Tax Preparation for Writers: Tips and Zen and Pain

If you haven’t prepared your tax return yet, check out this great article on tax returns for artists, complete with an expense checklist for writers. This CPA’s site and ebook have all the info you need (note: this is not my own accountant).

I’m a lifelong math phobe. So tax season sends me trudging into the dining room for what I’ve come to think of as my annual tax Gethsemane.

I have my bag of receipts and canceled checks.  I have a clenched jaw, a tremble in both hands. I have a mountain of regrets for (1) My terrible childhood math teacher and (2) My conviction that numbers are really just a bunch of 9th-century hieroglyphics masquerading as 21st-century digits and invented to give us night sweats.

I’ve created my own homemade tax-prep technique.  Using my accountant’s categories, I write said categories on a bunch of sticky notes and place the sticky notes in a double row along the dining table. Next, I unfold and assign each collected receipt to its appropriate stick-note category. Then, I total the receipt amounts and write that total on each sticky note. And finally, I write that amount on the appropriate line on the tax form.

Look, numberblocksI know that it’s second-grade math.  I know I’ll never get into CPA school. But it’s the only way that works for me.

Believe it or not, this tax-prep stuff has a saving grace. For a busy woman who often can’t remember what she did last week, tax-prep season is a rear-view glimpse into the past year.

And it was a good year, full of blessings and surprises. On a freezing night in March, on the nights of my Gethsemane, I need to be reminded of that.

For example, here’s a receipt from a dinner out with three other working women writers. Oh, yeah, now I remember that night. We yapped and chatted and chewed the writers’ fat until the waiters started dimming the lights.

Oh, and here’s a canceled check for a payment to someone named Daniel. Daniel? Daniel … Webster? Boone?  Oh, Daniel. Yes, how could I forget that hipster who sold me the used desk and matching file drawers for my home office, my little writing haven?

Speaking of checks, here’s one from my favorite writers retreat. Days writing in my room. Evenings sharing dinner and chat with one of my oldest friends. Seriously, does life get any better than that?

Oooh! Here’s a fully intact MTA parking receipt from … when? Christ, with all their tax-fare hikes, you’d think that the Massachusetts Transit Authority, the MTA, could print their ticket dates clearer? Just this once, MTA, couldn’t you and your buddy Charlie be the men who actually do (tax) return?

Wait. It’s coming back to me. The receipt is from that fall afternoon, a Sunday when I took the train into Boston to read and present at America’s first public library.

And then … (cue the creepy music) … it’s time for my annual attack of tax  paranoia.  Instead of this tabletop, karst landscape of sticky notes and receipts, I see every crack, every cockroach that skitters across the floor of my prison cell–as in, tax-evaders’ prison cell.

Gulp!  And listen, why should I trust an accountant? Isn’t she also in the hieroglyphics club? They probably all have their own secret social media page, all communicating and chortling away in that mad language that …. Yo, writer. Yo. Zen. Zen. Now.

Let’s just log onto the IRS website to check and double-check these official allowances and write-offs.

“See the page on …” “Read the addendum on …” “Read our set and subset and footnotes of hieroglyphics for blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

And then, here’s the flash point of sin or redemption for every writer during every tax season:  “Was this trip for business or pleasure?”

Phew. I’ve got the rest of my receipts. I’ve got my mileage amounts. So no final phone calls from the prison pay phone for me.

Okey dokey, what have we got here?  Oh look!  It’s from my teaching stint at the Ocean Park Writers Conference in Maine. Hot summer days. Maine ocean breezes. Front-porch conversations with my students.

And it was all, all business (heh!).


About Aine Greaney

I'm an Irish writer living in greater Boston. I've published four books--two novels, a small collection of short stories and a how-to writing book, "Writer with a Day Job" (Writers Digest Books). I've also published lots of short stories, essays and feature articles. My latest project, "What Brought You Here" is a non-fiction narrative about being an expatriate in America. Find me on Twitter @ainegreaney. Or at my author web page, As well as creative writing, I am the communications director for a healthcare non-profit. I also lead creative writing workshops at various libraries, schools and arts programs. At my workshops, I've been inspired by lots of wonderful writers--most of whom work a day job!
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8 Responses to Tax Preparation for Writers: Tips and Zen and Pain

  1. You DID have a good year! Thanks for sharing the highlights as well as the links.

  2. Marcia says:

    Love this, Aine. Me? I trust my accountant, and just hand everything over to her. Isn’t being a writer grand?

    • Aine Greaney says:

      My, you’re up early, Marcia. Yes, tax season. Happy to say I dropped off all my ‘stuff’ at the accountant’s yesterday … Will email a longer letter later …

  3. Loretta Worters says:

    Great advice! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Laurence King says:

    Great post, Aine! Taxes are no favorites of mine either….Gah! Hope all is well with you.

  5. Maureen Murphy says:

    Hello Aine,

    It may be way past time for you to read comments, but I’ve got an approach to ease anxiety. MAKE TAX SOUP! This is a nourishing soup to save you money when you have to write a check to the IRS. I am a combined accounting/creative/sensory type person so I like to do my own taxes, but do something creative at the same time. SO:

    Since “three” is a sacred number (the Trinity, Aristotle’s Poetics, etc.) divide up your tax chores into three days (starting late March)

    a.) DAY ONE: Gathering and Broth Making. 1 – Gather all receipts from under the bed, your purse, wherever. Gather your necessary tax forms and supplements, plus all needed instructions. 2. – Gather beef and other meat bones, carrots, onion, maybe celery, olive oil. 3._ Put gathered tax stuff in a bag and forget about it for now. 4.) Set oven at 400 degrees, with a little olive oil, roast bones and aromatic chopped vegs until they sbrown and smell l great, add a little water to prevent sticking.

    5.) Take out roasting pan, put veggies and bones in big bowl. Deglaze pan with some hot water, glaze into bowl.

    B.) DAY TWO: Cooking (soup, not “the books”). 1. – Categorize all receipts (dividing by type, then date) 2. – Set pot on stove with pre-roasted bones and vegetable, plus all gelatinized glaze – cover with water. Boil for a while, then throw in (using your instinct) potatoe, turnip, carrot, other root veggies, cooks till soft but not mushy (I time by the aroma). 3. – READ all tax forms and instructions, take frequent tea breaks. Add drained and canned garbanzo beans, and pigeon peas to heat. Add can of crushed tomatos and some chopped napa cabbage. Remove bones and give to dog.

    In last ten minutes or so, add any veggies that should be “tender crisp” Since it is spring, pea shoots and Chinese pea pods perfect. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper.

    Fortifying yourself with one bowl of soup, do first draft of tax form. Then put everything away.

    C.) DAY THREE – A.M> Reheat soup with some extra broth if it is very thick (canned OK). Eat soup to fortify yourself Take out draft tax form and review for BOTH math mistakes and inaccuracies, misunderstood instructions. TAKE A ONE HOUR BREAK, GET SOME AIR Bring some soup to a person in need to build karma.

    D.) DAY THREE – P.M. After another cup of tea, finalize form, make copies, walk to P.O. and send via certified mail.

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