The freedoms we enjoy in many parts of the world are guarded by brave men and women who sacrifice and risk their lives every day. Many of them spend long amounts of time away from home in isolation, which can take a toll on their morale.
As a token of your thanks, it’s a great idea to write to a soldier with words of encouragement. It might seem like a small gesture to you, but a note letting a soldier know that they’re appreciated will do wonders for them. Here are some great websites to help you start writing to soldiers.
Any Soldier is one of the first resources you should check out for writing letters to soldiers. The site has paired up with overseas military members who act as representatives for others that they serve with. When you send letters (plus packages, if you wish), they distribute them to soldiers who don’t get any other mail first.
On the Where To Send page, you’ll find a list of soldier contacts, sorted by date of last contact, along the left side. Click one to see some information about them, including where they’re stationed and how many male and female soldiers they represent. If you decide you want to support that soldier, you can request their complete address on the page.
There’s a lot of information on Any Soldier, though the site is a little tough to navigate. It’s definitely worth checking the FAQ pages to find out what types of items to send and answer other questions before you get ready to send a support package.
Operation Gratitude is an organization that sends care packages to troops, including new recruits and veterans. These packages include snacks, clothes, toys, and other items that soldiers appreciate. In addition, they have letters inside to lift the recipients’ spirits.
On the above page, you can register for letter writing and get a guide on doing so. You don’t have to contribute the other items in the package, making this an easy way to be part of something that’s much appreciated.
If you’d rather email a soldier than write a physical letter, this site makes it easy. It offers a simple form where you provide your first name, state, country, and email address along with a message.
Once you send it in, Forgotten Soldiers Outreach will print out your letter and include it in one of its packages sent to soldiers. This makes it a great way to let someone in the armed forces know you’re thinking about them without having to mail a physical letter or package overseas.
This service is focused on writing letters to soldiers in basic training. It adds a touch of modern technology to help it stand out.
Using Sandboxx, you write out a letter using your phone or computer, including a picture if you like. The service then sends the letter to your recruit with next-day delivery. It arrives on high-quality paper in an airmail envelope, giving it a premium appearance.
Every letter includes tracking, so you’ll know when your message arrives. And they can reply using the included custom stationery and return envelope. This removes the hassle of visiting the post office, buying stamps, and finding addresses to write to soldiers.
Due to everything it includes, the service is not free. Sandboxx charges $4 to send a single letter, but you can save by purchasing multiple letters at once. For example, $50 gets you 15 letters—dropping the price to $3.33 per letter.
If you’d like to commit to writing letters to soldiers for some time, give Soldiers’ Angels a look. The letter writing team is one part of its effort to provide support to troops.
Joining this team requires at least a three-month commitment where you write a letter a minimum of one time per month. Of course, you can write more if you’d like. Have a look at the Team Angel information page if you’d like to sign up.
This provides some important details about the program, including the fact that you don’t decide where to send letters to soldiers on your own. The company chooses who you will support. Additionally, you are required to report your activity monthly and recognize that you act on behalf of the organization.
You should make sure you know what you’re getting into with this before you sign up.
Best Military Pen Pal Sites Outside the US
We’ve focused on sites to write to United States soldiers above. If you live in a different part of the world, here are a few resources to write to service members from your country.
Those in Canada can use this official government website to write to CAF troops. Click Post Message on the page above to write a brief message (under 1,500 characters). It will then appear on the message board for service members to see.
You can use the View Messages link to have a look at messages that others have posted, too.
Australia also has a dedicated government page for sending mail to soldiers. This site advises you to email [email protected], which will pass your email onto those in the Navy, Army, and Air Force. You’ll also find a physical mailing address here if you want to send a postcard to the troops.
Write to a Soldier and Make Their Day
With these resources, you have everything you need to send a note of thanks and encouragement to military service members. It’s important to let them know they’re appreciated for everything they do. A simple note for you could mean everything to them.
Writing your first novel can be more daunting in life than actually putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. The untouched page is a frank sign of how much work there is to do.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott explains the writer’s dilemma:
You are desperate to communicate, to edify and entertain…to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.
Yet getting started is easier once you’ve done some initial prep work on your story; its structure, characters, and how on earth you’re going to get this thing out of your head.
That’s where these free novel-writing templates and worksheets prove handy.
This worksheet from Evernote is a simple way to outline the main characters, plot themes, events, and conflicts within your story. By teasing them out of your mind and onto a worksheet like this, you’ll be able to plot the broad story arc.
Remember to keep your descriptions specific and concise. This isn’t meant to be an entire plot description.
. But if you don’t use Evernote, this worksheet can easily be replicated in other programs, or on a sheet of paper.
This straightforward worksheet from The Novel Factory helps you to pad out your main characters. You’ll find yourself adding to, and referring back to this info, time and again as your character develops.
If you’re looking for a more linear approach to plan your novel, this spreadsheet from EA Deverell is especially useful. This customizable resource allows you to break down and describe each of your scenes so that you have a concrete plot before you start writing.
To start using this spreadsheet, open it up, click File then Make a Copy.
The Freytag method of planning out your novel sits somewhere between vague and extremely detailed. If that sounds like the approach you’d like to take, complete this worksheet from Duolit.
The model covers all essentials, without going overboard on planning. From the introduction of characters, through to rising action, and to the final resolution of your story.
This PDF from The Writers Craft will help you to flesh out important scenes before writing them out in your first draft.
With this worksheet, you’ll paint a detailed picture of an individual scene from your main character’s viewpoints. You’ll explore the sights, sounds, and smells of the situation to develop a vivid idea of what it is that you need to portray.
Writer’s Digest has a number of useful writing worksheets aimed at helping writers pen the first draft in 30 days. One of the most useful of these templates is the At-a-Glance Outline. This worksheet helps you to fill in any gaps and plot holes in your story before you come across them in the middle of your draft.
Working your way through this worksheet may be difficult at first, but when it comes to writing your novel, it’ll make things a whole lot easier.
This simple flowchart from Duolit will help you to figure out what perspective and tense you’ll be writing in. This is an often overlooked part of writing a novel, so having this pinned down early on will give you a good advantage.
Another template from Evernote, this chapter and scene breakdown can easily be replicated in whichever program you prefer to use. Once you’ve planned out your novel in more detail, quickly creating a breakdown like this is useful for easy reference.
This will save you time searching through your notes when you’re in the writing “flow”.
Another great worksheet from Writer’s Digest is their Climax Sketch PDF. This is where you will plan out the climax of your novel, “the point where the protagonist faces the conflict directly, with his goal on the line”.
It’s important you get this part of your story right, so spend some time on this to make it compelling.
Technically, it’s not a template or a worksheet, but given that figuring out how to end your novel will be one of the biggest challenges you face, this infographic is extremely valuable.
and introduce more interesting plot twists and character development than you might have otherwise.
There are plenty of programs for creative writers, but Scrivener is arguably one of the best. Case in point: this seriously detailed Scrivener template for outlining and structuring your novel covers everything you could imagine.
From character arcs, premises, abbreviated outlines, and character details, to props, areas for worldbuilding, planning out a series, and more.
If you’re using Scrivener (30-day free trial available) to write your novel, this free template is certainly worth checking out.
Other Scrivener templates you might want to try are:
These five free Microsoft Word book templates from DIY Book Formats (email registration required) are of high quality. And what’s more, they’ll save you tons of time wrestling with document formatting when you could be writing.
Each template includes paragraph and header styling, a cover page, footers, and page numbers, and comes in PDF, DOC, DOCX, and INDD (InDesign) filetypes.
For Google Docs Users: The DOC and DOCX files included in this collection can also be uploaded and used on Google Docs. You may have to slightly tweak line spacing, etc. but most of the formatting is retained.
Adding a new hard drive or solid-state drive to your Linux computer? You’ll need to edit your fstab file. A lot of people find the very idea scary. Yes, it’s critical that you get it right, but armed with the right knowledge, it really isn’t difficult. We step you through the process of editing your fstab file to integrate your new drive into your file system.
fstab, the File Systems Table
Although adding a new hard drive to a Linux computer isn’t too complicated, it can be a little confusing the first time you try. You connect up the hardware, power on the computer, and log in to the operating system. But you cannot see your new drive anywhere. Why doesn’t it show up? How do you get Linux to “see” the drive so you can start to configure it?
Actually, Linux has seen your hardware, but it doesn’t readily announce it. Or even give you a hint that it has found your new hardware. You have to interrogate Linux to obtain the information you’re going to need to put into your fstab file.
Here’s how to set up your new hard drive so that Linux—and you—can see it and use it. There are two parts to the process. The first part is doing some reconnaissance to identify the hard drive and to gather some information on it. The second part is editing the fstab file, using the information we’ve gathered in the reconnaissance phase.
Finding Your New Drive
We’re adding two new drives to this system. One is a 32 GB mechanical hard drive (HD), and the other is a 16 GB solid-state drive (SSD).
We need to know that Linux can see them, and what block devices Linux is using for them. In Linux and Unix-like operating systems, a block device is a special file that acts as an interface to a device that data can be read from and written to (unless it is read-only). Block devices often represent a mass-storage unit of some kind (for example, a partition on a hard disk or a CD-ROM. They are created in the /dev directory.
Name: This is the device name. Devices names that start “sd” and are followed by a letter represent SCSI hard disks. The letter identifies individual hard disks, with “a” being the first, “b”. being the second and so on. If there is a number appended, it indicates a partition. For example, “sdb2” would be partition 2 on the second SCSI hard drive.
Maj:Min: This column holds the major and minor numbers of the device. The major number indicates the type of the device (or, more precisely, the type of driver used to talk to that device). The minor number is a count of the number of devices of that type.
Rm: This column shows whether the device is removable or not. Note that device sr0 has a value of 1, indicating it is removable. This is a CD-ROM drive.
Size: This is the amount of data that can be stored in the device.
Ro: This column will show 1 for read-only devices and 0 for read-write devices. The loop devices are all read-only.
Type: This identifies the type of device. The “disk” entry means a disk drive, the “part” entry stands for partition, and “rom” means Read-Only Memory (CD-ROM).
Mountpoint: This shows the point in the file system at which this device is mounted. If this is blank, the device is not mounted.
In the screenshot above, you can see that the loop devices are all given a major number of 7 (meaning a loopback, or loop, device), and the minor numbers simply increment by 1 each time. loop devices are used with the squashfs file system. A squashfs file system is created each time an application is installed using the snappy package management system.
The SCSI hard drives are given names like sda, sdb, and sdc, and all have a major number of 8 (SCSI hard drive). The minor numbers are grouped in 16’s. The minor numbers for the first drive, sda , run from 0 to 15. The 0 represents the physical drive, and the minor number of 1 represents the first partition on that drive. For the second drive, sdb , the minor numbers run from 16 to 31. 16 represents the physical drive, and 17 represents the first partition on that drive. The next 16 numbers, 32 to 47, are used for the minor numbers of sdc , and so on.
Other common major numbers are 3 (for a IDE hard drive) and 11 for CD-ROMS.
Actually, the /dev/sr0 style for SDCSI CD-ROM drives is deprecated. The approved format is /dev/scd0. Despite that, the /dev/sr0 format was still in use on all of the machines used to research this article.
To de-clutter the output from lsblk we can use grep to select only the items of interest to us. We know we’ve not added a loop device, so let’s select all of the SCSI hard drives. we know these will have “sd” in their names.
lsblk | grep sd
This command will cause grep to print only lines that have “sd” in the. On our test machine, we see:
So, we have three SCSI drives. The first one, /dev/sda , is mounted at the root of the file system, /. The other two are not mounted at all, which is to be expected for brand new drives. We can see that drive /dev/sdb is 32 GB in size, which means it is our traditional mechanical drive. Drive /dev/sdc is 16 GB in size, and this is our SSD drive.
Actually, as this is a virtual computer, these are also virtual disks. So the SSD is showing up just like a SCSI mechanical drive. On my regular desktop my NVMe SSD shows up as /dev/nvme0n1, and the first partition on it is /dev/nvme0n1p1. Its major number is 259. Those differences don’t change what we’ve got to do in the fstab file, but be aware if you have an SSD, it isn’t going to show up as a physical drive.
Also, your drives probably won’t have a partition on them if they are brand new. You can use fdisk to create a partition if required.
If we use the -o (output) option with lsblk and add the ROTA (rotating) column to the display, lsblk will use a 1 to indicate a rotating storage device (mechanical drive) and a 0 to indicate a non-rotating storage device (solid-state drive).
lsblk -o +ROTA | grep sd
We get an extra column on the right of the display, which is the ROTA (rotating) column. As you can see, the “SSD” has a 0 for the device and partition. That makes sense because an SSD is a non-rotating storage device.
Mounting The File Systems
Before we start thinking about the fstab file, let’s check that we can mount the drives by hand. This way, if something doesn’t work when we use the fstab file, we’ll know the problem must be our syntax and not a problem with the drive itself.
We’ll create some temporary mount points in the /mnt directory. You’ll need to use sudo , and you’ll be prompted for your password.
sudo mkdir /mnt/scsi
sudo mkdir /mnt/ssd
Now let’s mount the SCSI drive on the new mount point. We’ll use the mount command in its simplest form. We’ll tell it the name of the partition we want to mount, and the mount point we want it mounted on. mount will mount the file system on that partition at the mount point we specify.
We’re specifying the partition that holds the file system, not the drive, so be sure to include the digit for the partition, in this case, “1”.
sudo mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/scsi
If all goes well, there’ll be no response from mount. You’re silently returned to the command prompt.
Mounting the SSD is just as simple. We tell mount which partition on which device to mount, and the mount point to mount it on.
To verify that the mounts have taken place, we’ll use lsblk again. We’ll pipe its output through grep and select the “sda1”, “sdb2”, and “sdc1” entries.
lsblk -o +ROTA | grep sd[a-c]1
mount shows us the three mounted partitions. That’s the two we’ve just mounted and the original partition mounted on /.
The partition /dev/sdb1 is mounted on /mnt/scsi, and is on a rotating storage device. The partition /dev/sdc1 is mounted on /mnt/ssd and is on a non-rotating storage device. All seems well.
Now we need to configure the fstab file so that these devices are mounted each time the computer is started up.
The fstab File
The fstab file contains an entry for each file system that is mounted when your computer is restarted. Each entry is made up of six fields. The fields are:
File system: Not, as its name would suggest, the type of file system on the partition (that’s what the type field is for). This is the identifier for the partition that should be mounted.
Mount point: The location in the filesystem at which you wish to have the partition mounted.
Type: The type of file system on the partition.
Options: Each file system can have options specified to turn on or off functionality.
Dump: A reference to an all-but obsolete means of backing up file systems, where the entire file system was “dumped” to tape.
Pass: This is the “passing” flag. It tells Linux which partitions should be checked for errors using fsck , and in which order. Your main boot and operating system partition should be 1, and the rest can be set to 2. If the flag is set to zero, it means “don’t check at all.” If your file system isn’t a journaling file system (such as ext2 or FAT16/32, for example), it is best to turn this off by setting it to 0.
These fields must be specified in this order, and they must have a space or a tab between them. Finding the values for these fields can be daunting, particularly the values for the “options” field. The “options” field options must be in a comma-separated list with no spaces between them.
The man page for each file system will list the options that can be used. ext4 has about 40 options. Here are some of the more common options:
Auto: The file system will be mounted at boot time, automatically.
Noauto: The file system is only mounted when you enter the mount -a command.
Exec: The execution of binaries is allowed on this file system.
Noexec: The execution of binaries is not allowed on this file system.
Ro: The file system should be mounted as read-only.
Rw: The file system should be mounted as read-write.
Sync: File writes should be conducted immediately and not buffered. Best reserved for floppy disks, if anyone is still using them. Incurs a performance penalty.
Async: File writes should be buffered and optimized.
User: Any user is allowed to mount the file system.
Nouser: The root user is the only user who can mount this file system.
Defaults: This is a shorthand way of specifying a set of common settings: rw, suid, dev, exec, auto, nouser, and async).
Suid: Allows the operation of the suid and sgid bits. The suid bit is used to allow a file to be executed as root, by a normal user, without giving the user full root privileges. When the sgid bit is set on a directory, files and directories created within that directory have their group ownership set to that of the directory, not to the group of the user who created them.
Nosuid: Do not permit the use of the suid and sgid bits.
Noatime: – Do not update the file access times on the file system. This can help performance on old hardware.
Nodiratime: Do not update the directory access times on the file system.
Relatime: Update file access times relative to the file modified time.
The “defaults” option is a good opening gambit. You can add or remove further options if some fine-tuning is required. If only there was a neat way to get the settings you need, in the order you need to enter them into the fstab file.
Enter the mtab file.
The mtab File
The mtab file is the list of currently mounted file systems. This is in contrast to the fstab file which lists the file systems that should be mounted at boot time. The mtab file includes manually mounted file systems. We’ve already mounted our new drives, so they should show up in the mtab file.
We can see the contents of the mtab file using cat. We’ll restrict the output by piping it through grep and looking at /dev/sdb1 and /dev/sdc1 only.
cat /etc/mtab | grep sd[b-c]1
The output shows the mtab entries for these two partitions.
We could lift those values and drop them straight into the fstab file, making sure there was a space or a tab between each field. And that would be that. The drives would be mounted when we rebooted.
There are two caveats to that. One is the mount point. We created temporary mount points just to prove we could mount the new partitions on the new drives. We’d need to enter the real mount points instead of our temporary ones—if they were different.
The second caveat is, if we use the settings from the mtab file, we’ll be using the block device file as the identifier for each partition. That would work, but the values /dev/sda and /dev/sdb and so on are at risk of changing if new mass storage hardware is added to the computer. That would mean the settings in the fstab file would be incorrect.
Each partition has a Universally Unique Identifier (UUID), which we can use to identify the partition. This will never change. If we use the UUID to identify the partitions in the fstab file, the settings will always remain accurate and true.
If you are using your new partitions as part of a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) system, check with the documentation for that system. It might specify that you must use the block device identifier instead of the UUID.
Open the fstab file in an editor. We’re using gedit, an easy to use editor found in most Linux distributions.
sudo gedit /etc/fstab
The editor appears with your fstab file loaded in it.
This fstab file has two entries already in it. They are the partition on the existing hard drive /dev/sda1, and the swap file system. Be careful not to alter these entries.
We need to add two new entries to the fstab file. One for the partition on the SCSI drive and one for the partition on the SSD drive. We’ll add the SCSI partition first. Note that lines that start with a hash # are comments.
In the “file system” field, we’ll use the UUID that blkid retrieved for us earlier. Start the line with “UUID=” and then paste the UUID. Press space or tab.
For the “mount point” field, we’re going to use the mount point we created earlier, /mnt/scsi. You’d use the appropriate mount point from your system. Press space or tab.
For “type” we’re going to enter ext4 , which is the type of file system on our partition. Press space or tab.
In the “options” field we’ll use the options that we retrieved using cat /etc/mtab. These are “rw,relatime”. Press space or tab.
The “dump” field is set to zero. Press space or tab.
The “pass” field is set to zero.
Now we’ll add the fstab entry partition on the SSD drive on a separate line.
In the “file system” field, we’ll enter the UUID that blkid retrieved for the partition on the SSD drive. Start the line with “UUID=” and then paste the UUID. Press space or tab.
For the “mount point” field, we’re going to use the mount point we created earlier, /mnt/ssd. Press space or tab.
For “type” we’re going to enter ext4 , which is the type of file system on our partition. Press space or tab.
In the “options” field—just to make the two new entries different in our example—we’ll use the “defaults” option. Press space or tab.
The “dump” field is set to zero. Press space or tab.
We can unmount our new drives and then force a refresh on the fstab file. The successful mounting of our new partitions will verify that the settings and parameters we’ve entered are syntactically correct. That means our fstab file should be processed correctly during a reboot or power-up sequence.
To unmount the SCSI drive, use this command. Note that there is only one “n” in “umount”:
sudo umount /dev/sdb1
To unmount the SSD drive, use this command:
sudo umount /dev/sdc1
Now we’ll use lsblk to check whether these block devices are mounted.
lsblk | grep sd
And we see that the block devices are present in the computer, but not mounted anywhere.
We can use the mount command with the -a (all) option to remount all the file systems in fstab.
sudo mount -a
And we can check once more with lsblk to see if our new partitions are now mounted:
lsblk | grep sd
Everything is mounted where it should be. All we have to do now is change the ownership of the mount points, otherwise root will be the only one who can access the new storage devices.
We can do this easily using chown . This is the command for the SCSI mount point:
sudo chown dave:users /mnt/scsi
And this is the command for the SSD mount point:
sudo chown dave:users /mnt/ssd
We can now reboot our computer with confidence, knowing that the partitions we’ve added will be mounted for us, and we have access to them.
Not That Scary After All
All the hard work is in the reconnaissance phase—and that wasn’t hard either. Editing the fstab file once you’ve gathered the information you need is a breeze. Preparation is everything.
Graffiti is something most people don’t have firsthand experience with. But it still looks cool, and who hasn’t imagined their name being written out in slick graffiti art?
Using some online graffiti generators, you can create graffiti of your name easily. Whether you want to create cool art without committing a crime or just write your name in style, you can do it with these graffiti creators.
This long-time graffiti maker bills itself as “the original” on its site. To get started, pick from one of the several graffiti styles, including Kodiak, Bubbles, Wavy, and Flava.
The site still uses Adobe Flash, so you’ll need to allow it to run in your browser. Enter your text in the bottom-left corner and click Create to get a template. Adjust the letter-spacing below this and pick a color from the wheel or RGB sliders.
At the bottom-right, you can apply graphical styles to your graffiti to further customize it. If you want to customize letters individually, click and drag them on the canvas. Above the styles box, you can also select individual letters to apply effects to.
That’s all there is to this graffiti name generator; get as creative as you’d like. There’s no built-in option to save or export your creation, so you’ll need to right-click the canvas and choose Print to save it as a PDF or similar. Alternatively, you can take a screenshot of your art.
The creator of this page is a full-time graffiti artist and illustrator whose work has been featured in many products. If you’re looking for more professional graffiti of your name, you can reach out to him for a commission at CustomGraffiti.net.
Note that Adobe plans to discontinue Flash after 2020, so this app won’t work after that unless it receives an update to use modern technology.
One example is the Graffiti Fonts collection on Font Meme. This collects dozens of fonts from around the site in one easy page. Plus, if you don’t want to download and install a font, you can quickly generate any text you like and copy it.
To do this, enter some text in the first box, then select a font from the dropdown below it. After choosing the font size, you can apply one of the many effects if you want to. To finish up, just pick a color and hit the Generate button when ready.
You’ll see a preview of the text appear below. Confirm it looks right, then right-click it and choose Save image as to keep a copy of it. Alternatively, right-click and select Copy to paste it into an image editor. The Embed button provides links to add your creation to your website or link to the image.
Here’s an alternate graffiti name maker that’s also easy to use. Enter your text in the top-left corner of the maker, then adjust the size, color, and gradient on the left side. You can even add a background image if you like.
To go deeper, use the controls along the top of the editor. Effects lets you add outlines, shadows, blurs, and similar effects. If you’re not feeling too creative, use Presets to apply a pre-made theme. Check the available Fonts if you don’t like what you’re using.
The major downside of this service is that it doesn’t update your graffiti name in real-time. You’ll need to click the Submit button to apply your changes each time. It will also display an error if your item is too large.
When you’re satisfied with your creation, click the Host this image button to generate an embed code and image download link. You can save or copy this image wherever you want to use it.
Thus far, we’ve looked at tools mainly intended as graffiti name generators. But what if you want to create virtual graffiti for the fun of drawing? That’s where Graffiter comes in.
This site lets you pick from a variety of walls to tag. Once you’ve selected one, you can use different drawing tools at the top for certain looks, like smeared or clean. Choose your drawing colors, and even zoom in if you need to.
After you’ve completed your masterpiece, the service lets you upload it to Graffiter.com for other people to see. You can peruse what others have added to get ideas for your own creations.
Graffiter is a fun way to live out drawing on a wall without fear of getting arrested. You’ll be able to make more impressive art if you have a touchscreen device, of course.
How Will You Graffiti Your Name?
These graffiti creators for names are a perfect way to create a fancy logo for yourself. Whether you want to add them to a website or just mess around for fun, they’re easy to use and paste into other image editors.
Today, about a third of U.S. workers have a freelance job. Some use it as a side hustle, while others manage the struggles and triumphs of freelancing full-time. But all of them face the same difficulty each year: figuring out freelance taxes.
One of the most-talked-about deductions for freelancers and small business owners is the home office deduction. However, many questions hide behind that simple term. What counts as a home office? Who qualifies for it? And what would you need to show in case of an audit?
We consulted a few industry professionals to get the final word on how the home office deduction works. Here’s everything you need to know to save a little more when tax season comes.
How to Know If You Qualify
If you work from home, you actually have a good chance of qualifying for the home office deduction.
As financial strategist Clarissa Wilson explains, “Most people think that the home office deduction is complicated and usually forgo having to do the calculations to get this simple deduction.” But the deduction is actually pretty straightforward. All you need to have is a space in your home that you use strictly for business.
That space doesn’t even have to be a whole room. If you have an office set up in some nook or corner of an existing room, that counts, too. However, it can’t be a multipurpose space. “It needs to be your principal place of business and be used regularly and exclusively in your business,” says Remington Trolli, who does bookkeeping and tax preparation for small businesses.
This means that your corner-of-the-living-room office won’t count if you also use it as a breakfast nook when you’re not working. And if you have a main office space outside of the home, like a coworking space, you likely won’t qualify for the home office deduction either.
It’s okay if you do some work outside of your home, but your home office needs to be your primary workspace to count for the deduction. Whether you rent or own your home, you can take this deduction—but only if you have a specific space used strictly for work.
How to Calculate Your Home Office Deduction
If you qualify, you can calculate your deduction amount in one of two ways.
The standard method is the more complicated of the two. “[It] requires you to total all home office expenses and report this amount each year,” explains licensed CPA Riley Adams. Basically, you have to figure out what percentage of your home is occupied by your home office. Then, you can multiply that percentage by the cost of your mortgage or rent, utilities, maintenance, and other household costs to figure out how much of those costs go toward your home office.
If you go this route, you’ll need to keep careful records of your household bills all year to do your calculations (and offer evidence in an audit). However, you can make life easier by using the simplified method instead.
In this method, you multiply the total square footage of your home office by $5 to get your deduction amount. For example, a 25-square-foot office would give you a deduction of $125.
“To see which method is more advantageous, you’ll need to calculate both methods,” says Adams. But if you haven’t kept careful records of your home expenses over the year, the simplified deduction might be your only choice.
Should You Take the Home Office Deduction?
The home office deduction is one of the easier tax deductions available to freelancers. If you have a dedicated space for business at home, and you do most of your work there, there’s no reason not to take it.
This deduction can also serve as an essential reminder of why you need to keep careful records as a freelancer. You don’t need to keep all your utility receipts in a file folder, though—try financial software like QuickBooks Self-Employed to make this easy deduction even easier. As a freelancer, every dollar counts, so don’t hesitate to take the home office deduction (and every other deduction you can).
Have you ever found yourself sharing an elevator with an important person who could boost your career—if only you knew just the right thing to say?
But luckily, the concept of an “elevator pitch” doesn’t require you to actually be in an elevator. The idea is that you should plan ahead for any unexpected moment when you need to share your concept, plan, or business quickly.
How does it work, what makes a good one, and should you really have your own? Let’s take a look at how to write an elevator pitch you can then use to open doors for your career, whether or not you’re in an elevator.
What Is an Elevator Pitch?
The basic concept is easy to grasp: An elevator pitch is a short speech meant to convince someone your idea or brand is worth their time.
The idea behind the “elevator pitch” name is that elevator rides tend to last less than 30 seconds, so your pitch should, too. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re really under the time constraints of an elevator. If your pitch goes much over 30 seconds, the person listening will probably lose interest.
Keeping it short also prevents you from rambling on in your nervousness, burying the point of your pitch under too many words. When you need to impress someone fast, having a short, prepared speech helps ensure you don’t get in your own way.
Different elevator pitches can have different purposes. For example, if you’re a freelancer, your pitch should be all about who you are and what you do best for clients. If you’re launching a company, your pitch should focus more on what your company does, and who it’s for.
However, no matter what the details are, your pitch should always cover this: “Here’s what I can do for you.” The person listening doesn’t just want to know where you went to school and how many career accolades you’ve racked up. They want to know why they should care.
When to Use an Elevator Pitch
Anytime you have the opportunity to speak to someone who might be a valuable career connection, you have a chance to use your elevator pitch. These moments can happen at:
In short, they can happen both where you expect them to, and where you don’t. Showing up to a networking event or work party with a pitch prepared is definitely wise. But if you find yourself chatting with a successful CEO in line at the coffee shop, why not be prepared then, too?
With that in mind, a good pitch shouldn’t sound stiff or contrived. You need to be able to express yourself in a relaxed, confident, genuine way that suits chance meetings as well as planned encounters.
Do You Need an Elevator Pitch?
Yes. Unless you’re perfectly satisfied with your current career and never hope to make any changes to your job or income, you should have an elevator pitch.
Your pitch can help land you new clients, more money, bigger opportunities, or a career in a whole new field. It also makes answering the classic party question “So, what do you do?” way less awkward.
How to Write a Great One
Now, here’s the most important part: how to make an elevator pitch that really works.
If you haven’t put a “brainstorm” on paper since high school English class, now is the time to revive that old tactic. Your brainstorm can look like a list, a web, or a totally disorganized word cloud. However, it should include some ideas about who you are and what you do (professionally).
The point of a brainstorm is that it doesn’t have to be polished, so jot down anything you think could be relevant in this step. You can draw lines or circles to connect ideas that fit together. Cross out things that don’t seem to fit with the rest. Highlight the ones that stand out as essential.
If it helps, think of this from the perspective of bragging. Imagine you have 30 seconds to make a rival or an ex jealous of your career success. What highlights would you mention?
Now, take the information from your brainstorm and fit it into an outline.
Your outline should answer these questions, clearly and succinctly:
Who are you (professionally)?
What makes you (or your idea or company) unique?
How does this help the person listening?
What action should the person listening take next?
For example, let’s say you own a photography business. Your outline might look something like this:
I am a wedding and event photographer.
I use a photojournalistic shooting style to capture thrilling and candid moments.
I’ll bring your event to life with professionally edited, social media-friendly images.
You can check out more of my work on my Instragram.
Don’t worry too much about phrasing things perfectly during this stage. As you write your outline, you might find your wording sounds stiff or convoluted. But you can fix that later. For now, just focus on getting the essentials down on paper.
In addition to answering those four important questions, you can add anything else you want people to know about you or your business. Just keep it short: You only have 30 seconds!
Next, you should add some details that will support your broad outline statements. For example, if you’ve photographed over 500 events, you could add that.
Try to think of several impressive details to list. You may not use them all in your pitch, but having a few to choose from helps. They could include your years in the industry, sales goals you’ve met, your most famous client, or anything else you can think of.
Once you have a few ideas, pick one of those impressive details to put near the start of your elevator pitch. This “hook” will ensure the listener is intrigued and keeps listening. If other specific details fit well elsewhere in your pitch, use those, too.
You’re now ready to make sure your speech sounds great out loud.
This means getting rid of anything overly stiff, formal, or bland. Is there business jargon you could rewrite in layperson’s terms? Can you think of a way to state your experience more candidly?
For example, “I love shooting weddings and events, and I’ve been doing it for over 10 years” sounds far more pleasant and conversational than “I am an experienced wedding and event photographer.”
During this step, you’ll need to read your speech out loud multiple times. It may feel strange, but that’s the only way to get a feel for what sounds right and what doesn’t. Keep changing the phrasing until it feels comfortable to say out loud. Write down the exact wording you like best.
Practice and Record
If you didn’t like reading your words out loud to edit them, then you really won’t like this step. But trust us—it’s necessary. You need to practice your speech out loud, record yourself doing it, and listen to the recording.
You can practice alone in front of a mirror or in front of a trusted friend. We recommend a friend, since their feedback can be valuable. Regardless, once you’ve practiced and revised your pitch a few times, make a recording. Listening to it can give you great perspective on how it will sound to others. Plus, this will let you see how long your pitch really is.
Remember to speak slowly. Your speech should be short, not rushed! And don’t worry about memorizing the exact wording (although you should still write down the phrasing you like best). Just work on remembering the essential information.
Focus on the Call to Action
Your elevator pitch should get the listener interested in what you have to offer. But most importantly, it should give them the next step to take. As you practice your elevator pitch, make sure you always include a relevant call to action.
The right call to action will depend on what you’re hoping to get out of the encounter. It may even change depending on the situation. Some call-to-action ideas include:
Inviting them to check out your website
Connecting on LinkedIn or another social media site
Offering a business card
Setting up a future meeting
Always keep your phrasing welcoming, rather than pushy. It should sound like an enticing invitation, not a plea or a command.
Use Your Pitch
Good job—you’ve now written a successful elevator pitch. The best way to get comfortable with your new pitch? Actually use it!
Once you have your pitch drafted, edited, and practiced, find some low-key situations to use it. Check out a new networking event, or go to a party where you don’t know many people. These experiences give you low-stakes practice, so you can state your pitch with more confidence when the stakes are higher. Plus, the more you use it, the more easily you’ll remember it.
There’s no reason not to be prepared for career-changing moments that could come your way. An elevator pitch is one way to prepare. For more business-savvy preparation tips, check out our guide to the elusive business casual dress code.
How often do you get an email that makes you wonder, “I wonder why they sent this to me? What am I supposed to do with it?” As an adult, it’s an essential skill to know how to write professional emails that save time and get replies.
Even though you send several emails every day, you might not be great at composing these messages. And like with any form of communication, email etiquette evolves as time passes. You can learn some of these data-backed ways to write professional emails, or use these apps and websites for easy templates and rules.
An email has some unsaid rules and do’s and don’ts. It’s surprising how often we break these rules. Your Email Could Be Better is a quick guide to 10 common faults and how to fix them.
We often don’t notice them, as common they are. For example, avoiding vague subject lines, and including a call to action for the recipient, seem like common sense. But go through your inbox and you’ll find a lot of emails skip them entirely.
Each of the 10 faults also includes a short write-up on the correct protocol to follow. If you need to tell someone else about following one of the rules, the website has handy links for each point. Their example approach might seem a bit aggressive or rude to some, so tweak it to the tone you want to use with the recipient.
, put together a collection of over 50 email templates for such occasions.
There’s a handy search box, or you can choose one of the tags like cold or warm email networking templates, asking for introductions or advice, and reconnecting with old contacts. Browse through the list and you’ll find templates that are specific for different purposes, like separate templates for following up with a non-responder and a responder.
Click a template to see the full text, and copy-paste it into your email composition box. The template also explains the logic and lets you in on a few tips to ensure it has the desired effect on the recipient.
One of the hardest tasks in networking is to send a cold email, i.e. an email to someone who doesn’t know you and ask them for something. It could be a favor, a sale, or anything else, but it’s frightening to request that from a stranger.
Cold Email Template is a collection of 40 free templates for cold emails. Among others, the list includes emails for referrals, re-engaging with prospects, selling things, warm ways to build relationships, and simple and to-the-point messages. The contacts app Markd developed the collection, while the emails come from different sources like Freshworks, Sumo, Medium posts, and so on.
Using any email is as simple as copy-pasting it into your email client, and filling in or replacing the appropriate fields. Remember, these are templates, so use them as a starting point and customize them where possible. The website has a search box and filters too if you’re in a rush.
Venture capitalist and career advisor Zak Slayback punched above his weight. He exchanged emails with people who didn’t know him or what he offered. In this short 50-page ebook guide, he has collected 12 of his most tried-and-tested email scripts.
Slayback is the first to say these aren’t magic templates. You have to fill in the gaps. But unlike other templates, he explains what you need to write and why. There is a lot of focus on making personal connections through emails, and being real enough that the recipient doesn’t think you’re working from a script.
The 12 scripts cover topics like setting up meetings, getting feedback, making introductions and referrals, and other situations that you’re likely to face in your professional career. The ebook is especially helpful for writers looking for critique, shares from people they admire, or guest blogging spots.
Even if you can text and tweet with the best of them, professional emails are a different ball game. Students especially struggle with the unwritten rules of emails, and professors get annoyed. Educational blog Inside Higher Ed collected the essential guidelines for post-secondary students.
The article is an insightful read into the common mistakes that students make, and the problems that cause them in the first place. But what’s even better are the links within the article. Inside Higher Ed points out a few gems written by professors for their students:
Whether you put into practice only one of these, all three, or the Inside Higher Ed article is up to you. But if you’re a student, you need to read them all to understand how much a bad email can set you back by, and how easy it is to fix them.
Tools to Write Better Emails
All the email experts above have some advice that is consistent. They all think you need to spell-check and proofread emails, format the text for readability, be concise and brief, and avoid silly mistakes. Well, there are apps to help you with that.
It’s the early aughts, and IT department trainee gets the task of sorting through a pile of unlabeled recordable DVDs, reports the pilot fish who assigned him to the job. “I asked him to check the DVDs one by one, discard obsolete data, sort blank media and label the rest of them according to their contents,” fish says.
trainee, permanent marker in hand, disappears. Two days later, he dumps two piles of media sitting on fish’s desk. One of them is DVDs nicely labeled with content description, date and number, using rather good handwriting.
“The other pile,” sighs fish, “was also labeled with permanent marker — 30 DVDs with ‘BLANK’ written on every single one of them.
AI evolution is necessary for enterprise security, too, if only because the cybercriminals will use it to build better malware. We’ll benefit from AI in manufacturing, design, transportation and in countless other areas.
In short, AI will prove to be a huge boost to business.
But as we embark on this partnership with artificial intelligence, it’s important that we safeguard human intelligence. And the biggest threat to human intelligence is software that writes.
The creeping takeover of business writing
The mainstreaming of AI business writing began with Google Smart Reply four years ago. Google Inbox users were offered a few colorless options for a reply to most emails. The feature still exists in Gmail, and with a single click you can respond with “Thanks!” or “I’ll send it to you” or “Let’s do Friday!”
Last year Google added Smart Compose, which finishes the sentences you start. You can choose Google’s words by pressing the tab key.
Using Smart Reply and Smart Compose saves time but makes replies dull. They’re dull because Google makes sure the replies are generic and designed to not annoy or offend anyone (for example, Google’s AI never uses gendered pronouns like “he” or “she”), and also because millions of other Gmail users are using the exact same wording for their replies. We all sound the same in our replies.
Google is not alone. Lightkey makes a Windows application that works like Google’s Smart Compose.
Quillbot is a cloud-based tool that can rephrase what you write (or what you copy and paste from others’ writing). It typically produces awkward prose. Machines have no ear for language.
StoryAI is a tool based on OpenAI that will write a whole story if you write the beginning. I tried it by pasting in the opening paragraph of this column. You can read the column StoryAI wrote and decide who did a better job.
We find ourselves in the tragicomic place where AI writes financial news stories mainly for human consumption, but other AI also reads those stories to provide input for automated trading systems. AI does the writing. AI does the reading. And at some point AI is just going to cut humans out of the trade and keep all the money.
Automated writing will not only get better, it will be increasingly built into the tools we use to write things. The temptation to just let the machines do the writing will only grow. What’s wrong with that?
Here’s what’s wrong with that
The main problem with letting AI write for us is that writing isn’t just writing. Writing is one component of literacy, which includes reading, writing and thinking.
Writing involves revision, which clarifies thinking. We think. We write what we think. Then by reading what we write we realize the errors in our thinking, or at least in the way we have expressed our thinking. We rewrite until our thoughts are clearly and accurately and fully expressed. This practice is at the core of our ability to analyze, create, make good decisions and make progress in our lives and in our work.
Literacy and thinking are connected. This was the point of George Orwell’s Newspeak idea in the novel 1984. The totalitarian government in that book used restrictions on language to make complex thought impossible. Its purpose was “to diminish the range of thought” in order to pacify and enervate the public.
Writing, even writing business emails, forces us to confront our own thoughts in black and white. And this makes us cultivate our ability to think clearly.
It’s also the foundation of our ability to talk with logic and coherence. You’ll notice that good writers tend to speak well.
And writing aids memory. Just letting AI communicate for us, even if we choose from a menu of options, makes it easier to forget what “we” said.
More to the point, writing ability is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition, and AI systems that write for us could make us gradually lose it.
By allowing writing tools to do the writing for us, our literacy fades, and we begin to base our decisions on superficial impressions, rather than critical or analytical thinking.
The critical faculty is already under siege with conventions like emoji. By using cartoons in place of words, we communicate vague impressions rather than specific thoughts. As such, it’s not necessary to think specific thoughts in the first place. Textspeak, SMS abbreviations, autocorrect, emojis —- we’re slouching toward idiocracy. AI that writes our business communication for us is the professional version of all that.
Our relationship with literacy exists on a spectrum.
At one end, we’re fully realized humans with language and literacy to think and communicate better. At the other end we’re less human. We’re “echoborgs” — meat puppets who mindlessly regurgitate the words fed to us by AI.
We should be trying to move toward the good end of that spectrum, not the bad one.
Fearmongering over AI is common nowadays — AI, we’re told, will take our jobs and ultimately have no use for us, other than to keep us as pets. This AI technopanic is based on the knowledge that the machines will just keep getting smarter. We should be more worried that AI will make us all dumber.
The most efficient way for AI to make us dumber is to take the task of writing away from us. Our critical and creative faculties will atrophy. Our minds will become dull. And we’ll all become so boring that the machines may not even want us around as pets.
If you’re concerned about AI making us all redundant, you can do something about it today and every day: Don’t let AI put words in your mouth. Reject automated writing in all its forms. Do your own writing. Think for yourself.
The risk isn’t that machines will get smarter. It’s that humans will get dumber.
Even in the age of digital job applications, cover letters are still relevant. Here’s how to write a great one!
Writing a resume is hard enough (although, our series of resume guides will help), but a potential employer also expects you to send her a cover letter explaining why you’re right for the job. How can you write a compelling letter for every job you apply for?
The key is not to approach each letter like a brand-new document. Although cover letters require more customization than resumes, there are still some formulas you can use to make the task easier.
Whether you’re writing your first or 50th cover letter, we can help. Here’s everything you need to know to write great cover letters and get more job interviews!
Formatting Your Cover Letter
Your cover letter should follow the standard letter format and include some essential basics. The good news is once you’ve made one cover letter, you have a template you can use for the rest.
The proper business letter format features your contact information at the top of the page. Include your name, address, phone number, and email address.
Below that, skip a line and type today’s date (“January 1, 2020,” not “1/1/20”). Skip another line and type the employer’s contact information. Start with the name and title of the hiring manager (if you have it), followed by the company’s name and address.
Skip another line and add the salutation (“Dear Mr./Ms. [Name],” or use their full name if you don’t know their gender). If you don’t know who you’re writing the letter to, you can use something generic like, “Dear hiring manager.” Avoid, “To whom it may concern,” as it sounds dated. It’s always best to use a name, if possible—and the internet usually makes it easy to find out who you’re sending your letter to.
After that, you can begin the letter, which should be about three paragraphs. Then, you include a formal closing, like “Sincerely” or “Respectfully yours,” followed by your name and signature.
Your cover letter should fit on one page and should be in a standard font and size (10 to 12 point). If you find formatting your letter to be a challenge, you can download a template and fill in your information, just as you would with a resume.
No matter how you do it, be sure to format your letter correctly. Hiring managers often throw out poorly formatted ones without ever reading them.
Writing Your Cover Letter
Now, it’s time to write your cover letter. While the formatting stays basically the same for each job application, the content of your letter should change. That content still follows a formula, though. You’ll always need these three sections:
Introduction: A winning hook that alerts the hiring manager to your potential as a candidate.
Body: One paragraph (or two short ones) that backs up your claims with specific examples of your experience and qualifications.
Conclusion: A brief wrap-up that suggests the next action for the hiring manager to take.
The details might change some, but the basic information often stays the same when you’re applying for jobs in the same field. This means you don’t have to write a completely new cover letter for each application. You just need to make the proper adjustments, so your cover letter fits the specific job and company.
Let’s take a closer look at what to include in each section.
Briefly state why you’re writing the letter. Focus on what you bring to the company, rather than what they’ll do for you. For example, it’s not technically wrong to say, “I’m writing because I would like the position of [Job Title] at [Company Name].” But it’s much stronger to say, “I would love to apply my unique [industry] skills as the new [Job Title] at [Company Name].”
Make sure you include the title of the position you’re applying for. If you have any connections at the company, you can mention them by name in this paragraph. Provide some brief details about who you are, and why you’re right for the job. For example, you might mention your relevant major in college or your current professional title and years of experience.
The more compelling your first paragraph, the more likely it is the hiring manager will continue reading. Try to drop in a juicy detail or two about your skills or qualifications, and use strong words that convey your passion. Your goal is to pique the reader’s interest, so she keeps reading.
The middle section of your letter highlights details about the professional experience you have that you think will help you get the job.
You can springboard this section from what’s on your resume, but make sure it doesn’t just restate that information. Instead, take this opportunity to go more in-depth about your accomplishments or explain any gaps in your resume.
For example, maybe your resume mentions that you grew a company’s customer base by over 300 percent. In your cover letter, you could explain how you accomplished that. Or maybe your resume has a work history gap because you didn’t have a job for six months. In your cover letter, you could mention any courses you took during those six months to prep for a career transition.
The more specific you are, the better. Don’t say you’re good at customer service. Instead, offer an anecdote about a time when you displayed excellent customer service in a difficult situation. Show why your experience is relevant, and how you’ll help the company you’re applying to solve their problems.
You should also show that you’ve researched the company you’re applying to. Try something like, “I love following [Company Name]’s Twitter account, and with my proven social media marketing skills, I’ll ensure those posts gain a much wider reach.”
Obviously, everything in your cover letter has to be factual, just like on your resume. Make sure you’d feel confident talking about it if it’s brought up during an interview. And just like on a resume, try to quantify your accomplishments with measurements and numbers whenever possible.
In your conclusion, you can pivot to discussing how your experience will help the company reach its goals. When you feel you’ve written convincingly about your potential as a candidate, transition into a call to action. For example, you could say, “I’d love to talk more about what I can do for your online branding. To set up an interview, you can connect with me at [your email address].”
Show confidence here and write as if you believe they’ll contact you. Avoid weak phrasing, like “I hope to hear from you soon.” Instead, remind them why they should hire you, and then provide the best way to reach you. You can also offer a link to your portfolio or writing samples as your call to action.
Don’t forget to thank the company for considering you before you close the letter. Keep your tone confident but formal and polite. Something simple, like, “Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you,” works well as a closing sentence.
Editing and Proofreading Your Cover Letter
Now, it’s time to edit and polish. One of the hardest parts of this step is making sure you strike the right tone.
When you first start writing a cover letter, it’s best to get the essential information down and worry about how you’ll say it later. You can even start with an outline and use lists or bullet points to organize the details. But once you have the information written out, make sure it’s phrased well.
Work on striking a balance between formality and relatability. Your letter should be authentic and interesting, but conversational and friendly. Try reading it aloud to see if the words flow naturally.
Just like with a resume, it can also help to add some industry-specific keywords or phrases during this step. Work those terms into your cover letter if they fit naturally. If anything sounds unnatural or robotic, though, it’s best to leave it out.
Send your cover letter to a few friends, mentors, or family members to get their feedback. Make changes where you need to, and then send the final version out once more, so they can help you check for typos or any other errors. Proofreading should be the last step, but make sure you don’t skip it!
Right before you send out your polished cover letter with an application, double-check all the names, addresses, and dates. Using the wrong company name or an incorrect date will quickly get your letter tossed.
Along with your resume, your cover letter creates your first impression at a new company. The stronger that impression is, the more likely they are to ask for an interview. With practice, you’ll learn how to strike the right tone for a compelling cover letter. And a solid cover letter can often be tweaked for multiple job applications, saving you time and effort.
But be prepared: when you use these cover letter tips, the interview calls are likely to flood in. Be sure to brush up on your interview prep skills with this guide!