Thursday, 10 January 2013

Wine writing rightly or wrongly

I entered the Gourmet Traveler (GT) Wine magazine competition for 2013.  While excited to do so, I was also hesitant and did not completely decide to enter until three days ago when I made my submission.

I write about wine for myself as much as I do a broader audience.  I find it helps to organize and remember my thoughts about wine and I enjoy the writing experience anyway.  I am thrilled to have a good following for SAZ in the Cellar which continues to grow and am appreciative of the good feedback I get as a 'great wine story teller.'

Each blog post takes about an hour to write with about half that time going into the initial draft content writing and the other half to establish links, find a suitable picture and to proof and edit.  Some blog posts take as much as two hours and I believe one even took four!  But in general, it is about an hour.  And I now have well over 100 posts in less than a year.  There is enough content there that I might even try to make a collection or book out of it.

However, to enter the competition, I needed to follow the competitions rules (which were not many nor onerous BTW), and I felt constrained in doing so for two main reasons.  The first is the upper limit of 1,000 words.  When I start writing, I do so without constraint to the number of words.  I focus on defining an article that I think will be educational and interesting.  It may end up at 500 words or it may end up at 3,000 words if I feel more detail is interesting and justifiable.  Had I written my competition entry as a blog post, I expect it would have been about 2,500 - 3,000 words and I probably would have actually turned it into a 3-part or 4-part blog series with about 750 words each.

The second constraint was that it need to be interesting to both wine buffs and also to people who are newly gaining an appreciation for wine.  Fortunately, I believe I have a entry that accomplished that, but I could only quickly come up with one topic where that worked, even though I thought about it for several weeks.  For blogging and not caring about the level of audience expertise, I don't really target a topic to a particular  audience.  I figure that the audience will find me and read the post if they are interested.  But if you are writing commercially, you need to be conscious of the 'real estate' you are consuming in a magazine and make sure it is being used effectively to sell more magazines!  Therefore, both the number of words and audience reach are extremely important.

I had the interesting experience during writing for the competition that it seemed more like a job than a passion and I felt pressure to write my article 'commercially correct' (or 'rightly' as I say in the title!).  And that raised a concern or at least a caution for me. 

Many of us are often seduced by the idea of making a career out of our hobbies and passions.  We love to cook, so why not do it full-time and become a restauranteur?  Or if we love to fish, why not become a fishing guide so we can fish all the time?  Etc., etc., etc.!  But what happens when we treat our passion as a job or a career?  Well, for starters, we need to be focused and concerned about what our clients want to accomplish, not what we want to accomplish (and that is usually far less interesting to us!).  And secondly, we need to understand and manage it like a business.  And what I found happens in such situations is the passion drains away.

Dining room set I refinished in Graduate School and used for 30 years!

All my life, I have had a love and appreciation for timber and wood products.  Early on, I would refinish furniture and had the pleasure of enjoying using it day-in, day-out.  Then I got into wood turning and then making wood furniture.  I love the Australian and New Zealand hardwoods and have been working with them since 1988.  Then in 2000, when I tried to retire, I thought I could turn 'working with wood' from a hobby and a past-time into a profession.  In trying to do so, I found out several things:
  • What I could make financially  in 52 weeks of wood turning was the same amount I could make in 6 weeks of consulting.  Additionally, instead of turning what I wanted, I would need to turn what people wanted to buy, which would mean I was cranking out salad bowl sets and bed posts - not something I was really interested in!
  • A large capital investment was required to do the volume I would require and that combined with my skills disadvantage (to people who have been in the field all their life) meant I would be un-competitive
But what I learned the most was that when I treated it as a business, my passion drained away.  What I had enjoyed about the creative aspects and being an artisan were now replaced by managerial and administrative tasks.

Therefore, I am hesitant to turn my love of wine into a business, even just the business of writing about wine.  It may drain my passion for tasting and enjoying the wine lifestyle and I definitely do not want that to happen.  I will take it slowly, continue to blog, possibly write some short stories or a regular column if given the chance, and possibly do some teaching or being the Master of Ceremony for some corporate wine functions.  If that happens, that will be great.  But I am not going to push it because I know if I do, that I will lose my passion for wine the way I did for working with wood and I would not want that to occur!

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