Accounts, Average Earnings, Money, Planning, Writing

This Writing Life: Four (nearly!) Painless Ways To Deal With Tax

The Death of Chatterton, by Henry Wallis

Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, says the old song. Tax and money go together like glue and honey. Unless you’ve got both under control, they become a sticky mess.

The second you start earning money from your writing, you’re in business. Like it or not, that means keeping records. Writers earn a lot less than you might think—see here for the bad news—but while your dreams of sealing a deal worth millions may have to go on hold, HMRC and the IRS wait for no author.

It’s better to get a basic system of recording the amounts of money you handle well before you need it, so here are my four top tips for shrinking a painful process…


Romance writer Kate Walker gives some great advice to new writers: whatever you earn, however small the figure, put half of it straight into a separate account that’s hard to access. Don’t touch it. WHATEVER THE TEMPTATION. That way, you build up a fighting fund ready for the moment an envelope full of the Tax Dragon’s finest drops on your doorstep.

If you’re up for a challenge, you can take this one step further. From the half of your earnings you have left, put half of that into a savings account that’s slightly easier to access. You can then dip into that pool of medium-term savings for sudden, unexpected bills. In other words, the “average” writer’s earnings of £600/$1,000 per year becomes only £150/$250 of actual fun money. To prove I’m not completely made of stone, I’ll let you do what you like with that.

All Contributions Gratefully Received


Take twelve large, plain, white business envelopes. Label one for each month of the year. Every time you buy stationery, pay your RNA or RWA dues, renew your web hosting, get an advance or some royalties, put the receipts, invoices and all other paperwork in the appropriate envelope. Take a note of any insurance premiums, your utility bills and business mileage, too. Tax planning and writing are alike in that it’s better to collect too much detail to begin with, rather than not enough. If The Powers That Be want to pick and choose what they’re interested in, then they can. Whether you’re dealing with receipts or words, producing extra to order and at short notice is always a nightmare. Less is most definitely not more when it comes to tax planning.


…tax thresholds and bands long before you need to know about them.  That way you’ll avoid any nasty shocks. If you have no income other than from writing, contact your local library or check on line for reputable sources of free advice, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux. Yes, it’s possible to do your own tax returns if they’re simple, but as soon as you possibly can, pay an accountant to do them for you. They spend their whole working lives keeping up to date with the latest legislation, and can pay for themselves by spotting things you might miss. If nothing else, they’ll have professional liability insurance to cover any mistakes they might make. Your cousin’s friend who “always does his own books and can do yours, too” isn’t likely to have that. He may be setting himself (and you) up for a self-assessed disaster.


This is the carrot. The tax office holds the stick.

Tax planning takes twice as long tomorrow, four times as long next week and…well, you get the picture. Not only will you have the threat of that horrible job hanging over you, receipts and invoices never stop mounting up. Unless you take control, the situation can only get worse. And the funny thing is, once you grit your teeth and attack the task, it doesn’t take half as long as you think.  I sat down this weekend to create a spreadsheet from my twelve envelopes of paperwork. It took me no more than two hours and I rewarded myself with cake as well as a cup of tea when I’d finished. I’ll deliver my spreadsheet, and all the supporting paperwork, to my accountant later today. My warm glow of smug satisfaction will last until the accountant’s bill arrives—which I’ll put straight into the right monthly envelope, of course. (Oh, really? Ed.)

His Majesty's Secret Passion, Jewel Under Siege, Pantsing, Planning, Scrivener, Snowflake, Three Act Structure

Birth Of A Book, Part Three: Find Your Writing Style…

By Antonio Litterio

Does your novel have a beginning, a muddle, and an end? Do you want to find out the secrets of a well-rounded, satisfying story? First, discover what kind of writer you are by answering these 3 simple questions:

1.     At the supermarket, do you:
a)     dash round grabbing the first things you see because you’ve run out of food, time, or both
b)     Visit once a week at exactly the same time, with a list (and a full stomach).

2.     Fancy a holiday?
a)     Yay! When do we go? I love surprises!
b)     No, thanks. Every year I rent the same little cottage for two weeks in August, in a place where all the locals know me.

3.     Is your working day…
a)     A roller coaster of triumphs and disasters, with snack and/or cigarette breaks here and there to liven up the mix
b)     A production line of completed tasks and problem solving, and you always get ready for the next day’s work before you leave.

If you answered a) to those questions, you’re more likely to wing your way through your writing, without much forethought. Answering b) means you like the order outline and planning brings to your life. I’ve written successful novels using both methods, and each has their good and bad points.

ADVANTAGES: Just sitting down and letting the words pour out is a great way to get a first draft finished in record time. If you’re a planner who’s written their way into a cul-de-sac, letting your mind wander and writing free-form for a change can pole-vault you over your problems.

DISADVANTAGES: You don’t jump into a car without some idea of where you’re going (I hope). Winging it while writing might turn your original short story into a 100,000 word epic, which still has no end in sight. On the other hand, if you’ve planned in so much detail any suggested revisions have you reaching for the gin bottle, you’ve lost sight of the release (and enjoyment) writing can bring.

Find out more at (UK) (US)

I wrote my historical novel, Jewel Under Siegewithout any formal plan. Researching a non-fiction project on the eleventh-century daredevil, Robert Curthose, I discovered 3 things:

–  Robert would make good comic relief for a serious story,
–  Not all mediaeval ladies culled florets and sighed in solars—some rolled up their sleeves and ran successful businesses, and
–  Talking rather than fighting is the best way to counter ignorance and bigotry.

I sat down and blasted my way through the first three chapters, and then wrote the last one. This was to give me an idea how my characters would get their Happy Ever After moment. Then I went back and filled in the thousands of words which were missing from the middle of the book.

With the first rough draft finished, I put the manuscript aside for a while to let it marinate (to find out why this is always a good idea, however you write, take a minute to read this).

In second and subsequent drafts of Jewel Under Siege, I tightened everything up, made sure timings agreed and all the continuity was right. By the time it was published, I’d had a whale of a time, but the whole process took me several months longer than the writing of my next release, His Majesty’s Secret Passion.

Before starting to write His Majesty’s Secret Passion,  I spent a lot of time thinking how the internal conflicts of Sara, my career-obsessed heroine, could strike sparks off hero Leo, a man who has abandoned his own career for the sake of family loyalty. Once I’d filled out a sheet of details for both Sara and Leo, I was ready to start my first draft.

Send an email with the words Character Sheet in the subject line to christinahollis(at), and I’ll send you a copy of the detailed form I fill in for each of my fictional characters. 

Order your copy here!

I’ve written here about the joys and woes of the Scrivener writing package. It’s a kind of virtual filing cabinet where you collect every link, image and note you need, and produce your manuscript, all in one place. You can have hours of fun naming folders and dividing every chapter into individual scenes, complete with sidebar of notes for each one. If you use the basic Three Act Structure for your novels—I’ll be talking about that next time—writing sessions become an easy matter of opening your Scrivener project and seeing at a glance what you should be doing next.

I’m a Scrivener devotee, but I’ve also used Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake system with success. This is a more free-form approach. You start by identifying the big idea at the heart of your novel, then gradually add layer on layer of more detail. In the same way every snowflake is built up of simple shapes, your book grows organically into a novel of many facets. I like Snowflake a lot, but Scrivener stops my desk disappearing under a sea of Post-It notes and scrappy bits of paper!

If you don’t want to use a commercial word-processing package like Scrivener or Snowflake, try making a simple “And Then” list of all the important and exciting events in your story. This way you can make sure you’ve got plenty of page-turning action, and juggle the order before you start writing.

Here’s the “And Then” list I could have used for the beginning of His Majesty’s Secret Passion‘s first chapter

Sara—shark attack? And then…
Leo saves her, and then…
She’s embarrassed —it was a false alarm. And then…
Attraction tussles with suspicion, until…
Leo’s distracted by his jealous PA, but…
He’d rather help an injured woman than socialise, although…
Sara’s recent history makes her put up barriers, and so…
Leo takes direct action…

There’s an added benefit of this type of brief list. It makes creating a detailed synopsis easy later on, when you’ve settled on the content and order of your story.

When it comes to writing, are you a free spirit, or a planner?