Friday, August 7, 2015

Tweeting and Teaching

(Most of) the BBC15 Attendees
Photo courtesy of Ryan Jansen

First of all, thanks so much for everyone's support and encouragement for my renewed efforts to update my blog. I've gotten a lot of great feedback, and it helps knowing that people actually do read what I write here.

Today's post is the second of my contractually obligated posts in exchange for attending the Beer Blogger's and Writer's Conference for a deeply reduced rate. Last week, I discussed two breweries in Asheville that made a great impression on my during my visit. This week, I wanted to talk about two events that I was involved in during the conference itself.

The Liveblogging event is always a fun one (see my report from last year and the year before) - breweries circulate to different tables and have five minutes to present their beer. Or in this case, this year, beers, plural. I was pretty vocal at the time about not being a fan of breweries pouring and talking about two, and in some cases, three beers. I mean, FIVE MINUTES IS NOT A LONG TIME, even for one beer. Pour the beers for 8-10 people, talk about the beer, talk about the brewery, take questions. DING! On to the next table, on to the next beer.

So that was right out of the gate. And next up....

I liked the Innovation stuff, and I almost didn't mind that they brought two (ALMOST!) because they were very different than each other.

I had a nice run of single beer rounds up next:

Alas, the respite didn't last.

So, fun times, although a bit overwhelming in spots.

The other session which impacted my greatly was the presentation I got to co-lead with Florida writer Gerard Walen. His original co-presenter had to cancel, so I was asked to fill in for the "Improving Your Beer Writing." The description was:
No matter what else you do well, if you want to be accepted as a beer writer you better have high quality writing. Hear from Gerard Walen, the author of "Florida Breweries", founding editor of, and a former business editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Nora McGunnigle, author at NOLA Beer Blog and full-time professional beer writer. This session will go beyond writing 101 to talk about techniques for reviewing beers and describing brewing culture.

Since I only had a few days to prep, I focused on talking about my own writing process. Here are some of my bon mots:

  • The key to improving your writing is: understand what your story is, how you want to tell it, and who you want to tell it to. 
  • How do you do that? It’ll be different for all of you, but the steps I go through on a daily basis help me to find the answer to that, and give me a way to frame the question. 
  • In order to be a good beer writer, you need to know what’s going on in your beer community - local and national. What are they doing? Who are they talking to? What do they want? How can you provide that?
  • When you pitch, be confident, but not arrogant. You know your stuff, but you need to convince whoever you’re pitching to that you know your stuff. You do not want to convince them that you’re an asshole. Probably. Pay attention to the tone and demographics of the publication you’re pitching to and incorporate that. Do your homework.
  • Edit, edit, edit, edit. I use the sculpture model of writing and editing. Usually my first draft is at least 40-50% over my assigned word count, and I just chisel down until the shape of the story takes form.
  • Have someone you trust take a look at your draft and encourage them to make comments and edits. It’s the first person reading the words coming out of your brain, and it’s an important jump, bringing it out into the world.
  • When you do get edits to your work, don’t be a baby. The editor knows who the magazine is geared for, and their input, 9 times out of 10, can only make your article stronger. Your words are not special snowflakes. Sometimes you have to be brutal and let them go.
  • And now you have to do it all over again. In fact, you probably have at least four of these cycles happening in varying degrees for various publications. And it can be a grind, but as long as you’re staying true to the stories you want to tell, and you believe in your work and your words to make a positive difference in your world, there’s nothing more satisfying than that.
  • In conclusion, Neil Gaiman said once, “People keep working, in a freelance world, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They'll forgive the lateness of the work if it's good, and if they like you. And you don't have to be as good as the others if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.”
I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to present all these deeeeeeeep thoughts with fellow writers, even if they seem cheesy. Folks seem to have liked it though. I also, despite all my complaining that the breweries were trying to kill me, enjoyed the liveblogging.

Good times... good times.

Next year, Tampa!

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