subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

Things I told the wine bloggers conference about writing that got retweeted

5 comments

 

Well, the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference is over. Gus and I had a great time. I was on three panels and also was asked to make a few remarks during the farewell dinner, so I told the attendees that I felt a little like that Woody Allen character, Zelig, a human chameleon who seemed to show up everywhere.

One of the panels was on wine writing. As always with a crowd as social media savvy as the wine bloggers, some of my remarks immediately hit the twittersphere, where they got retweeted. Here are a couple of them that seemed to strike a chord, with comments by me.. I should explain that each of us panelists got thirteen 500-word essays pre-submitted by WBC attendees. We were asked to critique/comment on them.

What I said: “I’m appalled that people can graduate from high school in this country and not understand the proper use of the comma.” It wasn’t just the comma, it was the apostrophe, it was run-on sentences, it was just plain old bad grammar and punctuation. If you expect to be taken seriously for your writing, you can’t be committing those kinds of errors.

What I said: “People will always need guides when it comes to wine. Wine writing is essentially pedagogical.” There’s only one reason in the world why anyone would read anything a wine writer writes: They hope to learn something. Otherwise, why bother? So if you’re going to write about wine, you have to master something. It doesn’t have to be technical: the rainfall in the Médoc or something like that. You can master describing the countryside, or a raunchy after-hours party. But you have to master something. If you don’t, then don’t bother writing.

What I said: “Write from the heart. Wine writing isn’t P.R.” The puffy-fluffy hyperbolic writing of many of the submissions blew my mind. Just about every entry suffered from it. “The perfect summer sipper,” “Don’t miss the [whatever], “not to be missed,”  things like that. I told the attendees, “Don’t make your writing sound like a brochure for a Princess Cruise Line, or an article from Sunset Magazine.” Writing is the soul’s blood. If you’re going to write about wine, you have to bleed on the page.

What I said: “If you have a book in you, write it, sweat it out, make it beautiful—even if it never gets published.” A book is “long-form” writing, as opposed to a blog post or, even worse, a tweet. To be able to construct the perfect sentence—and then go on to the perfect paragraph—and then link paragraphs together, like pearls on a necklace, until you have 50,000 or 100,000 perfect words: That is the most beautiful experience a writer can aspire to, even if no one ever reads it.

Not everything the professional wine writer writes is Nobel prizeworthy. We all do what we have to do. But the aspiration: that’s the thing.

This was my third or fourth Wine Bloggers Conference, and I always come away impressed by the passion and ambition of the bloggers. I told them that there are many, many different ways to use writing in the wine business. If you’re working for, say, Kermit Lynch and writing for the newsletter, that’s one thing; if you’re writing articles for Wine Enthusiast, that’s another thing, if you’re newspaper syndicated, that’s a third thing; if you’re an independent critic, you play by your own rules. So there’s no one way of writing that’s appropriate for every job a blogger might eventually get.

But good grammar and punctuation are imperative for any writing. I suggested they read Hugh Johnson: such a lovely writer. Alexis Lichine, too. Michael Broadbent, Harry Waugh, Professor Saintsbury. They had passion, knowledge and the desire to record it in words—and were great writers. You don’t have to write like them; but you do have to write as well as them; or, at least, that should be the goal.

 

  1. Rick Longoria says:

    I would also include Gerald Asher in your list of great writers.

  2. Yes, Rick, you’re right. My oversight. The great Gerald Asher.

  3. Excellent advice for all writers, Steve, no matter the topic!

  4. Bob Henry says:

    I’ve cited this “op-ed” piece before, and today’s blog entry lends itself to a repeat.

    Excerpts from the Los Angeles Times “Op-Ed” Section
    (February 10, 2012, Page A19):

    “Syntax? Logic? Why?”

    Link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2012-02-10/on-web-no-one-cares-if-you-write-like-a-dog-commentary-by-michael-kinsley.html

    By Michael Kinsley
    Bloomberg View columnist

    It’s been going on for too long, right before our eyes. Inevitably, someone was going to blow the whistle, and wouldn’t you know it would be Felix Salmon, the famous financial blogger for Reuters?

    . . .

    Nothing, though, prepared me for the dazzling brilliance of Felix’s blog item this week [February 2012] about the quality of writing on the Internet. . . . But his basic point is that on the Web, sheer quantity trumps quality. . . .

    . . .

    [Too many blogs are devoid of] . . . all aspects of good writing — accuracy, logic, spelling, graceful turns of phrase, wisdom and insight, puns (only good ones), punctuation, proper grammar and syntax (and what’s the difference between those two again?) . . .

    . . .

    . . . Now one of our nation’s leading bloggers has confessed what we all suspected: that bad writing is inherent to the online world. . . .

  5. One of the missing links here is that published writers have an editor, while many(most?) bloggers do not. I have seen many unedited pieces, on their way to publication, in need of commas and the like.

    That is the role of the editor. Not to say the writer shouldn’t exercise all their strength to know an “its” from an “it’s” ( my Achilles heel). It’s just that the published writer has that net.

Leave a Reply


six − = 4

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives