn’t run the space by herself, so in I stepped. I ran the shop for 4 years, and wrote very little. In that time, I doubled the revenues, doubled the number of dealers in the space, and converted it to that cooperative model whereby many hands make light work. Mom still owns the building, but in June of this year, I turned the business over to the other antique dealers. I just patch holes and plunge the occasional stopped up thing. But whether you’re the property owner or one of the dealers, there is a great source of passive income. Each month, dealers fill their space, sort it, price it, display it, clean it, and take turns working one or two days selling everyone’s wares. At the end of the month, for essentially, about one week’s worth of work, there’s a nice plump little pay check. (If there’s not a nice plump little paycheck, you will want to reconsider this as an option and find another passive income stream in which to invest.)

Royalties: All those books you’ve been writing, while working the day job, will eventually begin to pay you in dribbles and drabs. It might not be much at first, but remember, this is a looooong game. Are you handy with a camera? Why not put those images on a royalty paying site? Do you love painting? Crafting? Can you sell the fruits of those passions on-line? Do you have expertise in some area that you can share with others on-line? What about an online auction site? You’d be surprised what your little Saturday pastime can earn you in on-line sales.

Recently, we had the “opportunity” to put those passive income streams to the test. A month ago, my husband was laid off. The company, in trouble financially, was in receivership, which meant there was no severance pay. He was given notice one day, and left with not quite all of the pay he was due the next. It would be so easy to be bitter about that, but I knew we would be okay. With the confidence of having some fairly steady passive income streams, I could reflect on my husband’s employer with compassion. That job supported our small family of four for 25 years! How could anyone be bitter about that? Okay, I’m a little sad about the company… and the other people who were invested in that company. But we realized we were not destitute. We had my passive income streams, built by working those jobs, staying up late nights painting rental properties, Saturdays spent working in the antique shop, working the occasional part-time job.

So think about your passions. What is it you love to do that you could convert into a passive income stream? Don’t neglect your 9-to-5 prospects, but squirrel something away for some sort of long-term investment and start building your passive income streams.

Next time, I’ll talk about “soul sucking” jobs and how to make them not quite so, er, sucky.

As ever, Go Write Some Words!… and don’t neglect your passive streams.

(Disclaimer: This series consists of my humble opinion. Every situation is different. This is simple homespun advice based on my own experiences. Seek business counsel, accounting advice, legal advice, from a professional.)

Why Keep the Day Job?

We live in an increasingly isolating world. If you drive to work instead of commute en masse, you put yourself in a box for an hour or more per day, roll up your windows to shut out the noise, turn on the radio and prepare or unwind.

We install replacement windows to keep out the draft and the sound. We build privacy screens, we covet the office over a cubicle, we seldom pop in to the watering hole/post office/community center to catch up on local gossip if you even have such an establishment.

Welcome to life as a writer, one of the most isolating professions on the planet, right up there with lighthouse keeper. It’s a job that results in success when you close yourself away and talk to voices in your head, and yet, that seems to be what we aspire to.

Yet, there are some really good arguments for not quitting the day job.

  1. Isolation, as mentioned above.
  2. Networking. If you plan, at sometime, (or don’t plan, but circumstances necessitate) to return to the 9-to-5, it is very difficult to get a job with no references. Book reviews don’t really count. Seen any jobs looking for someone who makes up stuff all day? No. Not me either.
  3. Don’t neglect your passive income streams. Those are “jobs” that pay you long after the work is done – royalties, dividends, rental income… (More on that in the next blog post.)

What’s that, you say? Your day job is soul-sucking? Ack! Can’t have that. Follow this blog series for my third installment in which I talk about how to ensure that your day job is not soul-sucking.

Now, you there, with the soul sucking job, no passive income streams to speak of, and depression in your future when you start writing full-time. Hang in there,

Go Write Some Words!

(Disclaimer: This series consists of my humble opinion. Every situation is different. This is simple homespun advice based on my own experiences. Seek business counsel, accounting advice, legal advice, from a professional.)