Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

How Much You Should Pay for Legal Weed, According to a Budtender

According to the 2018 Cannabis Price Index, buying legal weed in America will cost you between $7 and $11 per gram, depending on where you live. However, that won’t be much help when you’re trying to figure out whether a certain tincture or pack of gummies is a good deal. Likewise, certain strains of weed are more expensive than others—does that mean the pricier weed will give you a better experience, or does it mean you’re wasting your money?

Consider How a Potential Roommate Might Affect You Financially

When I was in grad school, I came home from class one day to find that one of my three roommates had moved out.

I also learned that I would not be receiving her portion of the unpaid rent—because it was one of those situations where one roommate wrote a check to the landlord (and the utility companies) and the other roommates left money on the kitchen counter to pay their share.

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More Thoughts on Character Conflict in Storytelling

I finished my Game of Thrones rewatch on Monday and caught up with the newest episode on Tuesday—and without spoiling anything (well, nearly anything) about the series, I’m struck by how well my recent “discovery” that conflict between characters is an essential part of storytelling holds up.

Here’s the part that might be a teeny-weeny spoiler: this last season of Game of Thrones comes down to:

  1. Fighting the Big Bad.
  2. Deciding who wins the Iron Throne (assuming it is not destroyed in the big fight).

Okay. At this point, I doubt many fans are hugely invested in the boss fight. I mean, sure, people want to see explosions and whatever, I understand that part, but… there are basically two outcomes here.

HUMANS DEFEAT EVIL

or

EVIL DEFEATS HUMANS.

Of the two, I am pretty sure I know which one is going to happen.

So why keep watching—or, for that matter, why watch any of the series, since we knew from the very first scene that EVIL HAD RETURNED TO THE LAND and SOMEONE WOULD NEED TO DEFEAT IT AT SOME POINT, probably WITH EXPLOSIONS?

Because, eight seasons in, we want to know how the character conflicts will be resolved.

It’s super easy to thwap fireballs at a bad guy until he goes down.

It’s much harder to tell someone, particularly someone you love, that SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. There were plenty of reviewers and bloggers and Redditors arguing that the penultimate season of Game of Thrones felt “contrived” or “boring.”

Not because much of that season was about people preparing to fight a giant evil supermonster, which is literally the most contrived thing ever.

But because the interpersonal conflict didn’t make sense.

Again, teeny-weeny spoiler: the show did the thing where one character finds a letter written by another character, misunderstands the contents of the letter completely, and launches the type of conflict that could have been solved in two seconds if the two people involved had just talked to each other.

The conflict, between two characters who had previously been allies and whom we correctly predicted would be allies again once the misunderstanding got cleared up, felt forced. Unearned. Boring.

This, by the way, was coming from a show that had previously been so nuanced that it made multiple child murderers sympathetic.* No human was fully good or fully evil (with perhaps one exception), and no family was fully on the right side of the argument. People did the best they could with the information and resources they had.

And then the storyline outpaced the books that were its original source material and the characters started acting more like one-note action heroes (and coincidentally uninformed romantic comedy heroes) than people.

Which meant the conflicts became less interesting, since—just like the fight against the Big Bad—we already knew how they were going to end.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, as we enter our final season of Game of Thrones and I continue drafting NEXT BOOK.❤️

*Yes, that means both “multiple characters that murdered children” and “characters that murdered multiple children.”

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Get Bigger Social Security Checks by Delaying Your Payout

If you can’t make it a few years without Social Security, even delaying retirement for a short period of time (like, half a year) can increase those Social Security checks. Waiting pays off—literally.

Here’s Everything a Financial Guru Can Tell You

If you’ve read as many financial guides as I have (and at this point, I feel like I’ve read nearly all of them) you quickly realize they’re all saying the same thing. The catchy phrases and psychological techniques might differ—Dave Ramsey has his Debt Snowball, Vicki Robin has her Gazingus Pins—but the advice, at its core, is nearly identical.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

What I Learned From Learning How to Say No

When I realized that I needed to get better at saying no, I started with extremely low-stakes situations, such as telling an acquaintance that I couldn’t meet up for drinks. When I realized that saying no in a single situation didn’t cause a chain-reaction of unwanted consequences—like, the acquaintance didn’t hate me forever, we saw each other at another social event and it was fine—I practiced saying no to close friends. Still fine. Miraculously, our friendship survived the great “I don’t feel like tacos tonight” incident of 2016, which prepared me for more difficult decisions like “I won’t be able to join the big friend trip this year.”

How to Manage Household Finances After Your Spouse Dies

If you and your spouse also divide financial chores, make sure both of you understand not only the state of the household finances but also how to complete each other’s tasks. Consider creating a hard copy list of financial accounts, with login and password information where appropriate—and keep it updated. If you’re concerned about password security, you can deposit that list with your lawyer or with the executor of your will. (You do have a will, right?)

Why Conflict Between Characters Is an Essential Part of Storytelling

So… there was this one time, when I was playing Dungeons & Dragons, and I killed this monster that loot-dropped a basket.

“The basket contains infinite food,” the DM told me.

“I use it to destroy the global economy,” I replied.

The DM immediately clarified that the basket only provided enough food for one person, for one day. After I started trying to use the food supply as weapons, he told me that the only food in the basket was muffins, which I thought was a little unfair.

But I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to take magical objects to their logical extreme—and part of the fun of writing NEXT BOOK has been creating a character who shares that perspective.

This character is unlike me in a number of ways; she’s a cynic, for starters. She does not approach the possibilities of other worlds with anything like joy and wonder; she understands that once the general population gets wind of a portal to a magical kingdom, for example, it’ll just lead to more wars and resource battles.

There is another character, of course, who provides the opposite perspective. Who believes that a doorway to a new world could lead to something wonderful, instead of something terrible.

Then I introduced a planned obstacle—like, one that had been in the plot from the very beginning—and had these two characters react to it in the exact same way.

Because that’s the only way people could react to this particular plot development, right? No option for optimism here, not as we head into the third act!

And then my draft died.

I’d open it up, write a couple hundred words, erase them, rewrite them, and then close the laptop and tell myself I’d try again tomorrow.

Then I had a shower thought.

What if I had my positive thinker continue to think positively, even in this particular situation? What if this character saw the problem as an opportunity for growth and connection, rather than the destructive force my more cynical protagonist (and myself, as the author) initially assumed it was?

This not only made my narrative immediately more interesting, it also brought conflict back into the story. I mean, obviously the main conflict is characters vs. obstacle, but you know that these characters are going to overcome the obstacle eventually because that’s how stories work.

Which means the conflict that really matters is the conflict between the characters. That’s the part of the story that helps us understand how to be human, after all.

It was a good lesson to learn, even if it took me nearly a week of junky writing to figure it out. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

You Probably Got a Tax Cut, Even if It Doesn’t Feel Like It

Did you get a tax cut this year? According to new data from the Tax Policy Center, the majority of Americans did in fact pay fewer taxes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—but since many of us are getting smaller refunds (or no refunds at all), it might not feel like it.

How to Pay the Exact Amount of Taxes You Owe in Advance

Now that most of us have paid our taxes—and now that we understand how our tax burden has shifted thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—it’s time to start planning for Tax Year 2019.

For some of us, that might mean trying to end the 2019 tax year with a bill of exactly $0—that is, you’ve already paid everything you owe in taxes and no more. You don’t get a refund, but you don’t have to pay any additional taxes. It’s kind of like getting a perfect score on tax payment.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

How to Talk About Money on the First Date

According to Bankrate, 35% of Millennials—and 36% of Gen Z—would feel comfortable asking about money on the first date. But how, exactly, do you bring up the subject?

Shorter Projects Are Often Better for Freelancers Than Longer Ones

I’ve been in the freelancing business for seven years now, and I get why The Freelancer is arguing that a bunch of short projects can be better than one long project, even if the longer project pays more.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Learn How Your Income—and Your Tax Burden—Compares to Others

There’s also a huge difference between gross income and adjusted gross income, especially if you work for yourself; my 2017 gross income, for example, was $66,224—but my adjusted gross income was $41,580 and my taxable income after deductions/exemptions dropped to $31,180. My total federal tax burden that year, including regular and self-employment tax, was $11,889.

Which Airlines Give You Miles for Booking an Airbnb?

If you like both Airbnb and airline miles, a handful of airlines are ready to reward you for booking Airbnb stays through them—or for becoming an Airbnb host.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

A New Bill Would Make it Harder to Do Your Taxes for Free

Last week, the House of Representatives introduced H.R.1957, aka “the Taxpayer First Act of 2019.” This bill, which might more accurately be called “the Tax Software First Act of 2019,” prevents the IRS from creating an online tax filing system—which means we’ll only be able to e-file our taxes through a third-party program.

Don’t Pay Debit on Anything You Can’t Afford to Lose

Debit cards come with significantly fewer protections than credit cards—which means that although you can get your money back if you book a flight on a budget airline that goes out of business with no warning, it’s a lot harder than it would have been if you’d used credit.