Commentary: "How Do I Become You?"

A clean sheet of paper, a paradigm shift and chutzpah – these are the ingredients to being a good blogger.

Well…you asked. Or, at least I heard the question.

Recently, a social media page brought up an article on how to be an automotive journalist. It was indeed spot on in terms of the path one takes – when you are young – to go from scribbling posts on a Blogger site to becoming a Platinum level frequent flier with regular stops in Geneva, New York and Seoul – and a dispatch from your trip to boot.

If you are young, ambitious, want the byline that is read by millions of enthusiasts the world over and make a ton of cash doing so…do not read the following…

For starters, I am not young. I may look it, but…my birth certificate does not lie. Nor does my passport. I am almost 50…or, will be in February. My contemporaries already have established lives in this business, if not a day job that pays the bills to enable us to pursue this work.

We may have missed the boat, but that is only a perception. In my case, I always had the passion. I just needed to channel it somehow. Two-and-a-half years later, I am writing for three outlets (this one, included) and a few folks consider me pretty darn good amongst the Single-A automotive writers.

Maybe I will move up to Double-A. I am probably doing so already…who knows?

How I started is a bit of a journey that would take you from my bedroom at age 6, reading Motor Trend, to trying my hand at being pithy and astute in e-mails. I had the knack to write, but I always had something holding me back. Call it what you will – self-esteem, my upbringing, teasing from peers, class stratification, negative messaging…I believe that is enough here.

You always look for the breaks you could catch along the way. Until then, the craft must be worked on. You write until you understand how you are using the language of your pen. You read to gain the knowledge of grammar, context and language. You acquire knowledge of your subject matter to the point that you are soaking in it!

It is not dishwashing liquid! It is seeing the internal combustion engine torn down, understanding how it works and its impact on a vehicle. It is understanding all related subjects in your field – engineering, technology, physics, mathematics, science, art, design, ergonomics, business management, marketing, finance and metal shop. Understanding all of this may be a daunting task for the average person, but getting the basics down will help you get your head around the industry you want to write about.

There is one subject that I have a deep affection for – history. You must know where it all began and how it got to this point. The world was not created when Nissan introduced the first Skyline GT-R. You must go back further – before Herr Benz and Herr Daimler.

Now that you know everything – and can write at a college level of your chosen language – you can publish, right? No. Remember when you had the meeting with your professor on the all-important paper that stood between you and walking on the dais? What did he or she say? You must know how to edit! Deadlines are there to guide you through the process. One key stop along the way is the editing process. Take the time to read over your work. Look for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and so forth.

How hard can that be? It is very hard. Yet, it is a necessary evil you must do if you want to be successful in writing – any genre and form of writing.

Once you are under way, posting things here and there about cars, shows, executives, and other lovely bits about this field, you need to add another skill – photography! Not everyone has the money to hire a photographer to get the cool shot of a car you are writing about. You need to invest in your own equipment – something good enough to download online. Your mobile device is not going to cut it, I am afraid. You use that for your social media strategy – more on that later. A point-and-shoot works, for the time being.

This is why I have an older DSLR – also known as a digital single-lens reflex camera. It takes photos for online, social media and print publishing. The latter is why you might consider getting one, because you could end up in print somehow. Think of it as tool and an investment. You need to build your tool kit so you can go to work – and this is work!

The work will come, but you build up content and a portfolio for others to actually see. This is where your social media strategy comes into play. It used to be that you could reach out to someone via IRC or America Online and make the connection. It has all shrunk down to a mobile device. On any given device, you have Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Scruff, Growlr…no, scratch the last two.

The idea of using social media is two fold. There is the connection part, where your words connect with other like-minded people. Once you connect, you engage. You are the person "behind the mask" that is involved with Twitter conversations, and Facebook flame wars. Yet, you stay within the lines and keep composure using proper social media messaging and etiquette to defend your point.

Then, there is the promotional part. To drive traffic to your blog posts – and see if anyone salutes – you have post wherever possible. The catch is to balance "promotion" with "oversaturation." Do be careful when you post multiple times. Context is your friend, not auto-repeat.

But the best part of this job is the perks you attain as you grow in influence and relevance. As an automotive writer, the more followers, readers and site traffic you garner will enable you to gain access to influencer events and vehicle evaluations. Not everyone gets these perks. The ones that do should know the responsibility that earning these perks through experiential and participatory opportunities.

These perks are a privilege. They serve to advance your craft. If you do anything to put you in a position to lose it – people will know about it. A lot of people…

And, do not forget about the legalities of your trade. In my case, it is the Federal Trade Commission ensuring that I attribute the sources of the subjects and events I attended on their expense. Besides, lawyers are expensive and your lost reputation will cost even more.

However, to truly thrive doing this, you need to know the right people. These are the people who could make you – other writers of greater influence, readers with knowledge to exchange, subject matter experts who could open up doors to the next one, and key personnel at a target company you want to cover in your work. I had a mantra when I did some community work in the 1990s: "Network, network, network!" To do so, you will be able to know who to ask for the next story for information and resources in ensuring that you are indeed accurate with the words you use in the posting.

Remember, shyness may prevent you from getting that "right place, right time" moment to score big on your writing…but, over-enthusiasm will scare the living daylights of some folks…

In this station in this career, I am thankful for what I have accomplished in a relatively short time. The past two-and-a-half years yielded some perks that serve as points along the map towards even greater rewards.

If you consider that my professional writing life began at age 37, it serves as a reminder that, yes, you can self-publish your writing even at a much more advanced age than I. It is never too late to become influential. I always quote the late Aaliyah when it comes to age: "Age ain't nothing but a number/age ain't nothing but a thing!" You know she's right!

Lastly, I implore you to find your audience. If you need to find a niche – or, create one – you would be able to thrive doing so. There are people out there waiting to see if you are indeed the great new voice amongst the multitude who can influence and engage with the universe…

So, if you are looking to blog, to write, to find a gig that will give you a bigger stage, I conclude by imparting the words of the legendary RuPaul – "…and, don't fuck it up!"

Photo by Randy Stern

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  1. Really great post Randy and we couldn't agree more with some of the things you've written here.

    A lot of people think they can just start writing and "poof!" they are getting Ferraris, Aston Martins, and Bentleys to test drive. Unfortunately… it doesn't work like that! 🙂

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