Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I Have Rendered Unto Caesar

And this year, my wife and I--both of us being essentially freelancers--will be filing quarterly estimated taxes. It's the first year we've really needed to do it, now that we're (A) no longer full-time employees and (B) actually making enough annual income that it matters (i.e., no longer just living off our savings--which, BTW, is a weird loophole in pretty much all US finance regulation, but that's another story).

Chances are you've never cared about estimated taxes, because you're a W-2 wage earner whose paycheck includes automatic withholdings for various taxes (Social Security, Medicare, etc.). Well, when you're a freelancer, those things don't get automatically withheld when clients or customers pay you, but the IRS wants their money all the same. And, as Scalzi says in his excellent "Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money" blog post, "the government quite sensibly doesn't trust freelancers to pay their taxes in one lump sum."

So how does it work? Well, I'm sure not qualified to explain it to you, so I'll let my friend Nicole tell you in her well-researched "Surefire Tax Estimating Process for Freelancers" article on The Billfold. And after you absorb all that great information, follow up with The Billfold's other articles on estimated taxes.

It's not actually that much more work, especially since the system is designed to make it easy for you to plan for the coming year when you file your previous year's tax returns; though it's "quarterly," the first deadline of the year is actually April 15th, the same as your federal and state returns. So you can do all the math in one fell swoop, which is what my wife and I did this week. (It helps that she actually enjoys doing taxes, and we live in Washington state, which doesn't collect state income tax.)

Finally, the Treasury Department offers an Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) which lets you pay your taxes online without going through a fee-charging third-party payment service. And for more info on estimated taxes from the horse's mouth, see the IRS's Estimated Tax FAQs and Publication 505: Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.

Curtis

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

I Want You to Do Two Things

HELLO READERS

I DO NOT NORMALLY ASK VERY MUCH OF YOU

BUT TODAY

 I WANT YOU

TO DO TWO THINGS

 NUMBER ONE

BUY FONDA LEE'S DEBUT NOVEL, ZEROBOXER



 NUMBER TWO

VOTE FOR LAURA J. MIXON TO RECEIVE THE BEST FAN WRITER HUGO AWARD THIS YEAR


BECAUSE FONDA AND LAURA ARE BOTH AWESOME PEOPLE DOING AWESOME THINGS

THAT IS ALL

Curtis

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I am Sick Today

But there are three cool things I need to tell you about: first, Puzzled Pint Brooklyn got a very nice write-up in The Wall Street Journal! Second, our friends The Doubleclicks made a very groovy Ghostbusters-inspired music video. Third, there's a fun new game called Valeria: Card Kingdoms which you can back on Kickstarter. That's all, and now I'm going back to bed.

Curtis

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Have Some Busy Weekends Coming Up

For the record, I'm not doing this as a #humblebrag or anything douchey like that. I'm writing this down as yet another reminder of all the crap I need to do BECAUSE I'M OLD AND I FORGET THINGS OKAY.

This weekend is GameStorm 17 in downtown Vancouver, where DeeAnn and I are re-running a modified version of the "Number Five Is Alive" puzzle hunt from JoCo Cruise 5. We'll hopefully also have time to play some games ourselves, and go to the Doubleclicks concert! Some of Thursday night's events will be in the hotel garage, which should be interesting.

Next weekend, after we do our taxes dammit, I'm going up to Seattle to help staff the Clarion West table at Emerald City Comic Con. I may or may not also have time and energy to wander around the con stalking Gail Simone, but mostly I want to go help out an organization I love (ObDisclaimer: I am a CW alumnus) and hang out with some awesome writers.

The first weekend in April is our friend Maria's birthday, and our other friend Natalie is organizing a chocolate field trip through Portland. You're either super excited and looking forward to this or deeply sad that you can't join us.

The second weekend in April includes my pal Fonda Lee's book launch party for her debut novel Zeroboxer! And probably a few hours prepping the next Puzzled Pint event, which may or may not include scrambling to lock down locations in all cities and/or last-minute revisions to puzzle materials. Did I mention we're an all-volunteer, non-commercial event?

And with any luck, one month from now on April 18th, we'll actually have some free time to relax and watch the third season premiere of Orphan Black.

Curtis

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I Have Been Married for Ten Years

Our wedding anniversary date is actually tomorrow, but what with leap years and Daylight Saving Time and whatnot, I figure today's close enough to call it.

This past weekend, we attended the wedding of our friends Kenna and Ryan (whom I affectionately call "K&R"--I am, as you might expect, the only one who does this). You can search for #ConkaPotts on Twitter to get some idea of how fabulous it was. Being at another early-March wedding (which also featured a unity candle, and had a tabletop-game-centric "after-party" instead of dancing) reminded me a lot of our own celebration.

It really doesn't feel like it's been a whole decade. Our lives have changed quite a bit--we're living in a different place now, working different jobs, hanging out with different friends--but the most important things haven't changed. We still enjoy each other's company, even if it's sitting on the couch while I watch Arrow and she plays games on her iPad. We always want to share our favorite things with each other. We're still very much in love.

Happy Anniversary, DeeAnn, and here's to many more.

Curtis

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

I Have Trouble Asking for Help

I was going to rant and rave today about how badly The Newsroom crashed and burned in its last season, but honestly, that ship has sailed. Do go read Abigail Nussbaum's breakdown, though; she's much more articulate about the situation than I would ever be. (I also started this Facebook thread, which has some good insights by other folks.)

Instead, I'm going to fill this week's column-inches (OH GOD I'M OLD) by juxtaposing two TED talks by amazing women:

Amanda Palmer: The art of asking

http://youtu.be/xMj_P_6H69g

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability

http://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o

I'm a writer, and many of my friends are writers or creative artists of some kind. (Yes, that includes puzzles.) And we all struggle to figure out how to make money doing what we love.

There is, I think, an essential tension between confidence and vulnerability here: an artist needs to have the confidence to believe that people will find value in her art, and to put herself out there to connect with people (some of whom may be jerks--you never know); but an artist must also retain a sincere vulnerability (especially online, but also in person) to make her supporters feel good about supporting her work and helping her out, either financially or by donating their time (assisting with promotion, sharing food, providing couch-surfing space, etc.).

I've seen this dynamic played out in many a failed project on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and any number of other crowdfunding sites. Because those are the places where the intersection of an artist/maker's confidence and vulnerability are laid bare. You have to self-promote your project, but you can't seem like a jerk when you do it. And that can be a very fine line to walk. (#PROTIP: when in doubt, be humble, be grateful, and be nice. In all things, really.)

It's ridiculously easy for things to go wrong online, especially when you're compressing your deep thoughts into 140 characters or fewer. Even if you think you're saying the right thing, other people might interpret it differently. I'm fairly paranoid about this, so I always re-read my tweets and e-mails (and blog posts!) before sending them into the ether. I'm painfully aware that I will be judged harshly for any perceived breach of etiquette because reasons.

There's another reason I've always had trouble asking for help. Whether it was computer programming or fiction writing or even just cooking dinner, I always felt that I was "stupid" if I didn't know something and couldn't figure it out on my own; and if I had to go to someone else for help, that made me a failure, and that was shameful. Maybe that's a common neurosis, but in my case, I always suspected it was a conceptual hybrid of Chinese academic pressure and American cowboy independence. I'm finally getting over that now, in my forties, but it's worth saying out loud. Everyone needs help sometimes. Learning to recognize that, and knowing how to ask for help, is a big part of being a grown-up. (Writing: cheaper than therapy, folks.)

Back to the main point. I don't know if (or when) I'll get into a situation which many other artists have encountered, where they're facing financial ruin due to some health or other personal issue and decide to turn to their friends and fans for help. I don't know how I would handle that, because--other than asking for a raise at my first job--I've never been in a situation where I had to ask someone for money. Again, cultural taboos, blah blah blah. But I hope I'll have figured it out by the time that becomes an issue.

Curtis