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Changing a Life

"At the age of 31, the purpose of this email is to ask you about the possibility of becoming a motoring journalist."

by Julian Edgar

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The purpose of this email was to ask you about the possibility of becoming a motoring journalist. Perhaps you have 20 emails a week asking the same question! I don’t know...

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you for a job. I’m looking for some advice from a person that in my eyes, tells it how it is.

I have been working in the automotive industry for almost half my lifetime. I’ve held various technical roles in the automotive industry over that time and currently hold a management role with the [manufacturer deleted] group.

I am not a journalist nor am I an engineer.

It’s fair to say I have always thoroughly enjoyed researching and creating in my own working and personal life, without seriously considering the possibility of myself researching  and writing a published print or web media article.

Still, at age 31, it’s something that is increasingly nagging at me and feels ‘right’, despite the uncertainty associated with working in the field.

Any advice you have would be great. With your experience, what do you recommend? Follow where my heart is taking me, or get the hell out while I still can?!?

Is this an industry these days, that with hard work and persistence, can be cracked? I would love to know your opinion.

I believe some form of journalism study is an absolute must; perhaps you could make a recommendation in this area also?

Thanks for your time Julian, sorry for the life story!

Good!

You are thinking of changing your life direction. That is good; many people just go on doing the same thing day after day, without conscious thought as to where their life is headed. Marriage occurs, kids are born, houses are bought... time passes.

People get utterly lost in the day-to-day minutiae of their lives, believing that they are facing challenges where none really exist, believing that they are fulfilled while at the same time looking and behaving as if they’ve lost any gusto for life. They surround themselves with peers who do not strive, people with whom a comfortable, non-threatening relationship is formed that reinforces their life direction.

To achieve change in your life, you’re going to have to work hard and to have the resilience to cope with failure – failure not just over the short term, but very likely over the medium term. To make a change in your life’s work direction, you’ll also need the determination to do two jobs at once – your current job, the one that pays money, and another job – the one that you’re trying to build.

If the thought of failure appals you, or the thought of doing nearly twice as much work as you’re currently doing – and for no extra pay – is utterly daunting, don’t start the change. In my life I have seen only a few people who dramatically changed their work direction. Two I remember were teachers with whom I worked. One did an economics degree while building engines on the line at Mitsubishi; the other was a house painter who in the evenings completed a Bachelor of Science degree.

To change as you are proposing requires an unambiguous commitment. Not an “Oh, yes, I think I might have a go at becoming a motoring journalist” (or a teacher, or an engineer, etc), but an “I am going to give myself two years to become a published motoring writer”. You will also need the commitment of your life partner and anyone else around you. If these people are unconvinced, life just became harder for you.

Plans and Goals

You need a plan – a plan with goals. Short-term goals might be to ring and talk with the editors of five different publications and then to submit two pieces of writing a month for publication. Those pieces of writing can be as simple as ‘letters to the editor’. A medium term goal might be to get one or two of your pieces published in the first year – but without payment. A longer term goal might be to get four pieces of writing published in the second year, paid for at commercial rates.

Or you might take a different path. You might decide to do some study, for example a Certificate in Writing. A certificate will take about a year part-time and will involve doing some writing pieces, writing that you could also aim to submit to publications. A certificate can also grow into an Associate Diploma, and then a Diploma. (About five years ago I did a Graduate Diploma in Journalism at the University of Southern Queensland – this is an external course that I thought excellent.)

Always aim to develop formal qualifications in any work area you pursue; when you change work direction, the presence of the formal qualifications shows that you can learn as an adult (many people stop learning as they grow older), and that you achieved a level of competence that was formally recognised. The only people who say ‘qualifications don’t matter’ are those that have none.

Getting Started

So how did I get started? My first published material comprised photos in a ‘junior photographer’ competition run in a photography magazine. They were published when I was about 17 or 18 and gave me a lot of confidence. I then decided to submit some full-length feature articles to that magazine; my first was on how to photograph shipping ports and my second on taking pics at airports. One was rejected, the other published. (The one that was rejected I then sent to an opposition magazine that published it.)

This work was done when I was studying to be a teacher; over this time I think perhaps three or four articles a year were published. I then got a job as a school teacher and (1) lost interest in photography, and (2) was so busy being a new teacher that I wouldn’t have had time to write anything anyway!

After about four or five years of being a teacher I decided to write some articles about my new interest – cars. I wrote humour (or what I thought was humour) and about technical ideas like power and torque - in fact about all sorts of automotive things.

Every article was rejected.

For about two years every article I wrote (perhaps ten or twelve) was rejected by every publication to which they were sent.

It was depressing, it was frustrating and it was demoralising. Especially since I was already a published freelance, what was I doing wrong? Some editors sent back feedback (most didn’t) but since my writing was all over the place, feedback on one article wasn’t any good in setting the direction for other articles.

The breakthrough, when it came, was by chance. Increasingly frustrated by researching a topic, writing about it, submitting it – and then having it rejected, I decided instead to write about things that interested me, things that I was actually doing.

I had modified my Commodore VL Turbo - then a near-new car – and wrote a story about what I’d done. It was accepted and published in a Commodore magazine. I was fascinated by car aerodynamics and did a lot of reading on the topic. I was teaching myself the subject, and so when I decided to write about it for a submitted magazine article, the writing was vivid and enthusiastic. A magazine bought a two-part series on car aerodynamics.

The magazine that bought the car aero series subsequently bought a lot of my stories. With that exposure, I was then able to sell a major series on car electronic systems – another topic I taught myself – to an electronics magazine.

I was still a school teacher – and had been for eight years – but my interest in teaching, while still strong, was becoming much less the driving force in my life. When I was asked to change schools, I decided instead to resign and work full time as a freelance automotive journalist. By this stage I had good contacts with perhaps ten different print magazine editors and was selling many articles.

The electronics magazine contact led to the establishment of a new car magazine of which I was editor. The amount of freelance material I’d been selling over the previous years meant that I could negotiate an excellent salary. But after two years, the magazine was sold to a new publisher and my job finished. I went back to freelancing for a short period before I approached a web publisher and this site began.

Nowadays, some twelve years later, writing about cars takes up only a small part of my life. Just as I was once very interested in photography, then loved teaching Geography, then became interested in cars, my career is now moving in a quite different direction. I think after doing the one thing for eight or ten or twelve years, the challenge diminishes and it is time to move on.

So your question on how to change work life direction is absolutely relevant to me – it’s what I am doing this week, this month, this year.

Flexibility

An important aspect of achieving change is flexibility. Goals are fine but goals can only be set within the context of your existing knowledge. As your knowledge grows, it’s likely that the goals need to change. As part of my career change, I set myself the goal of gaining a job in Canberra. I achieved that goal, only to find that working at executive level in the Australian Public Service was not a role I enjoyed. So I resigned: in this situation better to say ‘goal achieved – but it was the wrong goal’ than to say ‘goal achieved – good’.

You are more likely to achieve your goals if you set them within the context of your life experience. How can your work experience, your qualifications, your skills be integrated into realisable goals? Are you a determined individual, something that is demonstrable in what you have already achieved in life? Are you a ‘people person’, at ease in social situations and in getting to know new people? Can you take photos? Do you present well in face-to-face meetings, over the phone, in emails? Are you the sort of person who can teach themselves ideas, or do you need structured external tutorage?

The answers to these questions aren’t positive or negative; they’re simply things to consider when setting goals.

Always strive on a number of levels. Think strategically about where things are going and what ‘big picture’ approaches will work best. But at the same time, work down to a fine level of granularity, where for example your work is proof-read numerous times and so has no errors. Don’t lose the wood for the trees; if no-one buys your work it doesn’t matter how brilliant it is – it ain’t gonna make you a living.

Stay true to your beliefs – if you are living a lie how can you ever be happy? I could never have worked as an editor (or even full-time journalist) on any of the mainstream car magazines owned by major publishers. (In my role as editor, my employers have always given me absolute editorial freedom – something that has been wonderful.) I have in the past chosen to walk away from an arrangement that was earning money for my writing and photography – better to continue to hold my head high than to, excuse the language, be fucked over by someone who thought they could exploit me.

Do It

My final words are these: go where your heart leads you, to new fields of endeavour, to challenges (and hardships and effort), to success, excitement and happiness.

Follow Julian Edgar at www.julianedgar.com

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