Tag Archives: home office

Dreaming of Pink

Well, as if the recent computer-purchase crisis wasn’t enough to send my blood pressure shooting to the moon, guess what?

It’s time to replace my university computer as well.

AHHHHHHHHHH!

Now the trauma truly is much, much less for several reasons:  1) I’m not emotionally attached to the university equipment–well, not much; 2) I have complete and competent IT support; 3) I don’t have to so much as plug in a cable because everything is unboxed, carried to my campus office, set up, and tested for me; and 4) I’m not paying for it.

Can you tell I should have been a princess?

Still, according to that old but trusty writing principle, change is threatening. I’ve really enjoyed my campus laptop. It’s tiny, lightweight, and cute. It’s easier to carry than a heavy briefcase, although I usually end up lugging both to and from my day job. So although Pippin is an Apple and there’s no right-click mouse command, leaving me frequently baffled, I’ve enjoyed it. Replacing it, when it seems perfectly fine, hadn’t crossed my mind.

However, it has to go and because it doesn’t belong to me I shan’t be clinging to it, weeping and pleading, when IT comes to take it away.

After notification came, I consoled myself immediately with the brilliant notion that I would ask for another one exactly like Pippin.

Except there have been changes. Nothing techy is ever left alone. Sigh. So my cute 11″ laptop that I could tuck under my arm is growing to a 13″ version. Which means I’ll have to go shopping for a new case to protect it. It will take up more room on my crowded desk when I bring it home, and New Guy (still officially unnamed) will feel even more cramped in my limited space.

Still, it is what it is. I was asked to look over the options and choose which version I wanted, and I was told there were two colors: “silver” and “space gray.” Woo.

So I was following links and watching the swanky product videos without, however, any delusion that I was conducting real product research, when suddenly there it was … a pink laptop.

Not garish magenta, not baby ballerina, but something luscious and tasteful and faintly metallic called “rose gold.” It is precisely that shade of soft pink with yellow undertones that I most love. Delight exploded in my heart. The world was suddenly a better place.

Now, I am admittedly picky. Finicky. Hard to please. A perfectionist. I am also champion among ditherers. I can agonize endlessly over choices, but that’s always when and because the available choices don’t suit me. But place the right thing in front of me, and BAM! I make a decision instantly.

BAM! I saw “rose gold” and knew immediately it was the color for me. Who said computers have to come in dreary colors? I don’t work in a bank. I’m not trying to reassure anxious customers that I won’t abscond with their life’s savings.

Remember those bright, kicky colors that Apple came out with a few years ago? Vivid blue, bold orange, and … um, maybe hot pink. They were fun and youthful, but then they went away. Presently, one of my graduate students carries a bold red laptop that I think is a Dell. So I know computer color is out there, but it’s so hidden, so oppressed, so hard to find.

With “rose gold” spinning in my mind, I eagerly reread my IT guy’s email. It said firmly, color choices are “silver” or “space gray.”

Bummer.

“Space gray” is dull, dark, dismal, and depressing. Granted, it fits the current color trend of gray, gray, drab, or gray that is our world. Gray cars on the road. Gray paint on our walls. Gray cats on gray sofas. Walk into any Restoration Hardware store and you might well ask yourself, “Does Chairman Mao live here?” When I was a child, I watched TV news images of people in China, all dressed alike in gray. Drab, uniform conformity where no one was allowed to stand out.

What’s with our current besottedness with gray?

Because it’s safe?

Because it’s neutral?

Phooey!

Give me color! Give me imagination, joy, life, spontaneity, and fun! How sad that opting for color costs more these days. An acquaintance of mine waited a week and spent an extra thousand to obtain a commercial van in red because he didn’t want to look like he was driving a utility company truck.

When I was a youngster, I remember my parents buying a car that they special ordered. After specifying all the options for the auto itself, like headlights that opened and electric windows, they sat in the dealership office with huge bundles of cloth samples spread out on the desk, and chose the seat upholstery they wanted. Mom eventually selected burgundy damask. The car proved to be a mechanical dud that the family hated, and the electric windows failed about every two or three weeks, but it looked beautiful. These days–no doubt to cut manufacturing costs–car interiors typically come in dark gray or light gray regardless of the exterior color. Mom’s burgundy upholstery exactly matched the rich burgundy hue of the car’s body paint. Before that vehicle, I think they owned a teal-green car with matching interior. Then there was the red car with the red seats. Oh yes, once upon a time car seats matched car colors. It was great.

But getting back to computers, I have to say that New Guy is pretty dashing (not!) because he’s two-toned: black enlivened by gunmetal gray. So boring. If my printers weren’t white I might run screaming from the desk. As it is, I’m frequently tempted to paint my home office walls red just to wake things up.

Are you thinking, yep there she is wailing about drab colors but she’s afraid to paint her office? Not at all! I’m too lazy to shift two tall wooden filing cabinets, a massive desk, two bookcases, and a long computer table that requires unbolting to move. Not to mention the fabulous solid-maple card catalogue plunked in the middle of the room that took me ages to acquire. But oh someday, when I have hired muscle to help and no book deadline, then look out. My home office is gonna achieve some verve.

Meanwhile, I have put in my official request to the IT guys on campus: “rose gold” please, please, please.

I am dreaming of pink. I am longing for pink.

But I may have to compromise with “silver.”

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Tax Man Cometh

Is there anything less conducive to creativity than income tax preparation? My imagination flees. My desire to write takes a vacation. My incentive dries up. My brain freezes. My heart sinks out of sight. I dread walking into my home office and looking at the ledger lying on my desk, warning me that the sharp talons of misery are waiting to grip me.

In short, I hate it.

Cue up the violins playing in the background because who doesn’t detest this annual task? I am hardly alone. I try not to be such a baby about it. I crack the whips of fear and self-discipline to make myself start. Procrastination is only going to make it worse, right?

My annual New Year’s resolution is always to break this behavior and start keeping up with my accounts on a weekly or monthly basis so that the actual prep is a quick snap to do. But I never keep the resolution. Never. Occasionally I try, and my resolve will hold on somewhere between February and April. After that, I’m gone.

In other words, I do my accounts once a year, which makes the whole job much much much worse than it need be.

Still, it gets done somehow. And then I shove things out of sight–files and ledgers and calculators and scraps of papers–until next time.

So, if you sell your book–woo-hoo!–or a short story or a novella or a magazine article, (and whether you go through a traditional publisher or self-publish electronically)–if you sell your written materials, you will have to file a Schedule C form on your tax return and report the income. Along with that, you’re entitled to take deductions. Although they continue to dwindle, you should know about the ones that are not yet extinct.  Given that not all accountants and tax preparers are conversant with writer deductions, here are a few things you should know so you can consult successfully with your professional tax adviser or CPA. (The following does not constitute official tax advice. Always consult with a professional.)

The home office deduction. In the past, this was a dicey, muy dangerous deduction to take. You had to have an actual room dedicated to writing. (You still do.) None of that corner of the kitchen table business. Then you had to really tiptoe through the landmines of what was allowed and what would get you audited. However, IRS rules have changed somewhat on this one. So many people now work from home that the Feds have created a standard deduction that you can take. It’s much easier usually to take the standard deduction instead of trying to calculate the square footage of your house versus the square footage of your office to determine the percentage of your utilities you can deduct. I think this one is still being tweaked, however, so be sure you find out exactly what you can and cannot deduct here. But if you qualify, O ye hardworking writer, take it!

Equipment. Do you need bookcases? A new printer/copier/fax machine? A new computer? A lamp to see by? A fabulous ergonomic chair that will help you write comfortably for long hours? A great camera for your blog? Sometimes you have to depreciate expensive items, which means spreading out the deduction over multiple years, but your accountant can advise you on the best approach.

Car mileage. This one requires keeping a–sigh–mileage log. You can purchase little books at the office supply store that have entries for the day’s beginning and ending mileage, what the trip was for, etc. (And make sure you deduct the cost of the log.) For many writers, the mileage log may not add up to a lot of miles. See, we’re sitting in our computer chair, writing, instead of going places. Used to, jaunts to the post office to mail manuscripts, to deposit royalty checks, to go to the library, to shop at the office supply store, to browse at the local bookstore, etc. were all legitimate errands for a writer’s business. Now, we email our manuscripts, we may deposit checks via our smartphones, use the Internet instead of the public library, and browse on Amazon.com. All those conveniences erase our deductions, alas. However, if you conduct in-person interviews, or travel for research, or don’t care to deposit your checks via your phone, then you should keep the mileage log. At over fifty cents per mile, those little trips across town and back can add up quickly.

Office supplies. After shopping in a bookstore, the office supply store is one of my favorite places to visit. You may do everything via your computer. I combine low and high tech, so for example I stick Post-Its to my AirBook lest I forget something. That’s because I’m a visual person. I need the note where I’ll see it, not have it buried in some computer file or reminder app on my phone. So I need Post-Its, envelopes, pens, file folders, tape, thumb drives, paperclips, and printer paper. All the wonderful paper-oriented products that the modern world is trying to dispense with. Computer software programs and anti-virus software fall into this camp as well. (As long as you’re not buying games for your five-year-old.)

Internet service. The IRS expects writers to keep a log of how many hours they clock on computer usage, especially if the computer is shared among members of a family. My computer is shared with no one. My Internet access is for my business use, so I deduct the cost of it. Your CPA may suggest that you deduct a portion of your communications costs. However, your business phone line, your Internet access, the costs of your Wi-Fi router, etc. are potentially all deductible.

Meals and travel expenses. If you travel to interview someone or you travel to writers conferences, you can deduct your transportation and hotel costs, your conference registration fees, and a percentage of your meals.

Books, magazines, and movies. If you write novels, part of your job entails knowing your genre and the market, which means you’re reading novels constantly. Those are deductible materials for a professional writer. If you write magazine articles and/or you are perusing journals for research, you can deduct the magazines you read. If you rent or purchase movies in order to do research, you’re writing a filmscript or teleplay, or you need to input the plot to feed your imagination, you can deduct those costs. Going to a first-run movie in a theater, however, is a gray area that might get you audited. See what your CPA thinks. Mine gives me a thumbs down on that one.

Professional services. This covers such expenses as paying your CPA to do your taxes, or hiring a cover artist to design your next e-book cover. And although there are DIY options, you may prefer to spend your brainpower on your plotting instead of design. You may want to hire a company to make a video book trailer that you can put up on YouTube or your Web site. You may need professional assistance in designing your Web site or putting up Podcasts. If you’re selling very well, you may need to hire an assistant to handle your emails, PR promotion, and/or research. If you have a literary agent representing you, then the agent’s commission is deductible.

Donations. Find a few charities you like and give to them. You may want to donate to your place of worship, or to organizations like First Book that support literacy, or to some other cause near and dear to you. Besides monetary contributions, if you decide to clean out your garage and donate a pile of stuff like old sporting equipment, toys, and that bike you can’t use since your knees went bad, then you should itemize everything, assign each item a garage-sale value, drop them off at a donation center or arrange for an organization to come to your house and pick them up, and deduct the value. Make sure you obtain a dated receipt from the organization and attach your itemized list to it for your records. Such clean-out donations are easier to cope with than holding a garage sale, and sometimes the deduction from your taxes will profit you more than whatever cash you might earn from a sale. However, be sure your records have the name of the organization and its address because that information must be provided to the IRS.

While there are a few more deductions that you can dig up to ease your tax burden, these are some of the major areas available to writers. Good luck and may the task of doing your accounts prove less onerous to you than it is to me.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Writing Ergonomics: Comfort and Ease

Once your office is functional–meaning you have a desk that’s right for you; a chair designed to hold you for hours; a good lighting system; a stout battery backup system for your computer; file, book, and supply storage; and whatever phone, printer, and computer equipment you need–the next step involves making the room attractive and pleasant to spend time in.

I have seen writer offices that looked like something from a magazine–everything organized, the desktop as clean as a banker’s desk, not a stray sheet of paper or stack of books anywhere. I have seen offices that looked like a rat heap in the corner of a spare bedroom, with the computer perched precariously on top of a sagging desk made of particle board and contact paper, wedged behind discarded exercise equipment, outgrown toys, and an ironing board.

I’ve moved a lot, so I’ve set up several offices. When I began my novelist career, I worked in a poorly lit storeroom with exposed wall studs, inadequate heat during the winter, a homemade table, and a paper grocery sack for a waste can. A loaned space heater scorched my knees and let the rest of me shiver.

When I sold my first two books, I invested in a better typewriter–yes, these were ancient days of yore–then I got different office space with finished walls, a window, and heat. I furnished it with a big mahogany desk, a secretarial chair, a sofa, built-in cupboards and bookshelves, and some framed prints. It was beautiful, spacious, and comfortable.

It’s unimportant to this post as to why I left that second office behind, but I still miss it. In the years since then, I’ve had big offices and tiny, cramped ones. I’ve had pretty ones and rooms that I didn’t bother with. And I’ve even tried arranging my space according to the ancient Chinese principles of feng shui. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:

Beyond function and efficiency, a workspace should

1. Inspire you

2. Showcase your success

3. Be a pleasant, attractive room

4. Validate what you’re doing

5. Avoid excessive clutter

What inspires you to write? What keeps you charged and ready to work at the keyboard? What fuels your dreams and imagination? To the best of your ability, surround yourself with those things in your work space. Make your writing environment a creatively supportive one.

I was given that advice very early in my career by my then-agent in London. He sat me down in his big office and told me that as soon as I began to make money as a writer to buy myself the view that would most inspire me to write. I’ve yet to buy that view, but I understand the principle behind his suggestion. How can I make my surroundings appealing?

I’ve chosen a beautiful shade of red that I want for my office walls. Right now they’re a dreary brownish faux treatment that doesn’t do a thing for me. However, although paint’s relatively inexpensive, I keep putting off the chore because I don’t want to spend an entire weekend moving furniture and doing the necessary prep while I’m under a book deadline. So I continue to procrastinate, despite the fact that a more attractive color would probably do wonders for my morale.

A brag wall or shelf isn’t to feed your conceit. It’s to help you sustain your confidence. We writers can be a little delicate. It doesn’t take much beyond a sharp remark from an editor or a barbed reader review on amazon.com to knock our feet out from under us. Our sensitivity is necessary for the kind of work we do, but if we aren’t careful we can start to brood too much over weak sales or a project that’s not going smoothly. Several years ago, I started framing covers of my books and hanging them up. It gave me a boost every time I saw what I’d accomplished. You don’t have to paper your walls with your achievements, but by all means display the ones that mean the most to you. And spend the money to have your diploma or book cover framed professionally. In a former home, I hung all those bookcovers on my staircase wall. Now, I have a couple that I think are really special. They’re blown up to poster size and mounted in brushed-metallic frames so they’re quite eye-catching.

As for the furniture arrangement, what do you have? What do you face when you sit down to work? Your window? Your brag wall? Is your back to the door so you always feel a little uneasy? Can you switch your desk around to fix that? My present arrangement gives me no view, which I dislike very much. My back’s to the door, and I don’t like that either. Worst of all, when I sit down I feel like towering stacks of furniture might fall on me. I have very tall bookcases in the room, plus an antique paper cabinet that sits on my desk behind my computer monitor and looms over me. None of this makes me comfortable or relaxed. I need to change it.

Do your furnishings look like worn-out hand-me-downs? Do you have a new flat-screen TV in the living room, but you write at a chipped desk with a short leg propped on some old encyclopedias? What might that say about your priorities?

Where you write, whether it’s an actual office or simply a corner of a room, should reflect the value of your creative work. It should be furnished with the best you can afford. It should be worthy of the stories you write. If you like flea-market style, it can be funky and second-hand, but it should never be second-rate.

As for clutter … it takes over my office the way Tribbles overtook the USS Starship Enterprise. Because I’m more of a “piler” than a “filer,” I tend to lose documents pretty easily, and I waste a great deal of time hunting for that folder or chapter or contract that I can’t locate. Believe me, I’ve read several books on clutter management, and it remains a problem. I think the solution has to do with simple discipline. Once the room is cleaned and organized, it’s about keeping it that way through sheer willpower.

In the past, I’ve justified my messiness with the excuse that cleaning up clutter takes too much time. That’s nonsense, and I should know better.

Now, I don’t intend to shift myself to a sterile environment. I like books around me. I want that falcon statue from the Ramses II exhibit that I bought years ago. I keep that rock from New Mexico on my desk for a good reason. And I will continue to stick Post-Its on my computer monitor as needed. I still wince from watching an episode on HGTV where the designer told her clients that all the books on their shelves were clutter and to clear them away. But I don’t have to save every scrap of paper and it doesn’t all have to be stacked in precarious piles to the point where my desktop isn’t visible.

I’m resolved to do better.

Are you?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized