Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wine Writers Workshop: A Review

How quickly the last four weeks have passed and now I am not sure what to do on Monday nights. For the last four Monday evenings, I attended a Wine Writers Workshop held by
Jonathon Alsop at the Boston Wine School.

Though Jonathon has run many different classes and events at the Boston Wine School, this was the first time he offered a Wine Writers Workshop and hopefully it will not be the last. Jonathon is a published wine writer so he knows about wine writing. I have been to another writing workshop before, though it had nothing to do with wine, so I had some idea what to expect.

There were nine students, three men and six women, in the Workshop, though not all of them showed up for all four sessions. In fact, only three students were present for every session. To me, with only four sessions, I think you really miss out if you skip even one class. To gain the full benefit of the workshop, you should make every effort to attend all of the sessions.

It was a diverse group of students, with different backgrounds in wine, which made for an interesting class. Fellow wine blogger Dale Cruse, of Drinks Are On Me, was one of those students and I finally got to meet him in person. With such diversity, you are generally assured of learning something new.

During our first session, we spent time talking about ourselves, our backgrounds in wine and what we wanted to gain from the workshop. Jonathon also shared some of his background with us. Jonathon then began to discuss the field of wine writing and how best to pitch editors and publishers. An important idea is to give them options, to propose multiple ideas hoping that at least one of them will appeal to the editor or publisher. I think that can help as well show that you are a writer with much to say, that you are not there for a single article but have the potential for many more. This led to the Dream Sheet.

A Dream Sheet is essentially a list of story ideas, ideas that you could pitch to others. You flesh out each idea to show the direction of the story as well as any technical details, such as sources, photographs and more. During the course of the Workshop, we would all create our own Dream Sheets and later discuss them with each other. In the end, you should have a Dream sheet of about twelve ideas.

As home work after the first class, we also had to do a short essay on one of the elements of wine tasting, and that was critiqued during the second session. During that session, we also critiqued our initial Dream sheet drafts. This is the heart of a writing workshop, discussing and critiquing our writing samples, hopefully to improve them. In general, we had a good class who were very helpful in their critiques. Our assignment for session three, besides revising our Dream Sheets was to work on an actual wine article. We would continue to revise, discuss and critique the Dream Sheets and articles through session four.

As in any writer's workshop, the benefit you receive is commensurate with how much effort you put into it. You needed to make time during the week to write, to have something to discuss in class. Otherwise, you would only be listening to critiques of everyone else's work, and not really working on your own. It is a commitment to partake in a writer's workshop.

Jonathon was very helpful in his suggestions, and he shared much of what he knew about writing and publishing. In the final class for example, he provided us some contacts and sites that might benefit us. He was always encouraging and his criticisms were usually spot on. I do felt the class was helpful and I am very glad that I signed up for it. I only have a couple minor suggestions for future workshops.

This workshop generally only dealt with print media, getting articles into magazines and newspapers. Though some of that is applicable to online publications as well, I would have liked to see more coverage given to online writing opportunities such as blogs and online publications. I also think the workshop could have been a little bit longer, at least one or two more sessions. That might have given sufficient time for everyone to end the class with a completed article that they could submit for publication. Maybe these matters will change in future workshops. This was only the first workshop so it was a learning experience for all, including Jonathon.

Besides enhancing our writing, such workshops are also good networking opportunities where you can share your knowledge and contacts with other wine writers. I do hope to maintain contact with the other students in the class, to continue to help each other with our wine writing. As well all know, who you know can sometimes make a significant difference.

If you are interested in wine writing, then keep an eye on the future schedule of the Boston Wine School and sign up the next time he offers the Wine Writing Workshop. He may also do a future Food Writing Workshop as well. They are definitely classes that will benefit you, provided you are willing to make the commitment to attend the classes and do your homework.

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