What's distilled and what remains
Reflection on writing about drinks or anything else
Writing is rewriting. Getting fresh words onto a blank screen or page is merely the first step in a long process. Unless you're some sort of genius, any decent written work requires going over at least a couple of times. It's in this tweaking and tightening that you get to what you really want to say.
So you sit and you type or you write by hand, you get that first draft out however you have to. Then you let it rest and come back with fresh eyes and a hardened heart. You assess and revise and slowly build your way up to something good.
In the final piece all that work — sometimes hours and hours of it, hundreds of tiny decisions — is invisible. Like French polishing, the more skilled you are the less sign of your efforts are left behind.
Then it goes off into the ether and you're left with nothing.
If you're lucky it takes on a new life as others read it. More so if they share it and talk about it. Meanwhile back at your desk this thing you've worked so hard on for so long is gone, like a child sent off to university, one that doesn't call home as much as you'd like. There may still be files lurking on a hard drive, like dirty clothes discarded under the bed, but that's not the same. It's not the finished article. Perhaps you never really own that.
Lately I've taken up something new that leaves tangible remnants behind. If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen already a few posts on the theme tiny gin, tiny review. I take a miniature gin bottle (just 50ml, a double measure) and come up with a very short review typewritten onto a post-it note.
I find the analogue nature of this very pleasing. The format imposes hard limits on what I can write. I have to think about line length as well as the length of the overall note. Word choice is crystallised. I share pictures online and afterwards I get to keep them in a notebook along with the tasting notes that I distilled down to the 50 or so words that I can fit onto the note.
With typewriters everything is immediate. You press a key and there's the letter on the paper. You press the wrong key and there's the typo, indelible. It's frustrating sometimes but I also like it. It links the writing on the page a little more closely to the human hand that produced it.
I used to muck about with Dad's old typewriter when I was a kid. I can't remember how old I was but certainly still primary school age. I'd type up endless pages of nonsense on that thing. I can still picture it now, its midnight blue–black metal case with creamy off-white keys. Perhaps it helped instil in me this love of language and writing that keeps me going today, who knows?
The typewriter I use now is an Olympia SM9 from about 1975. It has a boxy confidence to it that I love. I bought it eBay on a whim and as soon as I touched its keys found all that old enjoyment rushing back.
Years of typing on a computer, where the delete key is never far away, have given me sloppy fingers. The typewriter is more demanding. I must be more precise and type with a slower, more deliberate intention. I like it a lot.
Sometimes, if you make too many mistakes, you have to go back and start over again. Sometimes, when you do that, it comes out better the second time. You make small changes as you go. Writing is rewriting, however you come at it.
If you’re intrigued by the photo of edits at the top, you can read the finished article on Good Beer Hunting.
I went to Washington DC in June and wrote about attending Savor, the Brewers Association’s flagship craft beer and food event.
I also wrote about distillers facing the energy crisis. (The interviews for this were back in May, before things got really bad.)