How a typo nearly cost me $3000 dollars

Here’s a delightful tale about my adventures in taxation last year. It’s about 450 words and a quick read. As with any post I write about typos, I’m sure there’s at least one.

I love Turbo Tax. Our taxes are relatively simple and don’t require the services of an expert. Some might say these are famous last words, and last tax season, they nearly were.

After a relatively brief and painless session at the computer, our taxes were done. If you’re familiar with Turbo Tax, it helpfully displays the amount you owe the Feds and State at the top of the screen. If you’re lucky, the number is green and you get a refund! In the spot for State, however, there was a red number. A BIG red number, one that was far larger than it should have been.

cursing-squirrelComparing my results to the previous year, there was a $3,000 discrepancy. And it wasn’t in our favor.

I went back through every single page of my new returns. And again. And again. And again.

The numbers were right. As God as my witness, they were right!

Now, I’ll step away for a moment to explain how I couldn’t possibly be at fault here. I’ve been professionally proofreading documents for nearly 20 years. It’s been my responsibility to catch those errors that people have overlooked. I have all sorts of methodologies at my disposal for catching typos and such.

So clearly – OBVIOUSLY – there’s something wrong with Turbo Tax.

That’s all there was to it. Somehow, a withholding on the Federal form wasn’t calculating in the State form. My software was dun broked.

By now, it was after 1:00 am. I tried using Turbo Tax’s help center, both in the app and online. I Googled for other Minnesotans complaining about the same issue—surely, I wasn’t the only one.

And there it was. For the love of all that’s good and just in the world, there it was. My entry of “MN” now read “MO”. My Minnesota form wasn’t pulling the withholding because I only had Missouri withholdings. Now, whether this was the result of a global conspiracy against me or an accidental press of the down arrow key, I’ll never know. My friend in Geek Squad would have referred to this as an ID-10-T error (remove the hyphens to get the joke).

Missouri

Wrong.

The rest, as the cliché says, is history. I fixed the problem and successfully submitted my returns. Phew.

Good triumphs over evil! Well, not really. Actually, it was a humbling reminder that, no matter how careful you are, no matter how many times your review a document, it never hurts to give it one last review.

And then one more.

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, June 2018

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Inspiration: Chemistry by Semisonic

This post is approximately 900 words and focuses on one of my favorite topics: Music.

Semisonic 1Oh man, I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for awhile. Ideas have been churning in my head for years. Years! I’m excited to finally get to it, and I hope this comes through in my writing! It will be the first in a series that covers storytelling in lyrics and what writers can learn (similar posts can be found here: Influencers). The hardest part, aside from finally taking the time, was choosing which song to cover first. Honestly, in two minutes I could list a hundred songs to write about, but as I listened to a playlist tonight, it came down to two: Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee” and Semisonic’s “Chemistry“.

A friend and former colleague one told me that Dan Wilson was “finest singer/songwriter ever.” As is common with people in the music biz, he said it with a fervor that would suffer no debate. And while I’m not overly familiar with Dan’s solo work, I do know a fair number of Semisonic songs. I find it hard to disagree. Because of that, this is not the only Semisonic track I’ll write about, though for the sake of diversity, I’ll probably write about a number of other songs before I get back to them.

If you’re curious, the other song would be “Singing In My Sleep“, though it lost out today for the same reason Prince did: I immediately knew what I would write about “Chemistry”. That said, I’m still a bigger Prince fan, and he’ll get a few future posts.

Using ‘chemistry’ in both its literal and metaphorical definition, the song tells the story of a young man’s dating life, during and after college. Sometimes things work out, but often they do not. If you’re lucky, you get another chance and you can apply what you’ve learned to (hopefully) avoid the same mistakes.

When it released, I was a few years out of college, married for 2 years, and a first-time dad. My ‘chemistry’ days were behind me, but the song spoke to memories in a nostalgic way. I think it was equal parts, ‘My life was like that’ and ‘What if my life were like that?’. It was instantly relatable, though perhaps to a lesser degree for me, but I loved the song because it effortlessly told us a story.

Take for instance, “I was old enough to want it, but younger than I wanted to be“. In fourteen words, Dan described what many of us have felt about young love, especially in our early years as adults. There’s an impatience, that in hindsight, might have had unfavorable results.

Further on, the song tell us, “From a fine, fine girl with nothing but good intentions and a
bad tendency to get burned“. In seventeen words, we’re already getting an understanding of the kind of girl he likes.

Describing either of these in a novel would require far more words, for good or bad. As a writer, it’s a fine, fine example of how easy it can be to convey your message to readers. As is the case here, sometimes less is more. As a writer whose manuscript currently boasts 167,000+ words, it’s probably a message I need to take more to heart.

Semisonic 2Beyond this, there are other succinct lyrics that paint a picture of the protagonist: “When I had nobody to call my own. I told her I was looking for somebody to appreciate.” Also, “…when I find myself alone and unworthy, I think about all of the things I learned“. Wrapped up in these brief phrases, we get insight into his views on dating, his self esteem, and his retrospective nature.

Similarly, he’s able to nail the analogy with similar skill. Not only is it perfect for this subject, but it’s brilliantly woven throughout the song. However, it’s a tough thing to commit to. Whether it’s a rhyming scheme, a character’s dialect, or an analogy like this, as the writer, you have to be ‘all in’ with your commitment here. You can’t rhyme for half a poem and then suddenly change your approach because rhymes that sound natural are too hard (side note: You can always tell when a writer runs out of steam, because suddenly ‘hand’, ‘wand’, and ‘began’ are rhymes.).

There are the clear metaphors, such as “conducted experiments” and “the two things we put together had a bad tendency to explode“, but to cement the analogy for the listener, there are other references to college life, such as “being amazed by the things I learned” and “I met a young graduate“. Together, it paints a vivid picture for the listener with an economy of words.

For a song that’s less than four minutes long, it’s surprisingly dense. Tight. It doesn’t have the filler that many songs have in the middle to stretch it out. It really is a master class in lyricism. And that’s what really speaks to me as a writer.

If you’ve read any advice on writing, reading a lot is always mentioned. To me, however, this goes beyond books, extending into music, movies, and games, too. Each medium offers unique views into storytelling and all provide helpful ways to tell your own story.

–Mike

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, June 2018

Helping Define Your Company’s Culture

This post is a quick ‘un.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Sharing your other work at work in which I described my submission to the Thomson Reuters brand marketing team, who was looking for employees to help showcase and define our culture. It’s part of a greater recruiting effort to bring in top talent from around the globe.

Sharing your writing can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, but there’s a certain other level of anxiety that comes with standing up and saying, “Hey coworkers, I think what I’m doing is important enough to help define our brand to the world.”

But in the fine traditions of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “pull up your big girl panties and get on with it”, it worked out for me in this case. And that’s a pretty cool feeling, considering I was one of ten employees selected from our global company.

Hobbies & Side Projects of Employees (I’m about two-thirds down the page, if you’re so inclined to read it)

In the list of things I hope to achieve with my writing, this is a smaller item, but an important one nonetheless. For many hopeful authors, myself included, sharing is the toughest part. But it gets easier each time. Trust me.

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, March 2018

Sharing your other work at work

I work for Thomson Reuters, and in January, our brand marketing team solicited responses from employees around the world. They regularly showcase the people who define our culture, and in this instance, they were interested in our activities outside the office. Since I’m passionate about writing – and <cough> always looking for an opportunity to share and connect with others – I wrote the following submission. Somehow, I managed to keep it under 300 words, which is nearly impossible for a writer writing about the book he’s writing.

Anyhoo, without further ado or digression, here it is:


I’ve spent the last two years working on a fantasy novel featuring a young heroine who can literally become anyone. This allows her to break stereotypes and see how the world treats the person she has become. Her world is largely patriarchal, but living a secluded life in the woods with her adoptive mother, she brings a different perspective to everyone she meets, human or otherwise. With an indomitable spirit, keen intellect, and unwavering sense of justice, she could restore her father’s throne. She just doesn’t know that she’s the princess who was supposedly killed twelve years ago.

Written for fans of Harry Potter and Lord of the RingsThe Lost Royals follows Tildy as she crosses the realm of Evereign to regain her true name and kingdom, while struggling to maintain a sense of self in a body going through more changes than your average teenager.

——————–

In our world – the real one – where we continue to see gender inequality and other prejudices, I think girls and boys need more role models who help them look at others as human beings first. I see the book series as a way to encourage reading, form a more compassionate society, and expand children’s minds to think in creative ways. I want to someday sit down and read these books to my kids, nieces, and nephew, telling them, “I wrote this with your future in mind.”

Depending on my level of success with the series, I then intend to start a non-profit that will create illustrated books for the waiting rooms of children’s hospitals. As someone who spent a lot of time with my premie son in Children’s – Minneapolis, and watched my older son reading to him, I can attest to the welcome distraction that a storybook can provide.


I share this today because it’s an example of me refining my synopsis (some might call this a blurb, talking points, or elevator pitch). It’s something you need to write and revise several times, smoothing down the rough spots until it rolls off the tongue or keyboard. If you’re lucky, people will ask about your story. They’re more likely to be intrigued and engaged if your response is interesting, effortless, and concise.

Take any opportunity to work on this – it will help when you finally sit down to write that inquiry letter you’ve been dreading.

Good luck with your writing!


Michael Wallevand is a Senior Product Manager at Thomson Reuters, managing Integrated Marketing Solutions for FindLaw, the world’s leading provider of online legal information and law firm marketing solutions. He has developed products that have generated a hundred thousand unique pieces of content, whilst using organic and paid advertising to drive traffic to attorney websites across the US, UK, and Canada.

© Michael Wallevand, February 2018

An illustratration [sic] for the importance of proofing

This post is approximately 600 words, some of which are likely misspelled because that’s what happens when writers talk about typos.

Holy lexicon, do I hate misspellings. When it comes to my own writing, I’m a firm believer in self-flagellation. And I know there’s a special place in dictionary purgatory for self-proclaimed grammar perfectionists and those people who allow typos into published books.

Regardless of how much you’ve typed, or how fast you do it, typos are a way of life. When it comes to typing, I’m a cheetah with 30 years’ experience: bursts of speed followed by periods of rest and reflection. If I’m particularly inspired, I probably reach 120 wpm.

kermit-writing

My skills aren’t perfect nor to I claim them to be. To counter this, I’m a ruthless spellchecker. No, that doesn’t mean I frequently click the button in Word, although that is like having a second set of eyes on your work. I mean that every few paragraphs, I pause to reread what I’ve typed, reviewing for spelling, grammar, flow, pace, and content, among other things. Then I type a few more paragraphs and reread the whole thing again.

You’re probably beginning to develop a picture of my (often annoying and exacting) work ethic, which means we’re about two or three paragraphs from it biting me in the rear.

Even for WordPress items, I’m often writing them in Word, rereading, proofing, and editing constantly as I go. I do this even after I’ve pasted (what looks like) the final copy into the post editor. I preview my text and give it another run-through or two. Using this method, I catch 99.9% of the potential typos I make (that sounds like an unverifiable statistic and possibly hubris, for which I will likely be punished in the form of many typos here). It works very well, nonetheless.

Until that query email I sent.

I researched and researched, finding literary agents’ submission requirements on their websites and Twitter. I found examples of what others had done. I wrote my query. Then proofed and rewrote and edited and rewrote. Finally somewhat satisfied, I pasted it from Word into an email, rechecked and edited again, typed the subject line, and sent it. I liked it well enough that I copied it for my next query, ensuring that I changed any pertinent agent information. I copied the subject line, too.

And that’s when the spellchecker caught the typo. In. The. Subject. Line.

Dammit.

writers-block-1

I had typed “An Illustratrated Children’s book”. Look at it. LOOK AT IT! By the black hand of Delosh, how did I miss that? Did I forget to hit the spellcheck button one last time? But even now, knowing full well it’s spelled wrong, weirdly, deceptively, it still doesn’t look that wrong. I have seen far more egregious errors. Perhaps that’s what bothers me the most.

Fortunately – mercifully – in her rejection response, the agent didn’t mention that the SECOND word she read had been misspelled, nor did she gently remind me of the importance of proofing your submission before sending it. It was the first time I’d appreciated a form letter response.

I probably spend a disproportionate amount of time checking my work compared to the time spent writing, and while I’m OK with that for now, I am relaxing my standards a smidge. You should, too. Chasing perfection is the relentless pursuit of imperfection. And we have more important things to do, like writing great stories.

–Mike
Click for more self-flagellation about typos.

© Michael Wallevand, January 2018


Michael Wallevand is a Senior Product Manager at Thomson Reuters, managing Integrated Marketing Solutions for FindLaw, the world’s leading provider of online legal information and law firm marketing solutions. He has developed products that have generated a hundred thousand unique pieces of content, whilst using organic and paid advertising to drive traffic to attorney websites across the US, UK, and Canada.

Celtic Christmas Poem

When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.

I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.

Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:


Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading

Writing Update: Dec 12, 2017

This post is approximately 700 words.

On December 10, 2015, overwhelmed and underwater in life, I sat at the keyboard to begin writing the first book in The Lost Royals series. It had been years since I’d seriously written, but I recall how quickly the inspiration blossomed again.

Two days ago, the second anniversary passed by, unremarked. When I realized this today, I knew I needed to refocus myself.  Of late, my head has been so far up my own rear end with responsibilities and disappointment and anger and frustration and regret, that I’d taken my eye off the ball. Off the work. Instead taking the opportunity to reflect on how far I’d come – as I’d done last year – I simply forgot about the date.

But at least I did some writing.

My intellectual side knew it wasn’t a big deal, but my emotional side Continue reading