06/25/2012 (12:58 pm)

How to become an automotive writer in 5 easy steps

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Originally published at GreenBigTruck.com.

Just about everyone who visits websites like this or reads auto magazines thinks “Wow, what a great job those guys have. People hand them free cars to drive, feed them lunch and dinner at fancy restaurants, and even take them to the race track! And all they have to do is write about it. How awesome is that?”

The answer: pretty dang awesome, my friend.

So how do you land a wonder gig like this? Well, becoming an automotive writer is not easy. In fact, it normally requires a lot of work, years of school, and a lot of sacrifice. Some people, like one guy I know, went the hard way by getting an engineering degree, working for years in the industry, and then finally breaking into the writing side of things after years of work and sacrifice. But that’s the hard road and while it builds character and stuff, if you’re like me, you’ve already got plenty of character. So why not take the easy way?

No problem. There are five simple steps that you can take to become an awesome automotive journalist like myself. I used to be a heavy metal singer, then a computer nerd and then a truck driver. If I can transition those into becoming an auto journalist, then just about anything can be turned into writing about cars.

The 5 Skills of the Automotive Journalist
There are five skills to master to become someone who’s paid to write about cars. Anyone can write about cars, but not everyone can get paid to do it. To be a professional, you have to get paid for the job. Learn these five skills, and you’ll be ready for the big leagues.

Skill #5 – A Way With Words
Writing is about writing. Right? Exactly. So learn to write. If you’re experienced at making snide comments in automotive forums, tossing out authentic-sounding information on Facebook threads, and can jive your buddies into believing you when you remark about 1980s Japanese cars having left-handed threads on the engine bolts.. you’re well on your way to mastering this skill.

You don’t have to be right or even in the ballpark. You just have to be coherent at expressing the idea. So if you’re writing about the new 2013 Ford Mustang, don’t bother looking up facts like the actual horsepower or the number of valves on the engine. Who cares about that crap? Just wing it. The Mustang probably has, like, a 1,000 horses under the hood. Right? If anyone calls you on it, tell them you were using artistic expression. It’s a thousand mustangs under the hood. See? Playing with words. That makes you a writer.

Not very good at this? Don’t worry about it. Being able to write well is the least of the skills required to be an automotive writer. Bad writing doesn’t matter. That’s what editors are for.

Skill #4 – A Large Stock of Ramen
Sounds odd, but trust me, writing for a living means going through lean times. It doesn’t pay as well as most people might think. So you’ll need some backup just in case the bank account runs dry. Ramen is cheap, easy to stock a lot of, and doesn’t seem to have an expiration date. So load up on them. Besides, if all that hooey about the world ending and Armageddon coming actually happens, you’ll be preparado.

Skill #3 – Know Stuff About Cars
Like being able to write (see #5), this skill does not need to be mastered, per se, but it should at least be generally understood. If you label a Corvette as a Dodge, people are gonna notice. Although with foreign cars like BMWs and Citro..er.. Citraun… whatever.. nobody cares, so you can call them whatever you want. But with domestics, I guarantee some wannabe automotive writer will call you on it if you don’t at least match makes and models. Lucky for us, there’s Google, which is accurate enough that if someone does call you on a mislabel, you can probably find a website where it was called that and say there’s your reference. Then tell the comment troll to go get a job. Name-calling is the best way to get rid of idiots who say bad things about your stories.

Skill #2 – Cursing
One thing every automotive writer needs to master is cursing. There are two reasons for this:

1) most publications won’t publish things with curse words in them, so you’ll need to master cursing so you can master alternatives to it;
2) sooner or later (probably sooner), another writer, an editor, a publisher, or some twit in comments will f#@*%&! p#*& you off and you’ll have to vent – proper cursing is the best way to do this without ending up in jail.

In fact, in all of automotive, from manufacturing to sales to mechanics to journalism, cursing is a universal expertise. So if you master it, your job qualifications for many areas of the industry will suddenly broaden big time.

Skill #1 – Getting Other People To Pay for Stuff
As we all know, the whole point of becoming an automotive writer is to get stuff for free. Right? Totally. Getting stuff out of industry representatives (called “reps” in the biz) is easy. Just ask for it and they’ll probably hand it over. Your status as an automotive journalist means they must worship you or you’ll say bad things about their product. So feel free to treat them like dirt and take all the freebies they have. With reps, if they have it with them, it’s a freebie. Key fobs, hats, jackets, laptops… whatever. Just tell them you want it and they’ll hand it over.

Reps are easy. It’s editors, publishers, and the like that are rough to get anything out of. Generally, it’s understood that nobody wants to pay you anything because they believe the job perks should pay for the job itself. After all, you get to interview hot models posing with cars, drive cool vehicles all the time, get free stuff out of reps, and so on. Yours is a life of glamor. So why should they cut you a check?

Learn how to get paid, even if you don’t deserve it. The number one rule in automotive journalism? Everyone loves you and the world is yours, so they should pay up. Keep this in mind at all times and you’ll negotiate to win. Missing a deadline or failing to turn anything in at all is no excuse for them not to at least cover your expenses – even if those expenses were just beer and your cable bill.

These, my friends, are the five skills you must master to become an automotive journalist. It won’t be easy, but you can do it, Padowan.

05/01/2011 (10:57 pm)

What Is Going On, Aaron?

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I’ve had a few emails these past weeks asking me what I’ve been up to and why I haven’t posted to my blog here in quite a while.  Long story short, I’m extremely busy.  Being a stay-at-home dad took its toll on my schedule, but that was just the beginning.  Big new opportunities and work have also hogged up my time.

Things are beginning to even out now, thanks to some changes here at home and a better schedule on my part.  I’ve also got some great projects going on that are right up my alley and will be both bank account and career boosters, I think.

First, I’m currently writing two books meant for electronic distribution (e-books).  They’ll be in the 50 page range.  The first is a disaster and emergency preparedness guide for those who are seeing the writing on the wall around them and now deciding they need to at least be ready for natural disasters and similar problems that will cut them off from the grocery store and maybe the electrical grid for a while.

That book will release in the next couple of weeks through my partners at Truth2America.com, where I’ve been named chief writer and will be starting a monthly preparedness newsletter soon.

The other is a guide to holistic health and wellness.  That will be a sort of beginner’s introduction to the concepts of holistic health and wellness and will release through the Health Freedom Network, where I’ve been named editor of their monthly newsletter as well as chief writer for the new website they’re putting together.  That book will likely be complete by the end of May.

I’m still writing for FutureCars.com and have been tasked with writing topic-specific articles there as well as on their affiliated website 10w40.com.

That’s all in addition to the usual ghost writing, editing, and other work I do. Plus my own websites: AaronsEnvironmental.com, GreenBigTruck.com, AboutAlternativeCars.com, HiddenHealthScience.com, FishyGameReviews.com, etc.

So life is busy, but good.  :)

03/22/2010 (10:15 am)

Writing as Therapy

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“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” –Lord Byron

Today, I’m going to step away from the business aspects of professional writing and look instead at another aspect of putting words to paper: as a theraputic.

Many writers, especially of personal journals and fiction, are tortured souls with a lot to deal with internally.  Hemingway would go into bouts of severe depression and usually come out the other side of it with a new novel.  Stephen King describes his writing as a “need” in the same way a heroin addict describes their habit.  Ann Frank likely found much solace in her enclosed, fearful world by putting pen to paper. Benjamin Franklin said:

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.”

Many psychologists and psychiatrists have realized the healing benefit of journal writing.  It’s also likely that many writers are drawn to the business of writing (especially fiction) as a means to vent or deal with their inner psyche. In fact, studies have shown that those who write on emotionally-difficult issues in their lives generally not only experience better well-being, but can actually become more physically fit as well.

Culturally, many peoples have noted the benefits of journal writing.  It’s encouraged amongst many cultures and religions world wide, including the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), in many public schools, amongst Jews, and in the Japanese culture.

So writing does have some great benefits beyond the business income and the learning and education that goes with it.  Remember that as you write your articles, website copy, personal journal, poetry, novel, and friendly emails.  Writing is communication and, as humans, we are all creatures of social interaction and putting words down is one way we do that.

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