Tax Tips for Writers

“Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors…and miss.” Robert Heinlein

Help with taxes please!It’s tax season, and for me that always means the necessary frustration of figuring out what I owe the government on my freelance earnings. (I make enough to have to pay them something, but not enough that I can pay them quarterly throughout the year. Go figure.)

Doing my taxes is made even more interesting because my mother is my accountant. I thank her for her help when I can’t figure out what a capital cost allowance is, and bite my tongue when she chides me for spending so much on reference books.

As a freelancer with a day job and some surprisingly complicated tax scenarios, I’d like to share some key lessons I have learned when it comes to doing my taxes. (Keep in mind, these are my experiences only! Get advice from your accountant or tax preparer, or visit the Canada Revenue Agency website. I am certainly no expert.)

  • DO claim your office chair. DO NOT claim your cat’s basket just because it happens to be in your home office and your cat is your muse.
  • DO keep track of your costs from that writing conference out west. DO NOT think that you can claim the in-room massage you splurged on the first night.
  • DO consider how much of your home is dedicated to your professional activities and for what portion of the day. DO NOT say your whole house is your office just because you write in the kitchen, laundry room or TV room, depending on your mood or where the fridge is.
  • DO calculate how much of the costs of your new hardwood floor can be allocated to your home office. DO NOT assume that your accountant will agree with claiming the cost of your mammoth new walk-in closet because your “work clothes” live there.
  • DO realize that doing your taxes takes a bit of brain power and elbow grease. DO NOT giggle and say “Oh, I’m no good with math,” so your nebbishly cute tax preparer will give you a break.
  • DO file on time and as accurately as possible. DO NOT assume that because you’re not bringing in a big freelance income the feds won’t audit you. The Canada Revenue Agency likes to take a closer look at the self-employed.

I’d love to hear some more tax-related “lessons learned” from our fellow restless writers.



Filed under Life and stuff, Trials and Tribulations

10 responses to “Tax Tips for Writers

  1. Interesting. I’ve never claimed anything, but I’ve just started making some money freelancing. I was just talking about this one hour ago. Timely post. I assume you don’t have a GST number (I don’t): is that what the quarterly business is about?

    Yours in confusion,

    • Maria McDonald

      I was a communications consultant in a former life, and had to have a GST number to get paid through an agency, and set up a business number to pay my income taxes quarterly. Even after I left that full-time freelancing life, I maintained my business number and GST/HST number (because I never burn bridges). Now it’s coming in handy again. Although the GST/HST changeover in 2010 in Ontario is making me crazy! You should talk to your accountant to see if/when it’s sensible to register yourself as a business. Good luck!

  2. My main lesson from this very timely post: buy my accountant a nice bottle of wine.


    • Maria McDonald

      A very good lesson, Lori. Also works well for people who give you advice about hyphens. (PS: I am partial to the bubbly!)

  3. The only lesson I have to share:

    Even if you marry an accounting major, you will still need someone else to complete your taxes.

    Or maybe that’s just me.

    Still. The nice bottle of wine sounds appealing. Perhaps it’s not too late for me to switch careers???

    • Maria McDonald

      Good advice! It’s along the same lines as never getting your significant other to teach you how to golf, play poker, or drive. (Or maybe that’s just me…)

  4. Did somebody say wine? Maria, perhaps you can give us a tax tips 101 at our next meeting! Yuck. And. Yes. Great post!

    • Maria McDonald

      I don’t know if I can give any tips. All I can talk about is what works for me. (For example, I am a spreadsheet addict.) But we can always invite my mom as a guest speaker at our next meeting.

      Thanks Beckie!

  5. Koreen

    Oh, I hate doing my taxes. A necessary evil. I wonder if taxes are Karma’s way of getting me back for stealing that candy when I was a kid. 😉

    • Maria McDonald

      Could be, Koreen! Even for me, a bred-in-the-bone skeptic, I like to take care of karma. That means being nice to my accountant/mom, filing my taxes on time, and trying not to cut too many people off in traffic. So far, so good.

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