Friday, September 16, 2011

CTFU: Super Mega Edition (Part Four) - Tax Returns and Brainstorming

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

Welcome to part four of ten… thousand. In Part One, I said that I was looking at a ten part give or take. I’m still not sure how many parts there will be. I just know that we’re on Part Four now, and seem to have a lot of ground to cover still, but as I go through the file I think the topics will have less that I want to write about… that was a terrible sentence. I hope got what I was saying though.

This was the next topic:

[4. Danny Elfman Movie vs. Boingo songs

I once read that when Danny Elfman does movie scores he divides the number of days he has to do the work into how many minutes the movie is. But when he works on (The Mystic Knights of the (Oingo)) Boingo songs, he composes more by feel and inspiration. A blog post about how that might apply in my life and my projects.]

I started to think about how I could write this topic as a “things I’ve learned from reading interviews” essay. I actually listed it later under the topic “Wisdom of Famous People.” I’ll deal with this when I get there. See, now you have something to look forward to. This is the next listed topic:

[5. Tax Returns

Even though I haven’t really seen a tax return for a long while, I do have a thought about how they should be used. First of all, obviously, it’s better if you don’t have much of a tax return, because it means they were withholding high enough and you had use of your money to invest. But when you get a tax return you should divide it by 12 and use it over the course of the next year, just in time for your next tax return.]

I actually dealt with this a little bit in an article about really thinking about your money before spending any of it. It was called “Maintaining Your Lifestyle (Part One).” The idea behind that article was that in any given case you should pay your bills first and on time. Then you should look into setting yourself up for emergencies. Then you should be very intent about luxury purchases.

In the article, I discussed tax returns. What I mean in that paragraph about not seeing a tax return is that I owe back child support, so my tax return goes to that. That’s fine because I’m ok with my financial obligation to my children. I haven’t always made enough to pay it though. The weird truth is that I should still be doing my best to avoid having a tax return, but if I had that money, I’d probably pay it toward my back child support anyway, so I don’t mess with it.

The idea here is that sometimes people who don’t save money tend to use their tax bill as a savings account. They don’t adjust the amount of taxes withheld so that they actually owe the IRS at the end of the year. The idea here is that if you don’t overpay during the year that you can save the money in investment accounts and have use of your money until it’s owed at tax time. For those of us who have trouble saving anything, whether it’s because it’s not a habit or we just don’t make enough, doing this would seem somewhat extraneous because a tax bill come April would just be another bill we’re not prepared for.

So the next best thing to do with your tax return is not to spend it as quickly as possible. Let’s just say that you get $1,200 back. If you only use $100 of it a month, you have a little better buffer with your monthly bills. You will also spend the money on typically more important things, even if you still spend it on luxury items. It will tend to be the luxury items that you still want months down the road.

Have you ever bought something only to realize a few weeks later that it’s not as entertaining as you thought it would be? Usually when that happens to me, it was something I wasn’t fully convinced that I wanted in the first place. Delaying the time between thinking you want something and the time you purchase it tends to weed out the buyer’s remorse a little more.

One thing I don’t think I dealt with in the other article is that this is really the way to handle any bulk money. In the article, I speak about saving those “extra” paychecks you sometimes get when you get paid weekly or biweekly. The reason is so that you don’t burn through the paycheck like found money. It’s amazing how well you spend your money when you pretend you don’t have money that you have. Fuck it. I’m just going to have to become a millionaire so that people believe what I’m saying. Yep. Now you’ve done it. I’m just going to have to become financially successful. You could have just let it go, but no.

I’m not sure what I’m talking about now. I should move on to the next topic. Here it is:

[6. No Holds Barred Brainstorming

This is actually something I do quite often. I will just start writing down ideas. It doesn’t matter what the ideas are about, what project they’re for, or if they’ll ever get used. It’s a very useful tool for a number of reasons. You always have something to write, and even if you think you don’t, you’re writing while you’re brainstorming. There are many upsides that I’ll have to list. There are also potential downsides, including using the activity as a crutch and not letting go of the ideas that don’t work. I can discuss the downsides too. This is why it’s not too hard for me to make these lists each day, even if the hit and miss ratio favours the miss side a bit.]

It almost seems like there isn’t much of a miss ratio in all of this so far. I’m getting a lot of mileage out of these topics. And so many of them seemed like dead end topics at the time. I know a few of them later will be dead ends though.

The upsides that I mention there are somewhat obvious, I think. You never have writers block if you just sit down and write about things you could be writing about. Sometimes your thoughts might go in a direction they normally wouldn’t and give you great ideas. I don’t think many people would argue with the upside potential of brainstorming. It’s one of those activities that seem to have become more widely used in the information age, but it seems to hold its own better than many of the other self-help staples.

This is probably the best article to deal with this topic in. What we have here is me scouring a file that resulted from large amounts of brainstorming and discussing what I wrote, what I didn’t write, and what the hell I was thinking. This is a downside that I may have turned into an upside this time.

The problem with brainstorming is that not all of your ideas are meant to be used, and if you hold onto them just in case you find a use for them, they start to get unruly and unorganized. In this case, I have an angle that I can use to unpack the mess, but it’s not always this easy. In this case, I have a bunch of topics that I thought I could maybe use as topics for a daily blog, these articles allow me to use them as topics for a daily blog, and since it’s a daily blog I can always come back to the topic if I feel like it.

Not all brainstorming can be so easily cleaned up. For instance, I often write more potential poetry verses and phrases than I actually use. What I’ve found is that if I read through my notes somewhat frequently, I’ll find a good use for some of it as I write. The problem is that eventually I’ve accumulated way too much to review frequently. I have notebooks with phrases that might have done well in some of my work, but that are long forgotten until I read them again.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, and someone I’ll be discussing in a later part, said in his book “The Joy of Work” that he doesn’t maintain a record of rejected brainstorming ideas. I often wonder if that would be the better way for me to go. The thing is that the ideas that I record that aren’t immediately useful, but that I like, tend to achieve relevance at the oddest times. When they do, they usually end up used to good effect, so I don’t ever get rid of anything. Even my writing life is clutter filled.

I wrote an article discussing the seeming tragedy that Duran Duran has a number of demo quality songs out there that were never fully developed in favour of other tracks that they felt worked better. It’s hard for the hyper-creative personality to accept that sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do. The hyper-creative personality wants to be able to fully develop every idea that it likes that comes across the mental desk.

I think that brainstorming is important to show that you don’t really have writers block. You often have more ideas than you could ever write. At the same time, there are times when you have to realize that some ideas have to die. There are times that you have to prioritize what ideas to give your attention. There are times that you have to stop brainstorming and write, because brainstorming can be a terrible crutch when you use it to take the place of real writing.

My last thought, before I sign off for this part, is that in a way I’m glad I maintained this record of my brainstormed ideas. I came to a point where I felt I needed to get ahead on my daily blog writing to help improve my output, which was starting to lack a little. An examination of the ideas I never got around to writing about is a great way to write an abundance of material quickly, so that on the other side of writing it all out, I have more time in my week to focus on my current ideas.

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