My first published article appeared in a snowboard magazine called Adrenalin.
I read the magazine for months to get my head around their style, and timed my submission carefully: Summer is a sparse season for snowboard rags looking to fill pages, when they are more likely to give newb writers a chance.
I wrote a piece about the frustration felt by snowboarders in Summer waiting for Europe’s winter to roll around, stuck it on a 3.5 inch floppy disk (illustrating how old I am and how long ago this was), and posted it to the editor. There followed an agonizing wait of several weeks before I received an acceptance letter, and a cheque for £100.
That day remains one of the happiest of my life, because I have always wanted to write for a living, and that was the first step.
The days of seeking an editor’s acceptance before your work can be read by the masses are long gone: A few clicks can secure you a free blogging account with WordPress or Tumblr. Post your stories to Facebook and Twitter, and you have a potential audience as large as your friends list. As it has with so many other things, the web democratises publishing, in the form of blogging, and throws it open to everyone.
Bartenders make great bloggers
Bartenders are well suited to blogging. They are experimenters and knowledge seekers, meaning they often have something interesting to say. They tend to be outgoing and articulate, meaning they tell a good story. And they are part of a huge, global network of like minds – An article posted to Facebook can race around the world in hours and be read by thousands.
If you are reading this, you are likely considering your own cocktail blog. As such, you will put considerable thought into the following questions:
- What blogging platform should I use?
- Should I self-host, or accept an @wordpress.com domain?
- What theme should I use for my blog? Are the free ones good enough or should I buy a premium one?
- What camera should I use to ensure I get good cocktail shots?
- What shall I call my blog?
The first thing you need to do to ensure yours is a good cocktail blog with a loyal following is to forget all of these things for now.
Instead, put all of your energy into the question: Is my writing any good?
This may sound harsh, but unless you have had some training, or unless writing is something you love and have always done, there’s a fair chance your first articles will suck.
And if you populate your blog with poorly written articles, no matter how great it looks, readers won’t come back. Having been burned once, they stay burned – when your links pop up on Facebook, readers won’t click because they were unimpressed the first time.
The lesson to be learned from this is: Get your writing up to scratch before you publish, or risk losing your audience.
Anyone can learn to write well
The truth is, anyone can learn to write well. Many people think that good writing is built around correct punctuation and grammar – knowing a verb from an adverb. But this isn’t the case. Good, engaging writing comes from the author’s voice, and the rhythm of their words. The good news is, you already have a voice – the one you use every day. And this voice has a natural rhythm.
The most important thing a new writer can learn to do is write as they speak.
“The cocktail competition started and John went first, and he looked a bit nervous. He was making a Martini, and he used Beefeater Gin and Martini Dry Vermouth and his garnish was a lime twist. He got the Martini glass from his Grandmother and he asked the judges to be careful with it.”
No-one speaks like this. Write about the same event as you would speak about it, and the paragraph becomes:
“The comp kicked off late, as usual. John was up first, and he had a proper case of the competition shakes. He knocked up a Martini for his classic drink with Beefeater, Martini Extra Dry and a lemon twist, and served it to the judges in a vintage glass he found at his Nan’s house.”
The second paragraph sounds like a person you would probably go for a beer with. The first paragraph sounds like the intense nutter on the tube who wants to be your best friend.
Write drunk. Edit sober.
People who don’t write regularly often put on their ‘posh voice’ when they sit at a keyboard. They feel uncomfortable expressing themselves in writing and fixate on sounding ‘proper’, which leads to stilted prose. Ernest Hemmingway was talking about this phenomenon when he said: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”
Of course, you don’t have to be drunk to write well, but you should stop worrying about how you are saying something, and just say it.
Hemmingway’s other great quote on the subject of writing is: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
By this he means once you have spewed out a flood of words, drunk or otherwise, it will probably need some polishing before it is ready for an audience. This is best done a couple of days after the first draft is finished, as fresh eyes will help you identify any clunky sections. At this stage, don’t be afraid to cut out passages that feel wrong; quite often tricky paragraphs that you struggle to perfect won’t ever work because they shouldn’t be there.
Once your second draft is ready, show it to someone you trust to be honest in giving feedback. Ask them to be brutal, and take it on the chin when they are. A new perspective will often spot problems you would have overlooked, especially if they occur in parts of the piece of which you are especially proud.
Go through this entire process with your first two or three articles, before publishing anything. It is at this stage, when you have your launch copy ready to go, that you can turn your attention to the other things that need to be done: choosing a name, blogging platform etc. confident that once your site goes live, the content will be top notch and your new readers will come back time and again.
Most local colleges run ‘introduction to creative writing’ courses, which are generally quite cheap, and there are a ton of learning resources on the web that can help you quickly improve your writing. However, if time and money stand in the way of taking a course, these few ideas could help the freshman writer:
- Write about how things make you feel – You aren’t a news reporter covering a court case, so you don’t need to include every minute detail in your blogs. For example, if you are writing about a bar, by all means describe what it looks like, but also spend some time describing what it feels like to be there. This makes for much more evocative copy than dry, factual description, and is better suited to vibrant subjects like cocktails and bars.
- Read all the time – Read as great a variety of material as possible, and make notes about things you like or dislike. This will help you identify styles of writing you enjoy and would like to emulate.
- Be honest – Readers can smell a phony opinion a mile away, however be sensible when approaching controversial subjects.
- Never publish anything as soon you finish writing it – Wait at least a day, then edit your work with fresh eyes. There will be lots of mistakes you missed the night before.
- Enjoy your writing – If you didn’t enjoy writing it, there’s little chance your readers will enjoy reading it. Just take a look at one of the rehashed-press-release articles on this or any other booze website. Sometimes we have to publish them, and they stick out like a sore thumb.
- Read this. It’s geared towards writing fiction, but there’s stuff to be learned by a cocktail blogger too: http://chuckpalahniuk.net/features/essays/13-writing-tips