When Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor got a notice from his Loudoun County government last year that he needed a license to write, he was furious.

"I called {County Attorney} Ed Finnegan and said, 'What the hell is this?' " Taylor said. "When the county says I need a license to write, that seems to be tampering with my First Amendment rights."

Patrick Anderson, the Waterford novelist who has written "The President's Mistress," "First Family" and speeches for two presidents, was mad, too. "I've been sitting in my house writing books for 15 years, and suddenly they decide I have to own a license and be taxed to do it. I was outraged."

Finnegan told Taylor that the county was treating Taylor's writing like any other home occupation and he would have to pay a tax on his gross receipts. Taylor would receive a tax receipt with the word "license" at the top.

Taylor said he "ground {his} teeth and paid the tax." As for the stipulation on the "license" that it be "prominently displayed" in his "place of business," Taylor said, "It's prominently displayed around here somewhere. I just can't find it."

The county's crackdown on its writers began about 18 months ago when license inspector Karen Liles noted that writers and other creative types could be a source of revenue for the fast-growing county and suggested that the tax code requiring people in "specialized occupations" to be licensed and taxed be interpreted to include writers.

The revenue department began screening state tax returns for writers who filed a Schedule C, a self-employment tax form, and it sent them notices. The cases of writers who complained were turned over to Finnegan.

But apparently no one in the county reckoned with Byron Farwell, former mayor of Hillsboro and feisty author of several books on military history.

"If the county can issue a license, the county can revoke a license," he said.

Farwell blasted off a flurry of angry letters to county officials, including Blue Ridge District Supervisor James Brownell, whose district includes Hillsboro. Over and over, he emphasized that the requirement that a writer be licensed indicates that writing is a privilege that can be revoked.

In a meeting with county officials 10 days ago, Farwell convinced them that the language of the so-called business tax receipt must be changed in order to mollify Loudoun's covey of writers, which includes short story writer John Rolfe "I assume that the whole concept of licensing writers in a country whose Constitution prescribes their freedom is so ridiculous as to be beneath consideration."

-- London resident Alexander Skinner

Gardiner and nonfiction author Jake Page.

As a result of his efforts, Loudoun's new business tax receipt will not boast the word "license" in bold capital letters, nor will it demand that any but commercial enterprises display it in a prominent place.

Last month, Finnegan's office was not amused to open a letter from a London resident who had read about the license requirement in an opinion piece Farwell wrote for The Washington Post in April. "I assume that the whole concept of licensing writers in a country whose Constitution prescribes their freedom is so ridiculous as to be beneath consideration," wrote Alexander Skinner. "It would be interesting to know if you personally regard the article to be subversive."

While Loudoun is not the only Northern Virginia jurisdiction to tax and license its scriveners, it is the only jurisdiction where officials have agreed to make changes, although the Arlington tax department is considering making the same revisions in that county's business tax receipt because of the fuss in Loudoun.

Among the jurisdictions that tax writers and require them to obtain licenses are Prince William County, Arlington, Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria.

Fairfax and Prince William do not require that a license be displayed, and officials in several of the jurisdictions said that when writers there complained, they were told that the form was a tax receipt and that therefore there was no First Amendment issue. "They backed off," one official said. Officials in the revenue department in the City of Alexandria said they have had no complaints, but then, they are not sure if they have any writers.