It’s Almost Tax Time: 5 Financial Tips for Freelance Writers

It’s almost cruel: as soon as the holidays are over, it’s time to start thinking about first quarter financials. And while winter may be the most wonderful time of the year (… maybe), it’s also one of the most busy and expensive.

Tax time is stressful for everyone, but especially for freelance writers, whose financial situations can be super-complicated. Have you been keeping up with your quarterlies? What about self-employment tax? Maybe you’ve got a “normal job” as a side gig — which means you’ve got W-2s to worry about, too. And how’s that whole “saving for retirement” thing going?

Fret not, frantic freelancer! Because while, yes, tax time will require some additional hustle, getting your ducks in a row at the beginning of the year can set you up for smooth sailing thereafter.

Here are five savvy financial steps to take before the cruellest month arrives.  

1. Maximize IRA contributions

You might not have an employer-sponsored 401(k), but you are saving for retirement, right?

Whether you choose a Roth or traditional account, an IRA is a great way to build that nest egg. But you’ve gotta put money into it if you want to take money out!

Given that IRAs carry relatively low contribution limits (up to $5,500 for 2018), meeting the maximum is a relatively achievable goal for many of us — and it’s well worth scrimping and saving for. The magic of compound interest can turn even a modest savings into a sizable retirement fund, provided you give it time to grow.

That $6,000 per year works out to just over $125 a week, equivalent to what you might spend at bars and restaurants…and in 30 years time with a 6% growth rate, you’d have about half a million dollars. (Source: this retirement calculator. I mean, I’m a writer; you can’t expect me to do that kind of math unaided. 😉 )

You’ve got until April 15 of each calendar year to make contributions for the previous years’ taxes, so even if the holidays have you strapped, you’ve still got time to get there.

2. While you’re at it, check out your portfolio

That IRA — or any other investment account you might have — will only grow if your assets are properly allocated. And while we’re not suggesting you take on day trading (unless you really know what you’re doing), it’s a good idea to take a glance at your holdings on a yearly basis.

Malik S. Lee, Certified Financial Planner and founder of Atlanta-based Felton & Peel Wealth Management, cautions average investors against playing with their portfolio too often — especially given the sensationalism of the media. “You don’t want to react to headline risks,” he says. But there are certain situations where updates and changes are called for.

We’re certainly not investment experts, so we’ll leave it up to you to do that research. That said, if you’ve got the budget for it, hiring a qualified financial advisor can be a great way to take the guesswork out of your long-term financial strategy.

3. Review last year’s earnings and set goals for this year

New year, new you, new opportunities to increase your income. But first, take a second to look back at how you performed last year — that way, you’ll have better context from which to set those goals. (Plus the chance to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back!)

Keeping detailed records is imperative for freelance entrepreneurs, which means that figuring out your total income shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re struggling with a convoluted system of ad hoc Google doc spreadsheets — or worse, paper invoices (*shudder*), consider upgrading to Freshbooks, which will help with this step as well as the next.

By the way, don’t underestimate the power of writing your goals down. It’s scientifically proven to improve your chances of actually achieving your objectives, and it’s also a great way to track your growth in the long term. There’s nothing like looking back at the goals you set three years ago and finding they’re a fraction of your present-day earnings!

4. Get into the nitty gritty

You’ve checked out how much you made last year and written down an ambitious-yet-achievable goal for this one.

So how are you going to make it happen?

One of the best ways to earn more money as a freelance writer is to get a little bit cutthroat when it comes to your clients. After all, not all paid gigs are created equally — and it’s worth pouring more of your energy into the ones that offer better returns on your time and energy investments.

So take a chilly January afternoon to go over your client list (and/or sources of income in general) so you can decide who and what to prioritize. If you’re looking for a great template to work off, check out this amazing income breakdown by The Write Life’s managing editor, Jessica Lawlor.

5. Prepare for April — don’t forget about self-employment tax!

No doubt this one is already on your to-do list, but it’s worth reiterating: quarterly taxes are due on April 15, and given the probable complexity of your paperwork situation, you probably want to file them quite a bit earlier.

Keep in mind that you’ll be paying both income taxes within your designated bracket, as well as self-employment tax — a particularly, um, fun freelance extra that’s easy to forget about. For most freelancers, it’s a good idea to find an accountant…and given how busy she’s about to be, you might as well schedule that appointment for before the end of January.

Happy new year, writers. May your 2019 be prosperous and your paperwork be as simple as possible!

The post It’s Almost Tax Time: 5 Financial Tips for Freelance Writers appeared first on The Write Life.

Why You Need to Join a Writing Group (And How to Find One)

If you’re fearfully approaching your writing life this year, one decision could change your life and your writing.

While this decision should be cautiously made, and you may experience some trial and error in the process, I strongly advise you to consider my suggestion: join a writers group this year.

Years ago, I joined an in-person, flesh-and-blood writers group through a local arts program known as Art House Dallas. We met for two years. We studied inspiring passages about writing. We contributed chapters to a collaborative project that was outside most of our comfort zones. We listened to each other’s stories of failure and success. Multiple members finished their book-length projects at the time.

Most of all, we encouraged one another to keep pursuing the calling of writing that is both so challenging yet so rewarding.

That group made me believe I was a writer.

You need other writers

Since then, I’ve become a writing instructor with Writing Workshops Dallas and a public speaker for writers groups and writing retreats.

In the summer of 2018, I attended the God’s Whisper Farm Writers Retreat. I led a breakout session, but the most memorable moment reminded me of our deep need for writing community.

During a time where small groups of five writers shared pieces of their work for immediate feedback, Maria shared her poetry, humbly telling us in so many words, “I’ve rarely shared this with anyone.”

Her hands may have trembled as she handed each of us a printout of one of her poems.

We all read in silence. Then we all looked at her, then at each other.

I don’t recall who spoke first, but our feedback was unanimous: “Maria, this is excellent work. I don’t see how any of us could improve upon it.”

After discussing her poem, background, and motivation, we all sat in awed reflection. Then I may have been the one to ask the question that nearly brought tears to her face: “Have you considered pitching this to a publisher?”

Her facial response seemed to say, “That’s ridiculous. Who would be interested in poetry from some no-name woman in rural Virginia?”

Then she spoke with grace and humility, downplaying her significant way with words. After begrudgingly accepting our accolades, she spoke similar words to what I’d said myself before joining my first writers group: “I just never knew there were other people like me out there.”

Really, that’s the only reason you need to join a writers group: to know you’re not alone on this insane calling.

But, if you need more motivation to leave your desk, read on.

6 reasons to join a writers group

1. Joining a writers group will help you escape hibernation

If your writing life has been dormant for months (or even years), the right writers group will spring you into action — if not just to prove to your group members that you are, in fact, a writer.

2. A writers group will provide you with accountability

Some people can self-motivate, but even the most productive writers need goading from time to time. Procrastinating writers definitely need prodding. Untold thousands of people want to write a book every year; only a small percentage will ever meet their goal. What kind of writer do you want to be?

3. A writers group will motivate you to become a better writer

For instance, the Inklings was a famous writers group from 1933–1949 comprised of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and many other English writers. “Many passages of The Lord of the Rings found in the Inklings their first—and unfailingly appreciative—audience, much to the delight of their author.” The friendly but competitive spirit of the group spurred Tolkien to write a masterpiece.

4. A writers group provides inspiration

Hearing another author’s work-in-progress, celebrating their successes alongside them, or seeing how they overcome the inevitable frustrations of the writing life will all inspire you to keep at it. And knowing that you will have a group of people who will likewise celebrate alongside your successes is a great inspiration to do your best work.

5. Worthwhile writers groups ought also to educate you

While not every writers group is solely educational, education still happens, whether through hearing others’ feedback, learning how someone marketed their book or discovering a new tool or resource that’s just what you needed at the precise moment you needed it.

6. Finally, a writers group ought to be fun

Of course, it won’t always be fun, but if you’re going to get the most from your group, your group needs to be relationally healthy. And a sure sign of relational health is the group’s ability to have fun without losing sight of the reason for the group’s existence.

If your writers group is far too serious all the time, you might need to search for a new group. The writing life is hard enough without your dour writers group making it more so.

Now, since I’m sure you’re motivated to join a writers group this year, let’s get practical.

What kind of writers group should I join?

Not all writers groups are created equally. Not all are sanctioned by an organization. Not all are free to attend.

In other words, before you choose a writers group, do your homework.

Research the group online. Send an email or two to the group’s coordinator. Connect with current members of the group. Figure out if what the group offers and the kinds of people who attend are what you could commit to.

Unless the group quickly fails to meet your expectations, commit to the group for at least a year. You need that long to build the kinds of trusting relationships that the best writers groups need, especially for critique groups. (Wouldn’t you rather know the person pretty well who’s nicely ripping apart your work?)

Here are a few different types of writers groups:

  • Critique groups tend to be the most common type of writing groups. In these groups, you’ll often bring multiple printouts of a sample of your work-in-progress for other attendees to read and critique. This feedback often happens out loud. If that’s your nightmare scenario, don’t join a critique group—yet. Then again, it’s better to receive in-person feedback from a few people you know than from the reading public on your launch day.
  • Program-based writers groups, like the Nonfiction Authors Association, often bring in a guest speaker to discuss some specific aspect of the writing life. These are mainly educational meetings, but some will mix in critiques too. Again: do your homework.
  • Discussion-based writing groups are informal meetings, sometimes without a set agenda, where writers can talk about anything they may be struggling with. They are essentially writing mastermind groups.
  • Writing classes are not writing groups in the strict sense of the phrase, but they can be depending on how the organization or teacher leads the class. Some writing classes offer group help after the class, whether online or in person.
  • Genre-based writing groups only accept authors who write for a specific genre, like romance or sci-fi. Their meetings focus on topics germane to their genres.

Finally, some writers groups may encompass two or more of these categories. That’s why you must research a group before attending so that your expectations are properly set.

Now, as to what kind of group you need to join, ask yourself, “What does my writing need right now?”

If your craft is lacking, join a critique group, an educational group, or attend a writing class.

If your motivation has dried up, join a programmatic writers group or a discussion-based group. If you’re serious about getting better within your particular genre, find a group centered on your genre.

If you have no idea what to choose, join the closest writers group to you that seems like a good fit and that you can commit to for at least a year.

That writers group just may change your writing life.

How to find a writers group

Lastly, how can you find a writers group?

Begin your search by locating in-person groups. Give yourself a reason to get away from your desk at least once a month.

Search “writers group” at Meetup.com. The results will show you writers groups within your preferred radius of your chosen city.

If you don’t find a compelling group at Meetup, search “[your city name] writers group” on Google. Click on the first group that seems interesting, then read as much as you can about them. For any lingering questions, email the coordinator. Put their next meeting on your calendar and force yourself to attend.

Lastly, for IRL writers groups, see if your city, area or state has an organization that aggregates writing groups. For instance, the North Texas area is spoiled by W.O.R.D., Writers Organizations ‘Round Dallas, a website that has compiled multiple writing groups in the area and sends out a monthly email newsletter listing every group’s events.

If you’re unable to find a worthwhile writers group within a drivable distance, or other issues may prevent you from venturing out of your house, online writers groups are a serviceable substitute. They can provide each of the same helpful attributes that real-life groups offer.

To that end, The Write Life offers these two excellent resource-filled articles for finding an online writing group:

The right writers group can launch your writing life into its next — and possibly its best — phase yet.

May you find your writing tribe soon!

The post Why You Need to Join a Writing Group (And How to Find One) appeared first on The Write Life.