The automotive writing profession is, near as I can figure, almost as good as it gets, career-wise, if you’re a gearhead. You get to see and do all sort of car enthusiast-y things, and then write about them for other car enthusiast-y types to enjoy.
But occasionally – because the editor thinks there’s some need for it, or because she got an invite to an event and didn’t want to turn it down – you’ll get handed an assignment that’s more, well, boring than it may be fun.
I’m talking about articles like: a how-to on routine car maintenance; an explainer regarding how OEMs work behind the scenes; or basically anything about the Toyota Corolla.
(Don’t get me wrong—some people enjoy writing and reading this sort of stuff, and it can be made fun. That’s kind of the point I’ll make here.)
I recently handed out two assignments I knew ran the risk of being relatively boring but hoped the writers would turn out something decent from them: a major manufacturer’s drive event focusing on one of its specific pieces of tech; and a piece on how OEs determine whether auto show attendees end up buying their cars.
Though the latter subject can be about as dry as a Eucharist cracker in an Arizona drought, our writer Alex Posadzki ended up summarizing it in into an insightful little piece. (Ignore my crappy headline.)
Her writing was concise and carried you through the topic at an even pace. It is of course targeted to audiences interested in the automotive industry, but even for general readers, it’s an interesting behind-the-scenes piece that you likely won’t even realize stretches 1,300 words.
The drive event could have been similarly made into a brisk history of a brand and its tech, but instead turned into (in this editor’s opinion) a dud. The writing tripped over itself and felt drawn out and dull.
I ended up killing it (not publishing it and offering the writer a smaller compensatory fee for the effort), the first time I’ve done something like that since taking the role of editor in January.
In the hands of the right writer, most (I don’t want to say “any”) subjects can be made into a decent story. (Other writing grads, this is your cue to reference Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” an incredible 1966 full-length profile on Ol’ Blue Eyes written without ever talking to the man.)
It can’t always be done, and it’s not always easy, but when it’s done, it’s really something.