A couple of weeks ago, freelance writer Johnny D. Boggs received 22 letters from a group of fifth-graders in Tampa, FL. They loved his story “Rites of Autumn” from the September issue of Boy’s Life and many of them suggested he expand it into a novel. It was the sort of day that keeps a writer going through the deadlines, dry spells, long nights, and crazy travel schedules.
Boggs is the author of dozens of books, including the recent novels The Killing Shot, Rio Chama, West Texas Kill, and Hard Winter. The non-fiction Jesse James and the Movies is due out this summer. Boggs also writes for such magazines as Persimmon Hill, True West, Wild West and Boys’ Life, among many others.
Boggs quit his “day job” more than 12 years ago, and it’s been a long hard ride. Of course, it’s been an exciting and rewarding adventure, too, as Boggs talks about below.
How long have you been working as a full-time freelancer and what sort of work do you do?
Johnny D. Boggs: I started free-lancing full time in 1998. Hey, this is my longest tenure. My rule of thumb is: Never turn down an assignment if it’s a paying gig. Primarily, I write travel, art, Western film, book reviews and for a couple of trade publications covering beer-wine-spirits and Western & English retail.
What is a typical day like for you? How is it different than a traditional “day job”?
Johnny D. Boggs: It is a day job. I’m in the home office, usually, no later than 8:30 AM, and knock off no earlier than 3 PM. Sometimes I start earlier. Often I work much later. Depends on deadlines.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you took the plunge into freelancing?
Johnny D. Boggs: Ever tried paying your own insurance when you’re self-employed? Or figuring out the %&*@**(!@ nuances of tax time (and I use a CPA)?
You’re at the mercy of businesses’ accounting and their payment policy. Some pay on acceptance, which is great, but most pay on or after publication. So you have to figure out exactly when you should get that check.
What are some of the frustrations of freelancing and how do you handle them?
Johnny D. Boggs: It’s a balancing act, moving from assignment to assignment, juggling deadlines. I try to take the approach that it keeps me creative as a writer. I’m not writing the same thing over and over and over again (usually), but moving from interviewing an artist to learning about vodka and then doing a travel piece. It keeps my writing fresh. And I still have time to work on the novels and books.
What’s the best part?
Johnny D. Boggs: Going to the mailbox and finding a check. On some of the travel assignments, I have been able to take my family with me. And I can often work an assignment into a vacation or book tour, book research. I get to meet some pretty interesting people, too.
Is there a project that you simply couldn’t have pulled off if you’d been working at a full-time day job?
Johnny D. Boggs: A lot of them. I think one of the reasons I got out of the day job (night job, actually, working for daily newspapers) was that I had to turn down free-lance assignments because of work.
A salary… is it friend or foe?
Johnny D. Boggs: My advice to beginning writers has always been Don’t quite your day job. This is not an easy way to make a living. There are times when I miss that steady check, but I think the rewards (setting my own hours, having time with the family) make it all worthwhile.
Any parting words? Words of encouragement or caution?
Johnny D. Boggs: Did I mention … Don’t quite your day job?
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.