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Tax Tips for Writers

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on October 12, 2009

The following is a brief [sort of] discussion on Travel and using your expense as it relates to your writing.

 Many people ask me if and how much they can deduct for traveling. It’s an individual case-by-case discussion that is needed, but in general, yes, you can deduct your travel as it relates to your writing. Now, how do you do this? First, you have to determine one main question for discussion: What is ‘Ordinary and Necessary’? In the 2009 Standard Federal Tax Reports, paragraph 8520.026, they describe it thus: ‘Whether an expense is ordinary and necessary is based upon the facts surrounding the expense. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to the taxpayer’s business. An expense is ordinary if it is one that is common and accepted in the particular business activity.’


 This is more for the beginning writer, so if you are a seasoned writer, you may wish to tune in to a later post. So what do you write about? Are you doing research on a particular area [mountains, beach, city, country, woods] so that you can get the ‘feel’ of the place? Are you eating at a certain restaurant so that you can sample a type of food, service or décor of the place? Or are you attending a conference, such as Stories of the Heart [Feb 2010], so that you can improve your writing? All this is Ordinary and Necessary.


Let’s back up now. What do you write about? First of all, treat it like a business. Tell yourself, ‘I AM A WRITER’. There, was that so hard? Now write it down. That is the beginning of your business plan. The Internal Revenue Code describes your activity this way:  A ‘Trade or Business’, although not defined in the tax law, has been characterized as an activity carried on for a livelihood or for profit. A profit motive must be present and some type of economic activity must be conducted


The next line of your business plan will be something like – ‘I am going to write poetry about beautiful parks in our country’; or – ‘I am going to write my memoirs and will need to go back to [insert place] several times so that I can see what it is like now, see if it sparks any memories’. Yet another could be something simple as ‘I want to write about traveling with two young children, 6 cats and a dog.’ You can be general about this at first, and always add to it later.


Second step in the business plan is identifying who you are writing for. Or what market do you want to target? Here are some suggestions of what you should write into your business plan:

 I want to write/sell a Fiction/Non-fiction book about [insert topic such as romance, thriller, murder, travel, quilting, horses, Dementia, a person].

I want to write poetry/magazine articles for a periodical(s) – such as AARP, Outside, New York Times, The Community Sun, etc

I’m writing children’s’ books.

I want to publish my memoir.


OK, now you are totally confused – but keep it simple at first. And general. I will mention the Business Plan and Ordinary/Necessary several times as they relate to several topics in the future. We’ll head on back to travel, the category we started this discussion with. What can I write off? Here is a general list of all you can write off:


Vehicle(s) and all related expenses – including RV’s, cars, boats, airplanes, boats, parachutes, trains and more.

Hotel or space use fees [slips, berths, rooms, campground fees, etc]

Meals – either the actual expense or a per diem rate.

Entry fees: museums, art galleries, park fees, golf course, amusement park, state fair, tram rides, etc.


Other expenses you incur along the way are discussed under a different topic – such as photos, suitable clothing, souvenirs, phone calls, gifts, books, samples and general supplies. These are NOT considered part of your travel, but can be O/N.


Where do I put these on my tax return? If you are just an individual, the easiest way to handle them is to include them on a Schedule C of a regular Form 1040 tax return. But there are other options such as Partnerships, Corporations, Non-Profits, Limited Liability Companies and more. Those of you that are already writing off your expenses – and hopefully selling your wares – may want to consider forming a Limited Liability Company, simply for the depth of CYA it gives you.


Income. Tough to come by these days. Do you have to show income when you start writing off your writing expenses? Absolutely NOT. At least not at first. This will be discussed later under the heading of Hobby Losses.


As always, before attempting to use any of this general advice, you should talk this over with your tax preparer to be sure you are fully informed of the tax implications and how they relate to you. This column is to be used as a general reference and is not a specific guideline for you to use unless you are fully informed in the proper use of these types of income and expenses. In other words – don’t try to do this yourself – but DO ask someone to help you and DON’T be afraid to use the expenses that you are entitled, by law, to use.


One Response to “Tax Tips for Writers”

  1. Thanks for this post, Rhonda! Good helps for writers who are just getting started and need some guidance and encouragement to treat their work as a business.

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