Writing and Taxes

Photo credit: http://www.indiana.edu

In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.

I looked up the source of this quote in the process of writing this post. Certain aspects of its context are pretty interesting. Certain things I’d forgotten, or might have not even known in the first place, like:

  • It’s commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, from a letter he wrote to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789
  • The phrase actually appeared at least twice before, earlier in the 18th century, in Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil (1726) and in The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock (1716)
  • Ben Franklin’s quote is in reference to the newly-minted U.S. Constitution

That last bit is particularly interesting, considering that tax issues were one of the chief reasons we wound up creating a constitution of our own in the first place. Here’s the full quote, as I found it on Google:

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

And as an aside, I’m afraid to look up The Political History of the Devil, because I’m thinking it might be the thickest book in history.

Anyway, as much as I’d like to say I spent the better part of this past weekend writing, I can’t, because I was finishing up our 2017 U.S. income tax return (and the corresponding Louisiana state return). I have filed my own tax returns for as long as I can remember, for as long as I’ve had to file taxes, really. Back when a 1040EZ did the trick, and loooong before TurboTax or any similar tax software existed.

I feel compelled to write about taxes because, just as they are as certain as death, they place me in a certain firmament as a WRITER. This is my third year claiming “writing” as a sideline business on my return. While I know that this is more than a hobby, proclaiming it as a business with the U.S. government REALLY puts it on record.

But I don’t go through this rather laborious exercise purely out of an effort to “force” my legitimacy as a writer. That would definitely not be worth the effort. It really goes more toward intent. I intend to, one day, make some kind of living as a fiction writer. And I intend to, one day, make enough that I would have to pay taxes on the proceeds.

I’m not at that point yet.

Fiction writing has been a loss leader for these past three years I’ve claimed it on my return. And I fully expect it will continue that way for at least a few more years. It’s one of those things I remember from getting my Minor (in Marketing) from Arizona’s school of business. To expect a new business to operate at a loss for at least five years. At least, I hope I’m remembering that correctly.

I’m more than halfway through that five-year period, and I’m starting to get a little nervous. What if it takes more than five years to show some decent proceeds? Who keeps track of these things? Will the IRS send me a letter, telling me to “get on the stick” and get after this writing thing? (Although it’s more likely they’ll send me a letter with something like a-u-d-i-t in there somewhere).

I know I can’t be the only person to face this quandary. Writing as a profession—and taxes—have been around a very long time. So the bigger question is: what did Ben Franklin do? Or Daniel Defoe or Christopher Bullock, for that matter? And the biggest question of all: how the heck did they do it without TurboTax?

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