Bare List on Feeling the Silence

It’s been weeks, so many I can’t even remember how long, since I’ve ventured onto social media. I generally pride myself on my ability to achieve clarity even in the most trying times, to recognize that while people tend to highlight the best of themselves on social media, it’s often the worst that is showcased and to be able to see through that clutter to the actual people and stories behind political rants, ill-informed memes, and fatal attribution errors. These last several weeks though, there was so much noise, so much vitriolic hate spilling all over my feeds, I had to unplug. I had to immerse myself in silence to give my own voice a chance of being heard.

But, I am back now, rejuvenated and renewed. I look forward to contributing to the conversation again.



Bare List on Stories that Need to be Told

The police officer greets me in the driveway, his cruiser parked neatly on the side. There was no urgency to get here, no life hanging in the balance. He’d probably taken an extra few seconds to reverse and pull forward, delaying the inevitable scene awaiting him inside the peaceful villa on the lakefront. Outside, the sun was setting over the water, nothing disturbing the scene but an elderly couple chain smoking in the driveway waiting on him and me.

By the time I arrived, he’d seen the corpse we’d all come to mourn, but his face showed no sign of the horror. Maybe he was masking it for me, maybe he’d been called to so many of these by now that decomposition had become routine. The scent of menthol hit my nostrils shortly after we clasped hands and I searched his perfectly stoic face for the Vicks Vape O Rub I knew would be under his nose if he’d been called to a death scene before. There it was, shining ever so slightly beneath his nostrils. The tool used my law enforcement to drown out the stench of a long dead body.

This scene replays itself in my mind as I shower. While my family sleeps, I navigate this memory from years ago. I want to push it away, to start what will be a long day, but it hovers at the edge of my mind, begging me to join it there in the past. To come all the way into the scene. It’s a feeling I suppose mostly reserved for detective novels, where the hero gives himself over to the memory and by doing so remembers the single detail that breaks the case wide open, but this is no novel. This was no murder. This was a death a long time coming. One I’d raged against, and despite it’s inevitability, never truly expected, but not one of foul play. The only mystery of this day was exactly how long I’d spent calling the phone of a dead person.

Ten days it had been since I had spoken to my father. He’d called to apologize for sleeping through the family Thanksgiving. It was a phone call he’d made for three years running. The day my stepmother died, my father fell into a bottle and never fully came out. He tried, valiantly for the first six months or so. Fought for me and the son I was raising on my own when this misadventure began. He’d even gone to rehab once, but left early to climb right back into the bottle and after he’d only peak his head out in small bursts. Long enough to cuss me then give me a drunken apology weeks later. The last time we’d spoken was one of those times. The last words I ever said to him were “I love you,” but not in that beautiful way that you can hold to your heart, but an angry, passive aggressive “I love you” meant as much to evoke guilt as convey emotion. I wasn’t always good at this. I had my shining moments and massive failures. Our last conversation went to the failure pile.

I stood there, in the driveway, begging to go inside, but friends and a very kind police officer holding me back. It was bad, I knew, but I wanted to see him. I don’t know why. I know it would have been vile and I’m thankful this force of friends blocked my own yearnings, but honestly, he’d survived so much I honestly couldn’t even believe he was gone. Dozens of doctors had looked me in the eye and tried to prepare me for losing him, but each time he pulled through, miraculously no worse for the ware. If I recounted them all to you now, you wouldn’t believe me. They’re too far fetched. The time he drank so damn much he passed out in his car (where he stored his booze) with the door wide open in near zero weather in the middle of January. A neighbor found him. His BAC was so high they thought he’d drank antifreeze and his body temperature so low they had to bring in a special machine to take it because the thermometer wasn’t calibrated to go below 89 degrees. The combination saved his life. With more alcohol than actual blood in his body, his blood didn’t freeze and his body temperature being so low slowed the metabolism of the liquor. If he survived that, there had to be purpose didn’t there? That’s just one story, and honestly it’s not even the craziest of them. If he wasn’t supposed to live, why hadn’t that killed him?

I tried to push those thoughts from my mind as I stood in the driveway. They were the childish thoughts of a little girl afraid of losing her daddy. I was standing here now as a brave woman and mother of two, one who lost his favorite grandfather long before this day and another that would never meet him. There was no time for thoughts of what could have been. We were living in what was. Honestly, I was living in an answered prayer. Only days before, I’d been listening to David Sedaris on This American Life talking about how the “recluses keep the funeral industry in business”. It would have been a hilarious story if my father was not a recluse. The images flooded my brain and despite my three month old sleeping soundly in his carseat in the back, I screamed “Dear Lord please make him better or let him go home!” I should have known the answer I would receive. My knees bled from praying for his recovery to no avail. There was only one possible outcome.

I guess that’s what keeps pulling me in: The mystery of my Schrodinger’s Father who was simultaneously alive and dead as I desperately called to hear his voice. Sometimes angry, sometimes at the height of depression. Many times, I thought about driving out there myself. It was only six miles from my front door to his, but I knew I couldn’t. My family wouldn’t let me. My uncle on more than once occasion drove all the way from Pennsylvania to save me that six mile drive in the hope of saving me from that sight. We’d all had so much taken from us, I couldn’t bring myself to take that, too. So, instead, I called. Incessantly, annoyingly until it got to be so much that I was going to head out the door but a family friend, my father’s best friends and my second parents, jumped in the car at the mere thought I would do it. “He’s gone,” she said when she called minutes later. Her husband had bared my burden, that final sight.

How long had I rung his phone, unknowingly begging a corpse to answer. “At least one day but not more than three,” the Medical Examiner would tell me a few weeks later. The same medical examiner who wrote “chronic alcohol abuse” as the cause of death on my father’s death certificate. The sentence is as burned into my eyes as the question is burned into my soul.

Why it bothers me so much that I don’t know when I lost him, I couldn’t tell you. When the anniversary of his death approaches, it burns me that we’re remembering the day we found him, not the day we lost him. I try to picture his final moments. Was he scared, as he was so many times when we thought we were staring down the barrel of the end? Did he need me there? Did he want me there? I don’t know. I never will. But, I like to imagine when these episodes take hold that he was asleep, which is probably true. He was on the bed, laid out like someone sleeping, at least that’s what I’m told.

I imagine that his soul awoke for the first time in months, maybe even years, and he saw an angel waiting for him. Confused, he looked down at his lifeless body, beaten and broken from the numerous trials this world put on him. “Not yet,” he might say to the angel. “Not yet. I’m happy to see you and I’m ready to go, but I can’t just yet. I’ve got to apologize to my daughter and grandson. I’ve got to let them know…” and then maybe my stepmom comes stepping out from behind the angel, arms outstretched, healed of the cancer that riddled her body. “I’m so sorry,” he’d say, breaking into tears. “I know,” she replies, “they know, or they will someday. There’s nothing more you can do for them here honey, it’s time to go home. She can do this.” And with that, he let’s go. Knowing that while I sucked at this whole thing sometimes, I loved him, and while we might all be a little beaten, we’re not broken. Our love was tested, pushed to the brink, but never broken. The man that lived beneath the alcohol was never forgotten, his love surviving still today, his light shining in the face of his grandchildren. Addiction stole a lot from us, but it will never steal that.

This was a very emotional post written because I couldn’t keep the words inside. Please excuse any typos as I am pushing publish before I chicken out of doing it. I don’t know why I feel like I have to let this into the world, but I do and if I try to read it again I will back out. If you have stories of addiction, please feel free to share them here. I spent too long hiding from it and lying about it to be silent about it now. I’m not embarrassed of my dad’s addiction. I never talked about it because it embarrassed him, but it shouldn’t have. It is a very real mental disorder that is ABSOLUTE HELL on the sufferer and the people that love them. He may have lost, but I am damn proud that for at least a little while he tried, and while I’m still sometimes very angry that I feel like his story was stolen from him, I am IMMENSELY proud of the husband, father, and grandfather that he was and the love that he put into this world. 

Bare List on Looking Back [Excerpt]

At any given moment, I have twenty or so works scattered around my office, stuck in a limbo between WIP and forgotten. I write a lot, almost everyday and it’s not exclusively on actual works in the rung. An idea will flicker across my brain and I give it a moment to shine. This is from a writing prompt years ago, a short little number that morphed into 50,000 forgotten words. It made me laugh after a harrowing start to the day, so I thought I’d share:

I was making cupcakes when the world ended. The world as I knew it anyway. It was at that moment I realized this is what adult looked like: wearing Grinch pajama pants perched on one leg licking homemade buttercream directly off the beaters at midnight on a Tuesday. There was no reason for me to be in this position, other than that I wanted cupcakes and I always had the stuff on hand to make it happen. This was just how I was choosing to use my free-will, on peanut butter cream. Just because I could. It was different than all the “I’m free” moments before it. This wasn’t a beer with my boyfriend at 3 a.m. the night before finals that I “could” do, but if my parents asked about it I would have told them I was up studying with my girlfriends all night long. That was now obviously the choice of a child with an overly optimistic view of the future and little concern for life beyond whatever magical moment she had fallen into. Now, I was a grown woman already loathing the overly dramatic effect I illogically assumed these cupcakes would have on my thighs and planning a 5 a.m. workout to cancel out midnight baking. I was operating with forethought and full awareness of consequences. I was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, an adult.


Bare List on Getting By

My Garmin vibrates triumphantly to alert me that I have reached my step goal for the day. “At least I accomplished something,” I mutter to the watch, annoyed with it’s artificial happiness. I’ve been in a funk for nearing five days. Not a bad one. I’m not drowning in the throes of depression or near lifeless of exhaustion, but I am tired, almost to the point of numb, but never numb because my brain won’t let me feel that. No, if my brain can’t find any of the more defined emotions (joy, contentedness, anger, sadness) then it will default to guilt and shame. It’s a war I’ve waged inside myself for years. Its weapons platitudes. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else,” I chide myself as I put away dishes mechanically. “Yes, but choose wisely how you spend this time because it costs a day of your life,” I fire back after I’ve conceded in sitting down for a moment.

It’s a haunting cycle I’m trapped in until the day my brain snaps back into working order and I feel like a human being again. I fight with myself to complete the most menial of tasks then berate myself for not doing enough of them, or doing too many of them. There is no middle ground, no winning. The worst part of it all is that there can’t be. Thanks to years of leafning, therapy, and experimenting, I know that I am the only thing that gets me through this. There are people that can commit to a mental health day, hide from the world, and come out the other side. I am not one of them. I know, I’ve tried. If I allow my brain to swallow me up in this, I will stay swallowed, hiding under the covers with shitty reality television until…I don’t even know. I mean, theoretically, I’m sure I would have to come out sometime, but not in any time that fits with real life.

So, I must muster through. That advice from the General about making the bed? I do that. Every morning. Especially when these depressions hit. It doesn’t change a lot. I’m not suddenly ready to seize the day, but the bed is made and so I can check that off a to-do list. That’s pretty much how I will survive this time: reviewing my accomplishments, meager though they may appear. Bed made. Check. Kids cleaned, fed, and taken to school. Check. Emails read. Check. Dishes clean. Check. And so on it will go for the days that the nothingness tries to engulf me. Whenever the voice creeps in to tell me I am worthless, I will bring out my checklist of accomplishments to let it know that I have provided at least some value unto this life.

“Yeah, but you’re failing at writing,” the voice yells, and it’s not wrong. These times, they make writing more difficult. During these times, I hate everything that I write. Which is why now, I know not to touch my WIPs when I’m like this. You want a hint on how to edit down word counts? Read works when you’re in this dark place. Every word becomes meaningless and misplaced. Scenes that you once loved, that your agent still does, become unreadable. That’s why I know not to touch them during this time unless I absolutely have to. I won’t add value. I will take away beauty because, right now, my ability to see beauty is marred. If I have to touch something because of a deadline, I put my notes from my agent or editor right beside me. In normal times, these notes are a stepping stone to unlock my inspiration. In dark times, they are a script. Stick to the notes. Get this done. Let it be a check and move on. So, I do, and another check is added to my tally.

I do write, because I have to. Because you have to keep the spark alive. Sometimes, I even like what I’ve written when I leave the depression. Occasionally, I write myself into something successful enough to ebb back the waves of self-loathing. Those are rare, but I write anyway, just in case today is that day.

So far, it has not been. I’ve been in this dark place for days. Getting by. Doing what I know must be done for me to keep going. Momentum building. Enough checks in the right order and I will feel better. Like playing a puzzle game, I just have to keep shuffling and stringing together tiny wins until I unlock the good feeling. A step count here, an answered email there. A meeting, a made meal, a homework assist, a game with the kids. Eventually, if I keep plugging in the little wins, I will escape this.

I know this doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need to rest, some people need medication, some people need more people. We all handle things differently, but right now this works for me. Will it work for everyone? Probably not. Will it undoubtedly work for me forever? I have no idea.

That’s maybe one of the hardest parts of depression or funks or whatever you want to call it is that there is no universal answer. The world throws solution after solution at you expecting what worked for them will work for you, and sometimes it doesn’t. When I get like this, so tired and hurt, so many people urge me just to “rest”. It’s not bad advice. It works for a lot of people. But, it just doesn’t work for me. Maybe because in normal life, I can rest. I don’t get to sleep in often or have days at a time to do nothing, but when I’m feeling good, I can shut down. I can curl up on the couch and watch The Good Place. I can waste thirty minutes playing Myst. We just don’t know what the answer is 100% of the time and it’s one of the most frustrating things about this or any illness really. Maybe it’s the frustration of being a human. The lack of certainties.

I don’t know. All of this has been a giant string leading to I don’t know I guess, which is entirely anticlimactic.

I’m going to try again, because while I don’t know why I wrote this, I do know that I felt like it had to be written. So, maybe it’s because while I feel utterly alone and weird right now, I’m not. I know that a lot of people experience this. Maybe it’s not depression exactly, but we all have funks. We all have times that for no reason whatsoever the world doesn’t feel right. We’re not alone or crazy, we’re not failing. We’re just being human. Falling down is OK. You just have to figure out how you get back up. Keep working away at your own personal jigsaw puzzle until you see the big picture. Throw in a therapist here, your general practitioner there. Take a long walk, take a long nap. Disappear for a day, force yourself out for a day. Make a checklist, throw away your checklist. Whatever stands a chance of working, just give it a try.

Speaking of giving it a try, what do you do when this feeling kicks in? When the world is a little darker. How do you survive? Let me know, because while I’ve got a healthy collection of tools in my bag, I’m always looking to add more.

Bare List on Exclusively Querying

Exclusivity. It’s major. Whether its a business or personal relationship, exclusivity is a milestone that involves a lot of work and trust to maintain on both sides. In writing, however, exclusivity can be a misunderstood privilege, especially in the beginning stages of forming a relationship with an agent or publishing house.

I know many aspiring authors who query on an exclusive basis. Actually, a conversation with a peer is what led to the post today. My friend is a talented young writer whom I believe will see her work in print one day, but that day may be very far away because she practices exclusive querying. Exclusively querying means reaching out to agents one at a time, and not reaching out to the next until 1) You receive a response from the first agent or 2) you pass the time deadline specified by the agent to be considered a pass. It’s an old school practice still proliferated by an insanely small number of agents, and it can cause a lot of trouble for aspiring writers because:

  1. It may take you EONS to be published: Most agents request a period of at least four weeks and as many as four months to respond to your query. While I’ve seen responses in as little as twelve hours, it’s generally at least a week or two and I have had responses up to four months after the initial query. Let’s average it out to a response/pass time of 1 month for easy math. Most industry experts recommend you query at least 80 agents and I’ve seen recommendations for over 100. With those numbers, you’re looking at almost 7 years before you even get involved with an agent! You guys, you deserve better than that. Writing/publishing is not a sprint, but no one has time to spend 7 years querying.
  2. It can take away your power: Exclusive querying puts all of the power in the hands of potential agents. Querying your novel, especially your first, can feel a lot like applying for your first job. You send out your resume (query) praying that a company, almost any company (agent) finds you (your manuscript) employable (publishable). The truth is, you are not applying for a job. You are selling your work. Think of it like selling your home. When you put it on the market, you’re not inviting in buyers one at a time. You want as many qualified leads in the place as possible. In an ideal world, multiple buyers will be interested in your home so you can get maximum value out of your home. Having any agent interested in your work is a compliment and a blessing, but having multiple allows you to really focus in on the aspects of the client/agent relationship that are most beneficial to you and your work.
  3. You are receiving agent feedback in non-actionable numbers: When you query in batches (maybe 5-10 at a time) you get small doses of feedback to make changes where necessary. For example, let’s say you query 7 agents. By the end of three months, if no one requested further materials, you probably need to work on your query. If you only query one agent and they don’t request further materials after three months, it could mean you have a problem with your query or it could mean you just weren’t right for that particular agent. More data means more information to base revision decisions.
  4. It’s totally unnecessary:  It’s 2018. Very few agents request or expect exclusivity in querying. In fact, the majority advocate against it. While there are a few that still request the exclusive, they are the tiny minority. Like, minuscule. So, if the agent is not even expecting it, why would you give it?

Too often, I see authors participating in this outdated system because they think it is expected of them. Here’s the thing though, exclusivity is a big deal. Of course there are still some agents who want it. Knowing they have exclusive eyes on your work means they don’t have to worry about: taking their time to read and evaluate, bidding against another agent, getting rejected by you. It does not mean the agent is bad for wanting the exclusive. If they have the client base and income to justify being that selective in manuscripts, why not? While if an agent requests an exclusive query, you should honor that, you don’t have to submit. That is in your control.

As writers, especially newbies, we often feel at the mercy of agents, but as the creators of our work, we also have power in it. You are the sole decision maker in whether or not you want to offer exclusivity. Believe in your work enough that you can confidently represent it until you find an agent that believes in your work as much as you do.

Am I saying you cannot exclusively query? Absolutely not. My friend is still exclusively querying. While she understands and appreciates the business-side of the exclusive, it’s something she is more comfortable with, some agents she is interested in do ask for it, and that’s her right. It’s her manuscript, it’s her business, even if it makes me want to beat my head into a brick wall. I would ask the same of you. In evaluating whether or not you will participate in an exclusive (at any stage of the process, whether it’s query, ROR, sales, etc) make sure you understand your power in the relationship. Make sure you are making the decision because it is best for you and not because you just want someone to take your work.

If you have queried exclusively, I am very interested to hear your experience and reasons in making the decision. Non-exclusive is my experience, but I know there are a lot of paths to publish and I’m always open to hearing about those.

*SIDE NOTE* I could not bring myself to press publish on this post without clarifying that while I do not advocate for exclusive querying, I also do not recommend mass querying either. Querying more agents at a time does not necessarily equate to getting published faster. In the above example for instance, if you query 30 agents and all straight pass on you, chances are there was a problem with your query that could have been fixed after 5-10 queries that now you don’t have a chance to fix before sending it to another 20 agents. Most agents evaluate in short spurts. They’ll start with a query, then five pages, then fifty, then the manuscript. (There are different versions of this. Some may want a query and five pages, some a query and fifty. Others may go straight from your query and five to the whole manuscript). This kind of rolling submission gives you a chance for feedback and revision at every step and that’s an asset for you. If you’re not getting hits off your query, change the query. If you start getting hits on that but rejected on your sample pages, take a hard look at the sample pages and so on. 

Alright, that’s it. I’m done now. Happy querying!


Bare List on Writing and Taxes

As we’ve discussed at length, writing is about more than just writing. There’s a lot of grueling administrative work that goes into it. Taxes are a prime example. As H&R Block ads pop up on every corner, it’s a good time to take a look at some things you need to know to be prepared to file taxes as a writer. Whether you are exclusively focused on writing the next life-altering prose, you’re a freelance article author, a blogger, or self-publishing on the regular, there may be some information relevant to you.

Before we get into the list, I want to preface all of this by saying I highly recommend at least consulting with a tax professional before filing. Whether you are a hobbyist or professional, this adds a complicated layer to your taxes which are complicated beasts in the first place. A lot of how you define your status, what you deduct, and how you deduct it depends on self-reporting and so the IRS tends to have a more watchful eye over these returns than the average 1040. I AM NOT A TAX PROFESSIONAL. I use a tax professional. Honestly, I get overwhelmed just collecting stuff to take to my accountant. I should not be considered a financial wizard or final word on your filings. 

Now that we’ve gotten the disclaimer out of the way, let’s move onto the basics:

  1. Know your filing status – The IRS allows writers to file as SELF-EMPLOYED or HOBBYISTS. There is no clear defining line between the two. It is up to you to report. If you define yourself as self-employed, you have to pay self-employment tax as well as the appropriate tax on income, but you can take a loss on income. If you file as a hobbyist, you are not responsible for self-employment tax, but you cannot take a loss on income. A good rule of thumb for distinguishing the two is to look at your tax statements. Is more than 50% of your income documented on W2s? You can probably file hobby. Is more than 50% of your income on 1099s or self-reported? You are probably self-employed.
  2. Material expenses are deductible – Paper, software, platform, printing, etc. expenses are deductible. If you are unsure about an expense, ask yourself if you would encounter this expense if not for writing. If the answer is yes, not deductible. If the answer is no, then deduct it.
  3. Big ticket items are deductible but highly scrutinized – If you had to buy a new computer to be able to write, that is deductible. However, if you bought a new computer to be able to write, surf social media, shop Amazon, and for your kids to do homework, it is not tax deductible. If you are unsure whether a big ticket item is deduction worthy, air on the side of caution, especially in the beginning. More on this a little later.
  4. Conferences, classes, and seminars count as continuing education – Professionals in any arena are allowed and expected to participate in continuing education. When you’re in the corporate world, your company usually foots the bill on this in the hopes that your new knowledge will bring them money. When you’re the one footing the bill, you get to take the tax relief. Everything associated with the continuing education can be written off. Registration, lodgings, travel, etc.
  5. Research is deductible – Whether you’re registering with a database to search archives or traveling across the globe to immerse yourself in a culture, that can be written off as a business expense. Again, use common sense and caution. You are going to be in a world of hurt if you try to write off your family beach trip as a business expense unless you came out the other side with a publishable manuscript about families vacationing in Florida.
  6. Use caution with the home office – Home office expenses are totally valid for deduction, but there are a lot of rules surrounding it. While I know that a couch and coffee table is a totally viable work environment, the IRS does not agree. To meet the criteria for a deduction, your home office has to be a dedicated space used EXCLUSIVELY for business purposes, and the things therein should be exclusively related to business. If your office doubles as your kitchen table or the printer therein is used by the entire family, you do not qualify for the deduction. If you are going to take this deduction, be stringent about its use.
  7. Be diligent with receipts – “Show me the receipts” is not just a phrase in reality television, it’s the first thing the IRS will ask when they show up at your door. Every time you make a transaction related to work, label the receipt and keep it in your files. Stopped for gas on the way to AWP? Write in on the receipt. Traveled to New York to meet with your agent? Label it on the receipt. Print the receipt, label the receipt with its purpose and if possible the work it is related to, and keep that receipt for at least eight years. The IRS can go back three full calendar years from the audit year and they reserve the right to audit for five calendar years. They say they “usually” won’t go back more than six years, but they reserve the right to if they deem it necessary. When I was a kid, my dad kept receipts everywhere. He never threw anything away. Hand to God, when I cleaned out his house after his passing, there were tax returns from 1973. Drove me bonkers. Now that I’m self-employed, I totally get it. Receipts are your most important line of defense if the IRS ever comes knocking.
  8. Understand that you are expected to make money – The IRS understands that starting a business, such as becoming a writer, can take a while to produce profit, but they expect you to make money eventually. If you file a loss, especially a non-improving loss, for three straight years, you are more likely to ping on their radar. Does it mean that you cannot still file the loss? Absolutely not. The truth is the truth, but if you’re playing fast and loose with deductions to skew the vision of your earnings, you may be setting yourself for trouble. In year one, it is acceptable and even expected that you may take a loss from shelling out for the big ticket items previously discussed. If you’re in year three and still writing off computers, “research” vacations, and printers with no earnings to show for it, you’re going to draw attention.
  9. You need a competent tax professional – While hobbyist and self-employment filings are more cumbersome and complicated to us lay people, they should be easy for a competent, experienced tax professional. EXPERIENCED and COMPETENT being the key words. If you are working with someone and you are not 100% confident in what they are telling you, you need to find someone else. Stupidity on the part of your tax preparer DOES NOT absolve you from tax liability. Unlike criminal law, intent is not required for conviction of wrong doing. You will still be responsible for any past-due taxes and fines that result in ill prepared taxes. I have had “pros” miss state filings that I had due as well as miscalculate my taxes owed (payments from other states taxed at their level instead of my operating state). It happens. No one in any field is perfect. I get that, but if any alarm bells ping for you, if you are not 100% confident, go to someone else. Go to someone that can make you feel confident.
  10. Be honest – It’s easy and maybe tempting to toy with the numbers when you’re the one in charge of reporting…don’t. It’s 100% not worth it. You start down that road and suddenly you have to worry every time an official letter comes in the mail, you open yourself up to fines and interest, and you put yourself at risk of FEDERAL CRIMES. Plus, you know, telling the truth is the right thing to do and all. I know that this all seems very worst-case scenario, and it is, but it’s also very real. People get audited everyday, and while you’re likely not going to jail for misfiling a year or two, you may have to pay a lot more money than you saved in the first place. File accurately because it’s not worth the headache of doing anything else.

Any other advice is welcomed and encouraged. Have a tax horror story? I’d love to hear it. Until then, best of luck with this year! May the tax code be ever in your favor!


Bare List on Schedules

As we all dust the residue of 2017 off our shoulders and slam into 2018, it’s important to build a schedule for success. I can speak personally to the importance of daily schedules because I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants for weeks, and y’all it is not a good idea. Every December I swear I will abide by my schedule, every December I fail. Mistakes are made. LEARN FROM ME. Do not do this. Set a schedule and keep it.

Scheduling is incredibly important for everyone, but especially in writing. Jobs dependent on creativity and self-accountability require routine scheduling for success. It seems counter-intuitive. I know I have said the words “you can’t schedule creativity”. Now, those words make me cringe because:

  1. You will not get anything done if you allow your creativity to schedule your productivity – If you wait to write until you feel so inspired to put words on the paper that you can’t stand it anymore, you’re not going to be writing half as often as you need to, and it’s going to take years, decades to finish a project. You have to sit down and write it out sometimes. You have to suffer to pull scenes together that aren’t totally working, muster through dialogue you haven’t totally figured out, calculate timelines, etc. It’s not all magical words brought forth by pixie dust. It’s a spark of inspiration ignited into a fire by determination.
  2. You totally can schedule creativity – While you cannot schedule the spark, you can dedicate time to produce. You can designate time in an environment most fitting for you to get down to business and force yourself to create. Make sure you’re making note of all your sparks and bring those with you to the table when it’s time to work. The more you do this, the more you’ll train your brain to open up during these times.
  3. There is a lot more to writing than creating – I talk about this a lot so I know you’re getting sick of hearing it, but there’s more to writing than writing. There is a lot of administrative work including emails, queries, edits, marketing, etc. To be successful, every aspect needs attention.

Like a lot of people, I have a lot going on. I have a family, small business, and writing career. Writing is a grind in its own right, but when you add in the real world in which we are all functioning, it’s almost impossible to survive without an established schedule.

To make your schedule, I suggest starting by dividing work into categories. For myself, I use:

  1. Administrative: Updating writing and marketing calendars, scheduling, emailing, strategy, negotiations
  2. Creative: Brainstorming, new project creation, project overhauls, first round edits
  3. Maintenance: Minor/late edits, tactics implementation, social media

Within those categories, I divide every item into one of two categories: Big/Hard or Small/Easy. Not glamorous titles, I know, but they get the job done. Small/easy projects are what I think of as “check-off” items, i.e. responding to emails, setting up meetings, making a schedule, sending, sending out query ready material, article creation, etc. Big/Hard projects include manuscript production, overhauls, strategizing campaigns, etc. Anything that almost certainly cannot be accomplished in a single day and is sure to be mentally taxing.

Once you have projects organized, assign items to your daily designated times. For myself, I designate Mondays for Administrative and Easy items. I get out my writing calendar and mark priorities for the week as well as adjust for the month, review my monthly focus to make sure everything I’m scheduling is aligned with goal, and knock out easy-off items across the board that I can knock off the list. I choose Monday to do this because I try to look at Monday as the start of my work week (though work often finds its way into my weekend) and I feel mentally more prepared being organized and I get a nice rush of accomplishment marking off small items and I can ride that adrenaline into Tuesday, which is marked for big tasks. My logic is that I get through a lot on Monday so I can afford to focus on mentally draining projects on Tuesday. I break up the big projects with little projects and workouts at designated hours because you need that for big days. Wednesday, my focus is Maintenance. Big or little projects doesn’t matter. I’ve set the goals for the day during my designated time on Monday and I just balance the big and little projects. Thursdays, I’m about Creation. There are really no small projects in creation, so I’ll mix the day up by throwing one or two of those in and Fridays are to double down on my monthly focus. Whatever I’ve decided is my hero for the month shines every Friday. That’s what works for me, when I work it. You can play with it and see what’s the right fit for you.

Now, interruptions to the schedule happen. Life and writing are about adapting and moving forward, but it’s easier to keep your balance with a steady foundation. Even if you lose your way occasionally *raises hand* it’s easier to get back in the swing of things and make forward progress if you have something to go back to. So, I know it’s annoying, and you don’t want to do it. I know the creative pixie in your head is flipping me off and telling me to eff a schedule cause she works at 3 a.m. damn it. I get it. I do, but tell her to get with the dang program because there’s work to be done and she really owes you since she’s living rent-free in your head anyway.

Tips, scheduling advice? I’d love to hear it!




Bare List on New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy 2018! After finishing out 2017 by focusing on friends, family, and finishing projects, I’m back and looking forward to a new year with you. In the spirit of the new year, I wanted to share some resolutions for new and seasoned writers.

These are not a list of lofty goals that equate to broken promises by February 1st, but a list of guiding principles to help make you (and me) a better writer by December 31, 2018.

  1. Pick a monthly focus – Writing is so much more than just writing. There’s creating, revising, researching, editing, querying, community building, meeting, marketing, negotiating, conferencing…the list goes on. To be most effective, all of these must be a priority at certain times, but to prioritize all equally everyday leads to subpar results and burnout. Instead, choose a single priority for every month. Maybe January is editing, February is Community Building, and March is Querying. While you will still be accountable for all of the other responsibilities each month, your focus will be priority one. Not only will it help keep you focused, the change in priority will help keep your routine fresh. Because writing/publishing timelines requires adaptability, I suggest planning in three month intervals. After every quarter, reassess your progress and goals and create the next three focuses accordingly.
  2. Create a writing calendar – Whether it’s online or pen and paper, go ahead and make a calendar for the coming year. In addition to all of your writing dates (deadlines/conferences/seminars/speaking engagements) include any personal dates (vacations/family obligations/recurring extracurricular activities/birthdays/anniversaries/etc.) Being able to see where your time will be limited will help you manage your time the most effectively.
  3. Organize your WIPs – Most of us have a pile of works in progress awaiting love and attention. Take the time to prioritize these works. Separate the “promising for publication” from the “needs a total revamp”. Make sure you have easy access to the stories you truly love and decide what two or three works will be your priority for the year.
  4. Read something outside of your comfort genre – As writers and readers, we tend to find a home in a select few genres. Example, I live for literary fiction, crime thrillers, speculative fiction, and biographical humor. I read it. I write it. I love it. The problem is that reading ourselves into a corner can stunt us. While characters, plot development, language, and even formatting tend to be consistent within a genre, they can vary dramatically across them, and that’s why it’s great to gain experience outside of your literary comfort zone. An autobiography can be improved by the influence and imagery of literary fiction, horror epics could take lessons from the quick and cunning dialogue of the cozy mystery, etc.
  5. Do something outside of your comfort zone – Attend an event with people you barely know, run a race, host an online fundraiser, read an excerpt of your story to a group of strangers, jump out of a plane, hell go to the grocery store on the other side of town. Just do anything, big or small, divergent of your normal operating procedure. It will help expand your outlook and imagination.
  6. Get physical – You don’t need to join a gym, run a marathon, or become a crossfitter, but do something regularly that works your body. Not only will it help relieve your joints and muscles of the toils of hunkering over a computer all day, it will help improve your mood, focus, and creativity.
  7. Call that project done – You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve read it 1,000 times, each time painstakingly scrutinizing every single word, each time changing something ever-so-slightly in the hopes that one day it will be perfection. Here’s the deal: It will never be perfection. At some point, you’ve got to let go of that dream and send your work out into the world. Is it the story you want to tell? Is it edited to a professional standard? Then it’s time to get it out into the world. Give it one more read through, and start querying.
  8. Follow agents – Don’t reach the querying stage and send your work blindly into world hoping someone, anyone, hits. Start researching agents. Lookup the agents of your favorite writers, attend writing conferences, follow them on social media. Get to know the people that you hope to be working with one day. This can prevent you from querying unsavory agencies as well as give you added confidence in your representation.
  9. Write – This may seem like a given, but it can be so easy to get caught up in the administrative aspects of the career that the writing, the very thing that got us all here, gets put on the back burner. Don’t let that happen. Write often. Write on your current projects, write new ones, write words that you never wish to see the light of day. Just keep writing.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with words and purpose!

Bare List on Authenticity

Writing for publication can be a difficult road to navigate. The path is fraught with feedback from everyone from peers to publishers and that can make it tricky to create something publishable while staying true to yourself. At times, it’s tempting to sacrifice a piece of your work or characters to be more palatable for publication or to mask or dilute your own voice to appeal to the masses.

Beta readers, editors, agents, reps, etc. will have have changes they want made to be able to better enjoy or market your novel. Some of these changes will be benign and easily incorporated. Hell, many of them should be made. All of us, pros and rookies alike, have room to learn and grow. No work is perfect and no one makes it straight through the road without making changes.

Sometimes, however, those suggestions alter the course of your work and characters. Occasionally, you’ve written a story about a dog and the agent wants a duck, metaphorically speaking. When you feel like you are in a situation that you have to make a serious change to the essence of your voice or your work, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Am I being authentic? 

Whatever you put into the world will be scrutinized. It will be picked apart word by word. You will see things about your work that are hurtful, cringe-worthy, and downright cruel. It will be easier for you to weather that storm and stay strong against those attacks on your work if you know you were true to yourself in it’s creation. Similarly, people will love your work. It’s the best damn part of writing, unless you feel like you’ve compromised yourself or your story to make it happen. Authenticity is your shield against evil and conductor of glory. 

Because writing is a subjective field, agents and publishers might not always be on the same page as you when it comes to your novel. They may see a lot of promise in your work, but have preferences that are not in line with the core of your work. It is okay and even encouraged for you to step away from a representative that does not share your goal. It doesn’t make you a bad writer or them a bad agent, it makes you two people who are not aligned on a vision and that vision is crucial to your final product. Let them go find another author in line with their interests and goals while you find an agent more in line with yours.

Is this to say that you need to walk away whenever your agent gives you advice? Absolutely not. There is always room for improvement. ALWAYS. Your agent/editor/publishing rep have a wealth of information about your market and have every reason to give you advice and guidance to make your novel shine. In fact, if there is a shared vision across your team, those edits and revisions are going to add value to your voice and reinforce your authenticity.

No matter what you do, someone will hate your work. There is no universally loved piece of literature. If people are going to hate anyway, let them hate your truth, because only by doing that will you have the chance to reach people who love and need it.


Bare List on Queries and Christmas

The holiday season is in full swing. Prophet’s Day, Advent, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Wright Brother’s Day…the list goes on. Pretty much everyone has something to celebrate this time of year, agents included. What does this mean for the novel you’ve tirelessly edited and re-edited until it’s final ready for query? Most likely, it means it’s on ice for the next month or so.

What? How could this be? It’s ready for the world, surely someone will look at it! Someone might, but the opportunities are much smaller this time of year. Many agents close for queries over the holidays for a number of reasons:

  1. Agents are people, too. I know it’s shocking, but as it turns out agents are living, breathing human beings who enjoy the opportunity to be with their families over the holidays.
  2. No one likes starting a new year with a full inbox. The last few weeks of the year can serve as a great excuse to not only spend time with family, but catch up on the work that’s been piling up all year. Closing for queries during the holiday season gives agents a great opportunity to catch up on work while not worrying about queries going to the competition because so many people close during the holidays.
  3. They just want to. Everyone deserves a chance to kick on an autoreply a couple of times a year. When you’re an agent, receiving thousands of queries a year, shutting down for a couple of weeks/months is a totally logical move to be able to manage your work flow.

Whatever the reason, you cannot query an agent that is closed. I’m going to say that again because it is wildly important: DO NOT QUERY AN AGENT CLOSED TO QUERIES. Whether they’re closed for the holidays or at random points during the year, you must not send your manuscript to a closed agent. “But I’m so in love with this agent and I want them to see my work right now and I know they’re going to love it!” They’re not. Unless they’ve specifically requested your materials, which puts you outside of the unsolicited queries category, an agent is not even going to see your work if you send it while they are specifically closed for queries. Your hard work will be sent into the recesses of cyberspace as part of a mass “delete”.

How will I know if an agent is closed? It will be listed on their agent page on the agency’s website and their social media pages. 

If you are interested in working with an agent currently closed to queries, it is in your best interest just to have patience. I know, there’s that damn word again. Patience. Get used to having a lot of that as a writer.

Not all agents close during the holidays, so if you are not tied to a specific list of agents, you can submit to any that are not closed. That said, you need to use the same discretion that you would in more open seasons of the year. Research your agent/agency to ensure they are interested in receiving your work. Don’t sling your novel at anyone just because they are open. That’s another quick way to get rejected. You still need to make sure they are interested in your genre/voice/plot/etc.

I know you’re excited to get your work to the world, but don’t let your enthusiasm trump your good sense. Instead, grab a glass of eggnog and use this time to read, get started on another project, free-write, perfect your query letter, do the dreaded synopsis, or conduct a FINAL final revision of your current manuscript. Oh, and also, get in some time with family. Those guys are important, too.

Happy Holidays and Merry Querying (or not)!