It’s April. And in many parts of the world that means only one thing: Tax season. (Cue scary music.) This means I’ve been busy flattening out crumpled bits of paper, desperately trying to locate missing receipts, and wondering, why, exactly, I spent $169.95 at Office Depot on August 19, 2013. But finally, after more than a week of alternating between despair (“this is awful; I’ll never get it done”) and giddiness (“hey, my columns actually balanced!”), I finally had everything in shipshape for my patient accountant.
As I couriered the big envelope to his office, it occurred to me that preparing for the taxman (or woman) actually offers three important lessons in how to approach writing.
#1: Don’t leave everything to the last minute.
Classic mistake! I jam all my receipts into envelopes. (Okay, I’m smart enough to have envelopes labeled January-December, but I’m foolish enough not to look at them in between.) If only I would take my receipts and enter them onto a spreadsheet once a month, then my year-end job wouldn’t be so big. After all, I have a step-by-step strategy for my writing. Instead of leaving everything to the deadline, I divvy up the work into smaller, more manageable chunks. There’s list-making. Researching. Mindmapping. Writing a rough draft. Editing. These are all quite separate “writing” jobs. If you don’t try to do them all at once, the work is considerably easier.
#2: Be aware that the job is seldom as awful as you fear.
I dread tax season the way some people dread anthrax. But once I get into it, I eventually find a rhythm and occasionally the thought flits across my mind, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” Writers, too, are prone to procrastinating and awfulizing—assuming that time spent in front of the computer is going to be boring or frustrating or both. In many cases, the clients I coach have set up a self-fulfilling prophesy. They think it’s going to be bad, so it is. Or, fueled by panic, they convince themselves they must write now, forgetting that if they take the time to do some more researching, brainstorming or thinking, they will have more to write about—and the job will be so much easier.
#3: Recognize that fearing the outcome is pointless.
Part of the reason I dread taxes, I’m sure, is that I’m reluctant to know that I may have to pay more tax. Crazy—because not knowing the number doesn’t change it. And fearing the outcome is even crazier when it comes to writing. Why? Because once you get your words on paper, then you can edit them to make them better. It’s called a second chance—and few activities in life are as generous with second chances as writing. Take advantage!
As for me and my taxes, I’ve decided to give myself an external motivator. I now have a bookkeeper who is demanding my receipts each quarter. (I’m working up to monthly.) Tough love for the tax phobic. Ask yourself: Could your writing benefit from some tough love, too?