Surviving Taxes: Cold, Hard Numbers and the Story They Don’t Tell

 

I think, straight-up, the most challenging time for a business person, who’s also a parent (especially being the primary caregiver of two crazy-young kids), is just after the new year. I’ve already done the fun and exciting, the shiny newness, of this year’s challenges and goals I’m gonna do my best to tackle. I even looked back at 2016 and saw just how much I did accomplish.

It’s exciting.

It’s empowering.

Then, for me here in the United States, it also means tax time. And that… oh man… it’s enough to pop my excitement-balloon faster than my two-year-old full-body-squashing it.

As I said, I’m the primary caregiver for my four and two year-old, and you better believe that most of my days (and nights) means I’ve got my hands full. Showers by myself? Ha. Some days I’m lucky to get them in. Quiet, introspective time where I can think… Wow! Wouldn’t that be cool for a story idea? Or when we’re calmly walking around Disneyland, to have the time to actual study different people, to wonder who they are and what they do based on how they’re dressed, how they walk. What kinds of characters they’d be??

Yeah. Right.

Get back to me in a few years and I’ll let you know how that’s all going.

Writing, right now, means me squeezing in moments throughout the day. It’s carrying a notebook in my already fully-loaded purse (snacks and water bottles, anyone?). It means being very much separated from other professional writers and the little feedback I get is from my effort on continuing to learn, whether studying books by major bestsellers or taking online workshops.

My growth in writing is tiny. In fact, you can’t really even see it unless you get out a magnifying glass and squint your eyes… really… hard. Funny enough, it’s pretty equivalent to where Kate was in the beginning with her language, and now Eric. All we had were these tiny little nuggets, so small that to most people it was invisible and yet, we treasured them because it meant she was moving forward.

No, I couldn’t say, “Oh boy! She said a new word today.”

In fact… it would sometimes be months in between new words and then we’d be lucky if she continued to say them (the stubborn, control-orientated girl that I have). But when Kate would look up at us with a smile on her face after doing something cool with her toys (called visual referencing, if you’re curious) or her listening while I explained how another mom was going to get her jacket since I had my hands full with, at the time, baby Eric.

That’s all success. All of it. Each little tiny bit.

I’m doing the same with Eric now. Making notes of how he’s sharing these looks of excitement, not just with me, but with other moms. Of his very clear understanding when I say the word “more,” and then his continual babbling to get me to continue this tickle-fun game again.

Again, all precursors to words and yet, when most people see me playing with him like this, they have no idea what’s really going on. Sure, I’m playing with my son and he’s laughing like crazy, but I’m also “working” on “language” with him. All at the same time.

Who knew, right??

And right now, that pretty much feels like how my writing is progressing these days. So tiny no one can see it. One word at a time. Or, just getting my thoughts and life back into a place where I can write fiction (please, please, please Eric… only two wake-ups a night, okay? I can handle that!).

But tax season, though, it really, really puts my whole life, my whole progress forward, for my writing, in a hard, cold light. And it’s really hard to not get discouraged.

You see, when I look at my revenue for the previous year, look at my expenses… it breaks my entire life down into these cold, hard numbers. Numbers that, truly, don’t even begin to showcase what I’ve accomplished. Or even, what I could have accomplished if given even an hour or two a day of actual writing or publishing work.

What I did do in 2016 was write nearly 90,000 words of fiction. Plus another 29,000 words of nonfiction (basically, these blogs).

Right now, that’s a whole bunch of words just sittin’ on my computer, not making me any money. Cause… I haven’t actually published anything new in a really long time. At least… since Eric was born? I’d have to check and wow, do I not have time to check.

I also started re-doing a whole bunch of my blurbs for my previously published stories, but I haven’t actually gotten to those changes, or even the price changes, or my poor Chrissy Wissler name with the most god-awful, unbranded covers that just screams amateur

And I haven’t gotten to because I made being a parent, a priority.

And after that, with the stolen bits of time I had, I made my writing a priority.

Which, it’s totally cool that I’m getting this great list of story titles with new worlds and new characters, just waiting to get published (meaning I can also brand them correctly, and all at the same time rather than doing it piecemeal), but it still doesn’t make this process any easier.

To look at my 2016 numbers, my end of year earnings, and see… wow… that’s a really low number.

It feels pretty shitty.

Not that I’m placing blame on anyone else other than myself. Or on my kids for taking so much of time (which… they should.)

You see, I do deserve such a low amount because hey, I haven’t actually put the time or effort into the publishing end of my business. I mean, yeah, I’ve been doing some learning and behind-the-scene stuff, like finally getting the bones of my websites in order (okay… not even the bones, more like the outline of bones). And I did take this fantastic 6-week course on blurbs. But again, it’s not stuff you can even see yet.

In fact, it’s also true of my writing.

All the stuff I’m learning, all the pieces and growth I’ve done in the past few years, you can’t see the effects of it. Certainly not in revenue (again… I gotta actually publish this stuff first).

I also haven’t landed any new sales to traditional publishing magazines, though I do have a reprint of a short story coming out, which is pretty cool. So… no sales… but I’ve been getting almost immediate, personalized rejections from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (and for you writers out there, you know it’s a big deal when an editor with possibly less time than me, goes out of his way to write you a nice note about why your story “missed”). I didn’t get any of those when I first started writing short stories, back in 2011.

Progress.

Little, itsy-bitsy steps.

The only problem is sometimes it’s just incredibly hard not to cave under all the negative, awful words of my critical voice. It’s always waiting, like this five-toothed shadow in the creases of my mind, to tell me how bad I am, that I’m not improving, that my stories are slow and boring, and heck, I should just toss in the towel and give up because what’s the point?

I mean… just look at my numbers! I’m barely selling at all. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong. Clearly, I’m just not good enough yet.

Except… I don’t give up.

Instead, I (somehow), pick myself up.

It has a lot to do with my stubbornness (where do you think my late-talker kids get it from?), a lot too because I just can’t not write. The minute I start getting a half-decent amount of sleep, the stories just flare back up in my mind and I can almost not sleep because they are just so cool and is sleep really all that important?

But still, fighting this negativity, fighting against these cold, hard numbers that only tell a fraction of the truth…

It’s hard.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I do it either. How I don’t just fall into a gooey, icky mess even thinking about all the work ahead of me. All the work that needs to be done to put me where I know, without a doubt, I can be as a writer and a publisher, if I just had the time to do it.

Except… I chose to be a parent.

And not only that, I chose to stay at home with my kids, and heck, I’m even choosing to be at home and follow their interests in learning and education. I’ve chosen to be their primary language partner since both of my kids have a language disorder (well… Eric’s still up in the air but he’s definitely got a delay).

I know. And here I am, with my grand ‘ole dreams about being a professional writer and independent publisher. That’s probably on just this-side-of-crazy (or, to be honest, falls dead-on the crazy spot).

What keeps me going is this drive.

This complete desire to learn, to keep improving.

I know time will be easier to come by. Probably not this year… Eric is, after all, two years old… but I can look at Kate and see how independent she is, how I can get in my quiet time to my work (like right now… in between typing up this blog and adding up my 2016 revenue and expense totals with a piece of paper, my phone, all while sitting outside of Eric’s door making sure that kid stays in there to get the damn nap he so desperately needs. Oh. And did I mention I’ve also got the laundry going too?)

Yeah.

That’s my life.

The life of a parent-writer.

At this moment, a parent-business-woman and believe me, my yearly revenue is very, very far from the truth of where I actually am. Of the time and energy and love I’ve put into my businesses, on the very little amount of sleep I’ve had in these past two years (or five if I’m being really honest here).

I have to keep in mind that each time I write a word of fiction, it’s a success.

Even here, sitting outside Eric’s door and doing a small snippet of my writing business, is a success.

And I think that’s ultimately, how we make it work as parent-writers. Or parent-artists. Or parent-real-estate-agents. Or really, just add in whatever you’re trying to do that involves making some money.

We fit it in.

We squeeze it in.

We have to.

Sometimes we cry (I cried a lot today… but being kept up since 1:00 a.m. two nights in row with a giant pile of laundry to tackle… yeah, crying, that’s pretty much a given).

Sometimes we even have these clear moments of success, like every time I got an assignment back from my writing mentor telling me how I nailed it.

It’s tiny successes that means everything.

All those cold, hard numbers? Well, I didn’t make a whole lot last year but that goes a long way to helping out with deductions because I do have my writing business set up as a business. I just have to get these things added up and done, off to our accountant, and look forward to what I can do and what is in my control.

A lot of my energy levels will depend on what I can’t control, at least for right now (I’m talking to you sleep… and my two-year-old). But hey, I can keep learning and I can keep writing, even if only in little bits. The rest of it, the big dreams I have for my businesses, for all the stories I’m itching to write and to tell, those will happen to.

At some point.

For right now, I’m just going to be this scrappy little mom-fighter kicking every ounce of negativity and critical voice as hard as I can because… because it’s the only way I know how to keep on going, to keep even these small successes going.

And not matter what, I’m not going to stop.

Even if at times, like today, I need to pick up the phone and cry to my best friend or husband, about how hard it is facing these numbers and the real truth of being a parent of little kids.

I’ll cry and then, I’ll pick myself and keep moving forward.

Here’s to another year down… another year of raising a toddler and Kate, both late-talking children… another year of small revenue but some really, really big successes.

Like teaching Kate the days of the week because she really wants to make cookies today and not Saturday… which I’ve written and circled for her. Yet still… she keeps on asking… “Need more cookies now?”

And I’m smiling and enjoy every single word. (Even if I keep on repeating myself.)

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