February 2011

When writing nonfiction articles, it’s imperative that you sprinkle those articles with quotes from experts or whoever the focal point of your interview is. It’s always great when you’re interviewing someone and that person blurts out an amazing quote, which you know right away will fit into your article perfectly. Other times, you may struggle to pull together a satisfactory quote or two that supports your facts. Although you’ll always need to include some direct quotes in your story, there are times when using indirect quotes, or a paraphrase, of what your expert said is just as good, if not better than the direct quotes.

But how do you know when to use one over the other? There are no hard and fast rules, really, but some general guidelines do exist that can help you make that call.

1. Obviously, if you must use a person’s exact words to maintain accuracy of  facts, you’ll need direct quotes. You won’t want to paraphrase a statement that is important enough to get you in trouble for misquoting it or implying something that’s not factual.

2. If you have subject matter that lends itself to the use of highly technical terms, jargon, or acronyms, it’s best to use indirect quotes where you can serve as a translator. If you’ve ever heard a military briefing, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Direct quotes with such jargon would only bring confusion–and boredom!

3. If your interviewee tends to be on the wordy side and has added way too much extraneous information, it’s probably best to paraphrase and summarize that person’s story using indirect quotes. Sometimes you can get away with using partial quotes and omitting parts of their direct quote with ellipses, but you never want to overdo this. It doesn’t take long for partial quotes to become choppy, and you’ll lose the flow of your writing. Here, it’s best to summarize the gist of what that person is saying, and maybe add one or two direct quotes for effect.

4. If you want to capture the subject’s personality and emotions, go with direct quotes. It’s in the quotes that a person’s dialect, cliches, phrasing, and other nuances that really make a subject come alive will be found. Using indirect quotes can never capture the “flavor” and emotion of a person the way direct quotes can.

5.  If you want to interject your own comments or opinion of what your subject just said, or if you need to compare the statements of two or more people you’ve interviewed, it’s best to use indirect quotes. Your writing will flow better and be more clear if you can put such a situation into your own words.

There’s definitely a time and place for both direct and indirect quotes, and there’s nothing set in stone to dictate when you must use one over the other. Sometimes it’s helpful to try it both ways and see which one works best. You’ll probably know as soon as you read it whether the information should use direct or indirect quotes. Keep in mind that it’s important to have a balance of both in your story. Use too many direct quotes and the reader may lose sight of who’s actually writing the article! Too few direct quotes and your story will read too much like a narrative.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you decide what to use when.

Once again, I’ve compiled a list of writers’ conferences for the upcoming year and posted them on my Writers’ Resources page. They are listed by date and include a little of everything: writing for children, Christian conferences, fiction-focused workshops, and general workshops. They range in length from a half day to four days, and can be found from coast to coast.

I plan on adding more as I discover new ones, so please check back if you’re interested in attending a conference or two this year. Also, for tips on what to expect from writers’ conferences and how to prepare for them, please check out an earlier post entitled, “Preparing for a Writers’ Conference.”

Ah, it’s that time of year. The time when our thoughts turn to new beginnings, new goals, and …taxes! If you’re new to the business of writing, and if you’re trying to make the transition from hobby to business or from part-time to full-time writing, you’ll soon find–if you haven’t already–that there’s lots to learn when it comes to handling your business expenses and making the most out of your tax deductions. And, if you’re a veteran writer who’s been in business for a while, read on anyway…you might just pick up some helpful nuggets, or perhaps you can add your own two cents worth to help others. I’d love to hear about any deductions I may’ve missed. (I’m sure there’ll be some, as this is the short list!)

Before launching into specific deductions, I want to encourage any freelance writer to be sure to always keep your business expenses and revenues separated (preferably in a separate bank account) from your personal expenses and revenues. Not only does it make the accounting work much easier in the long run, but it will help you to better gauge on a regular basis how your business is doing.

Also, keep in mind that the IRS is seriously cracking down on small businesses and sole proprietorships right now (let’s face it, they need the money!), so they are looking for any reason you give them to come and audit you. Don’t give them any. Keep detailed records of every transaction, or hire someone who can do that for you. It could save you big down the road.

As mentioned, this is the short list of possible deductions if you are a freelance writer, working as a 1099:

~ Office space: You are allowed to deduct a portion of your mortgage expense (equal to the percentage of space your office occupies in your home) for your office. The only caveat here is that your office must be a dedicated space. So, if your office also functions as your family’s TV room, or you share the space with your kitchen, then you can’t deduct it.

~ Office supplies: From paper clips to computers, any and all office supplies that you need for your business are fully deductible. Hold onto all of your receipts! Those paper clip expenses add up over the course of a year!

~ Mileage: Anytime you have to travel to meet with clients, publishers, to go to writers’ conferences or workshops, to conduct research at the library, or even to purchase those supplies I just mentioned, keep track of your mileage. It is also deductible. Purchase a mileage log and keep it in your car. You’ll use it more than you think.

~ Entertainment: If you engage in working lunches with co-authors or editors, if you take an editor out to dinner as a thank-you for all his hard work on your book, or even if you use a round of golf to pitch an editor on your latest book (Of course, you may lose your editor in the process if you spend 18 holes pitching her!), these are all legitimate business, and therefore, deductible expenses. Keep all of your receipts, and write the purpose for the event on the receipt so you don’t forget. And, don’t go overboard with these, or red flags will fly with Uncle Sam.

~ Conferences/Workshops: All expenses associated with going to writers’ conferences, seminars, workshops, or other events used to further your career or business are considered deductible: meals to and from and while you’re there, travel to and from, rental car expenses, lodging, etc.

~ Educational materials: Anytime you purchase books or CDs on writing (or something similar), reference materials, subscriptions to online databases, magazines, or anything else you need to conduct your business and aid in your writing is deductible.

One more thing to note is that the IRS makes a distinction between a hobby and a business. If you’re writing is not profitable after a certain period of time (the last I checked it was three years, but this may’ve  changed), it is considered a hobby not a business and you will not be able to use your deductions. Once it does become profitable, however, you may start deducting again.