On writing…

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Alec Latham
The context:
 
I am in awe of some beer writers and they’re as varied and personal as the beer styles they scribe about. What I love is that writing about beer has become such a widespread phenomenon that the bar is constantly being raised. Unfortunately, this also means that there’s ever more competition to beat and to judge your own abilities by. 
 
On July 14th this year, I’ll have been in full time employment for twenty years since plunging in at eighteen – unfortunately my job has nothing to do with beer or writing. It was seeing this anniversary hove into view at the end of 2014 that spurred me to finally start writing and I’ve been keeping it up ever since. I used to be good at writing back in school so hoped I could still churn a readable paragraph. I was thrilled to get published by Hop & Barley in my capacity as an essay writer and later by doing Moor Beer taste comparisons. I’ll also be published in CAMRA’s beer magazine later in the year. 
 
I should make something quite clear right at this point – I don’t really know what I’m doing but I care deeply about the fact I’m doing it. I stopped going to school at fifteen and my highest qualification is my driving licence. I crave to be better at writing. I want it to be as beautiful as Kernel brewery’s Biere de Saison. I hope my passion goes some way to making up for my lack of training.
 
The field:
 
There’s plenty to consider if you want to write for an audience. First and foremost, how do readers even know you exist? Assuming the audience gets as far as seeing what you’ve written as a website link, how do you actually hold its attention? I apply this to how I read others’ work. What I read on the computer is different to what I’ll read on a smart phone because of the format.  Longer posts will suffer on a phone screen as they’re forced into a narrower vertical channel but be under no doubt – the smartphone is now the primary vector for written articles.
 
Des De Moor writes about beer but also about walking and I will stay with him through a 5000 word post even though (pun completely intended) it’s a trek. But I still need to wait until I get back home and fire up the computer for him. 
 
Short posts of several paragraphs are more likely to be read from start to finish so I can easily manage pub curmudgeon whilst standing at a bar. Personally, I like to write substantial posts because there’s a lot I want to get down. Retrospectively, I hope I learn a tiny lesson each time.
 
I’d like it if someone was suggesting ways I might improve this short post right now. What I need is someone to tell me when only I find something I’ve written funny or when I’m rambling, going off on a pointless tangent, splitting paragraphs apart or misguidedly forcing others together. I need to know what the reader thinks and at what point I cease to be original, make sense or merit its attention.
 
The solution:
 
I don’t believe I’m alone in wanting this kind of feedback as us writers want to be read and remembered. We want to improve our game. This is why I’ve set up a London-based group through the website Meetup called The London Beer Writers. It’s been a slow start but if you are London-based or London-centric (I live in St Albans) and would like constructive feedback about your writing, please join it – it’s completely free.
 
 
It works like this: We meet up in a quiet pub with a good beer range and bring our written work on laptops or printed out. However many there are, we offer our work in a circular way round the table so if there were four of us, we’d take the member’s work from the left and give ours to the right. We’d then repeat this so everyone’s work had been seen by every other member. Each time we’d make notes about what we think (constructively of course) and when everybody’s read everyone else’s work, we offer our feedback to the writers one by one. This way we can get a better insight into our strengths and weaknesses and exploit and address them respectively. 
 
If our thoughts are dry, I’ll supply a paper with little questions to get some responses coming. Above all, I’d like to help you and learn from you. So how about it?
 

 

After that, we relax with a few beers. It is after all what motivates us 😉

3 Comments

  1. Hey Alec.
    I ve put aside some un-interrupted time to have a good look at your blog. Very interesting what you say about writing, feedback, your motivations. I suppose the same might be extended to many creative endeavours. We all crave honest feedback. I suppose people who get a lot of feedback then have to struggle deciding what is good, constructive feedback and what is just hot air. Not all feedback is equal, I guess. So take the below for what it’s worth… I m no writer.

    So in no specific order:
    – structurally: short sentences – always a favourite of mine and a method (perhaps misguided and certainly not fool-proof) I use to determine quality writing.
    – flow: even through your digressions, one feels the flow of consciousness. It is engaging to communicate with (or be communicated to by) a clear, structured mind.
    – personal: one gets a style, a sense of humour, which is also engaging. Perhaps a few personal anecdotes would make it even more engaging? Or is that just pandering to a day and age where people put too much focus on the way things are said, rather than the content of the message? In any case, I know this is advice Colin Latham received from his publisher.
    – language: yeah full marks there. I even learned a couple of new words. Not even used in a pedantic way, although beware that trap.
    – smileys: unnecessary, in my mind. Even in a digital format.
    – content: well it is a blog and not a manifesto, so I guess digressions are the norm. But have you tried writing something really enagaged, political? (Doesn’t have to be about politics). Just a thought.
    – swearing: why the fuck haven’t I read a single swearword? Could be fun, from time to time. Just a thought.
    – about beer: I’m no beer expert either, although I’ve consumed the stuff for years. The descriptions about tastes etc really brings it home. As close as one can get without actually sampling the stuff. So full marks on that. Do you know anything about Austrian beer? I could tell you a whole lot about that, although mostly anecdotes about HOW people drink it here, kinda anthropological musings about how people drink it in different cultures. Maybe a theme for some future entry? Has anything been written on that topic? Probably yes. You would make a good case study! Austrian beer itself: a bit un-inspiring, though beer culture is huge and every small town has its brewery. Dark beer is a totally different product to anything I’ve sampled elsewhere. Usually very sweet. A bit of an acquired taste.
    – Now I’m digressing: would a vaguely scientific / philosophical piece on the nature of taste, “is my red your red?” be an idea for a future entry? Just a thought.

    Cheers!

    • Thanks David.
      A lot of water’s gone under the bridge (to use a metaphor that has stretch marks) since I wrote that post. The group I set up lasted six months and I met some good people but half the time nobody would turn up. In fact, that post was written in a pub called the Craft Beer Co in Islington after two members I was expecting to meet didn’t appear. I met an author, a brewer, a civil servant and a plastic surgeon who was a nymphomaniac.
      It’s very difficult to find angles on beer that haven’t been written about before but I’m determined to hunt them down.
      I agree with all your points apart from the one about smileys – they’re always a sign of intelligence and originality.

      • 🙂
        good to hear from you Alec.
        you are welcome to come and stay with us in Vienna anytime. Beer would naturally be on the menu.

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