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Freelance Success Story
Going Civilian: Making the Leap From the Military to Freelance Writing
by Joe Wallace

Webmaster Note: See our complete schedule for this series here.

When I told my co-workers I was leaving the Air Force after 13 years of successful writing to go freelance, they thought I was crazy.

“Stay in for seven more years and get your retirement,” they would say, “You can do seven more years.” I always replied the same way. “I haven’t got seven years to waste waiting around for things to happen.”

I had been writing freelance articles part time, getting published in places like Backroads USA, Coolstuff4writers.com and Razla.com, but I had a yearning to stop globe hopping with the Air Force and go solo. I wanted to get my own assignments, do my own work and stop dealing with the red tape of writing for the military.

I knew I would be much happier writing newspaper and magazine articles on my own, answering only to the editors of each individual magazine or newspaper, and then only about issues related to the actual finished work; not my office hours, whether or not I did my work in my pajamas or how late I rolled in to work that morning.           

I was stationed in South Korea when I finally decided to break with the military, move stateside and go freelance. It was a difficult decision because getting out of the service from overseas meant transitioning back to the USA with no apartment or guaranteed income of any kind lined up, except what I could get saved from my part time writing.

Even so, my credits as a part-time freelancer had stacked up fairly quickly; it would be only a matter of time before having a full-time job in the Air Force started interfering with the much more serious business of writing. My co-workers laughed when I told them that, but it was nervous laughter. They wished me well, but didn’t understand that some people need more from a job than a steady income.

The thought of all that uncertainty makes some people very uncomfortable. When my separation orders were finally approved after three months of wading through bureaucratic nonsense, I detected a bit of envy in my friends. “Enjoy your freedom,” my supervisor told me on my last day in the newsroom at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, “I hope we hear about you someday.”  She laughed and added, “But not on America’s Most Wanted.” When I got back to the states, I knew I had much to do.

The real secret of my success since going out on my own is staying completely absorbed with and obsessed by writing. From the time I wake til the time I go to sleep, my laptop is constantly on. I am always searching for new markets, new angles and trying to re-sell my old stories.

Writing is my life, quite literally. A good portion of the books on my shelves have to do with the art, business and lifestyle of writers. When I wrote for the military, I had good success -- doing anything for thirteen years will give you a certain amount of know-how and skill. As a freelancer, all that knowledge and skill connected to the craft of writing only goes so far.

You have to understand how to properly sell yourself and your skills. These were the tricks of the trade I had learned while writing freelance part-time while stationed in South Korea, when I got out I had the opportunity to learn how to apply that knowledge all day, every day. And all night, most nights.

It’s a never ending battle against rejection notices, pay coming later and lower than you originally thought, and keeping your ego in check when you do make a big score. I succeed as a full time writer because I am completely devoted to the cause of working for myself in this field. It is unthinkable for me to apply for a ‘real’ job. I am in one hundred percent survival mode.

My income is directly proportional to the amount of work I do each and every day -- but writing is a very slow business, and the returns don’t come on a schedule. Unfortunately, my bills do come on schedule, and this requires a great deal of forethought. The extra two hundred dollars you made on Monday isn’t really extra at all, it’s all put toward next month’s rent so when the bottom falls out of the story you thought was a definite sale, you have some of your bases covered.

Freelance writers can’t afford to take many real days off in this business until they get to a point where your income is enough to allow the luxury of planning ahead.

I am a successful freelance writer, but most months there is no way to plan an income beyond the month that follows. This is the price you pay when you work for yourself. Even so, I love this business; have promised myself that I will never have a boss again, and that I will never retire. My co-workers were right. It IS a crazy business. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

About the Author: Joe Wallace is a full-time freelance writer. He travels through Central Illinois doing stories on music, film, military issues and business. He is most recently published in Korean Quarterly, Conscious Choice, the Alt.Culture Guide, and is a contributing editor for Garden and Hearth’s travel section. He is currently available for assignments. You can email him at jwallace@freelance-zone.com. www.freelance-zone.com

©2005 Joe Wallace. This article may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form, for any reason, without the express, written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.

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