I’m writing a non-fiction book for writers about federal income taxes and the many twists and turns this subject takes. Over the years I’ve worked with writers on this topic at conferences and writers groups and if there’s one thing about your income taxes that you want to know something about, it is record keeping in accordance with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines and legal requirements.
Let’s take for example mileage logs to demonstrate the difference between guidelines and legal requirements.
If you claim mileage as one of your expenses related to your writing business or hobby then you are legally required to prove it with written documentation. More specifically, you are legally required to prove the dates, the purpose and the miles traveled for your writing business. IRS Publication 463 (Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expense) has an example of a mileage log but you do not have to use this exact representation. As long as you have the legally required pieces of information -- dates, miles traveled and the purpose -- then you can structure your mileage log or records as you see fit. For example you could use spreadsheet software or the table function in a word processing software to capture your information. You can also keep your output from driving direction software and search engines for your trip(s) to supplement your other records.
An important issue with mileage is that you CAN NEVER claim commuting miles and this is something that you really need to understand. IRS Publication 463 does an excellent job of spelling this out in Figure B. Unless you have office in the home your first trip out the door related to your writing business will be considered as part of your commute and NEVER deductible.
For overall record keeping requirements you can also reference IRS Publication 583 (Starting a Business and Keeping Records), and all publications, forms and instructions issued by the IRS can be found at www.irs.gov.