MONTE DUTTON – SO YOU WANT TO WRITE ABOUT RACING?
As bad as the business is overall, journalism is somewhat promising for the young. In part, this is because most of the vets such as I have been retired, bought out and otherwise given offers we couldn’t refuse. Another reason for youthful promise is the fact that management can hire you for less money.
Lots of people begin writing or taking photos because they love racing and want a job that takes them to races.
From time to time, back when I was traveling the NASCAR circuit, someone would ask me, “Hey, how can I get a job doing what you do?”
My first thought was, how does he know what I do? Then I’d realize my hard card, identifying me as media, was still attached to my shirt because I’d forgotten to remove it when I left the track. The guy asking the question would be behind a counter, sometimes a convenience store, sometimes a restaurant. Sometimes he was a waiter. Occasionally, he was a she.
I had a standard reply.
“It’s been my experience,” I’d say, “that the best way to learn how to write is … to read.”
“Oh, man, really?”
You’d think I’d told him he had to take cough syrup and dip his skint knee in a tub of merthiolate.
Lots of people write about racing, or want to, because they love racing, not writing, and, if so, that is eventually going to be a limitation.
On the other hand, John Grisham is a bit overqualified for writing about a Saturday-night, dirt-track feature for a trade paper. Doing that will teach a young scribe all sorts of lessons he wouldn’t get studying English literature at Soda Pop State.
For instance, I didn’t major in journalism. My alma mater didn’t offer journalism. I was pre-law and even got accepted to law school … twice … three years apart. I had this problem. After preparing to be a lawyer for four years, I disliked lawyers. I loved writing. People claimed I was good at it. If I’d have practiced law for the past 30 years, I’m satisfied I’d be more prosperous today.
But a man can’t look back. I had a good run. It was a decent racket for quite a while. Ultimately, the reason I became a sportswriter is the reason I live in Clinton, S.C. Over time, I’ve determined it was all I was fit to do.
When I started, it was hard to get into racing as a writer. Most of those who occupied the NASCAR slot in a paper’s staff were veterans who had done it for years and would do it for years more. My first newspaper job as a racing beat writer was part-time, but I had followed the sport for almost my entire life, and I figured I could use this knowledge to elevate my career by specializing.
I was right. I did it for 20 years. Then newspapers started declining, and racing started declining, and I started declining.
Many racing writers don’t last too long. They seek more money than the job will pay. Money is not a good reason to become a writer. Some go into public relations. I started in PR. I just discovered, quite convincingly, that I was too hardheaded for that gig.
Don’t become a writer if you’re fit to do anything else. That sounds like a major bummer, but what I really mean is that you’ve got to have a burning desire to get as close as possible to the truth based on what people tell you the truth is.
Many writers make it too complicated. Just go somewhere and write what you see. Every year. Every day. Every hour. It’s a little like taking the college board. Do the best you can do in the amount of time allotted. Writing, like most everything else, is an art of the possible.
I love it. Love isn’t necessary in return.