A kid interested in what I do has asked me how to do it and I thought perhaps it might be something of general interest and so have replied, at length:
I’m interested in writing about cars for a living and hoping you can give me some advice since you’ve been there and are doing that. I’m still in high school but have been into cars as long as I can remember, probably because my dad is also. Any pointers would be great!
. . .
Hoo boy. Well, where to start? The best place is probably with a quote from the Doctor – Hunter Thompson – a writer who greatly influenced me when I was your age. He wrote: Writing is a hard dollar.
Hard enough it is to make a buck by the word in good times; much harder in bad times – and damned near impossible without selling your soul by bending knee to the current regime of Wokeness.
I “get away” with being a heretic because I am an established one. Like the Dr., I spent many years – decades – hoeing the fields, including stints writing for “mainstream” media, such as The Chicago Tribune, Detroit News/Free Press and – for a number of years, AOL – when AOL was the Internet. Prior to that, I served a tour as an editorial writer/columnist at The Washington Times in DC, the very heart of darkness. This I was able to do because when I did it, these publications were not yet in the grip of Wokeism and a heretic could get hired – and not fired for being one.
This is near-impossible now. Even the car press is Woke. If you were to be recognized as an unbeliever in the tenets of the Electric Car Cult, say – or “identified” as a straight white male, which would also identify you as a racist/white supremacist – you’d be shown the door if you ever got through it in the first place.
Again, the only reason I get published is because it is me – a known heretic. With a known audience of the same. That carries some weight. You’d have to somehow build up the same kinetic energy, starting from scratch.
But it is not impossible, if you are determined in the manner of Jean Valjean.
I have some tips in that regard but before we proceed, there is a prerequisite. Or at least, I think there ought to be. It is having something to say that is worth saying and having the necessary data bank of knowledge and experience to say it with some degree of authority. One of the teeth-aching things about the car press today is that it is largely populated by people who – channeling Sergeant Schultz – know nothing, nothing! about cars.
Not just mechanically but also historically. A Cord? Isn’t that something you pull on? Which brand’s emblem was a rocket? Crickets. You may not know about such things as well, being too young to have known about them first or even second-hand. It is worth knowing such things, because they bear on current things.
I once had a guy – just barely – approach me on a bus full of media people being cattle-chuted to the Javitz Center in New York (RIP) to attend some press briefings – they were called “reveals” in the argot of the car press. This guy wanted to know how I got into writing about motorcycles, which I did and still do in addition to writing about cars. He wrote for a major, heavyweight publication and was interested in adding some bike stuff to his mix.
I asked him about his bikes – assuming he had at least a few, since people who write about bikes professionally tend to have many bikes, just as people who write about cars also tend to have a small or even a large fleet. It goes with the turf, like soy goes with boys.
He had none. Worse, he’d never had one. Worse than that, this geek had never ridden a bike. And he wanted to write about them. Which is like the Pope dispensing advice about marital relations.
I was speechless for a moment before I recovered my senses enough to not rabbit punch him in the Adam’s apple.
Then there was the “case” of the car columnist for The Washington Post, a guy named Warren Brown. A nice guy – and a good business writer, which was his beat. They gave him the car beat, so he began to get press cars – like the ones I get to drive, in order to write about them from first-hand dealings. They brought Warren a new Porsche 911. It had a manual transmission. He had never learned to drive a car with a clutch. The Porsche people had to show him.
Try not to be like these stories. Get experienced, per Jimi Hendrix. Learn about as many cars and the history of cars as you can. Learn as much about everything as you can. Read. Everything.
Drive – and wrench – on as many cars as you can. Consider a stint as a mechanic. Or just work in a shop where that sort of work goes on. You will learn important stuff. Take driving classes – not the insipid “defensive driving” stuff they peddle now. Anyone can cringe with both hands clutching the 10 and 2. You want to get hipped to the real-deal stuff that teaches you how to drive. Learning to ride is also a healthy adjunct as there is a lot of overlap between driving and riding as both are about the passion of movement, under your control.
Most of all, cultivate your voice. That which makes your writing your writing. Do not try to ape other writers you like; let them serve as guiding spirits, to show you where the path is – but walk it at your own pace, your own gait.
The practical tips?
Get in the business. Not the car-writing business. The writing business. Do it however you can do it. Just so your are doing it.
If you can only do it – for openers – writing stories for a local paper about high school sports (as I did) then do that. Anything that gets you a byline and a paycheck and keep on building it from there.
No one is going to hire you to write about cars, no matter how well you may write right now. It is a business much like the NFL and probably harder to make the cut. But you can get into the writing business and use that to leverage yourself into writing about cars, if you have the passion and the determination to make it so. It will not be easy and it will probably take years of Les Miserabling – and there may not be much to write about in the years ahead except for what is being done to kill off cars – though even that is a rich vein of material to write about and we’ll need people who can do it, or rather, who have the skill and the righteous fury to defend the car from the killers.
I still have some gas in the tank and tread on the tires but – as the Dr. once also said – the good times eventually end, for one and all. Sic gloria transit mundi. I would like, when the times comes for me to shuffle off to Buffalo – to go knowing the heresy is in safe hands.
. . .
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