How to write about wine
Or more accurately, 'how I write about wine'. Ten years ago today, my first ever piece was published on JancisRobinson.com, which is my self-indulgent excuse to cobble together the rules of writing I've set myself over the last decade.
I don't claim any of these as original or radical, nor do I always stick to them, but I would like to think they have helped develop my AWARD-WINNING (once) style. So for what they're worth, here are my ...
Ten golden rules of wine writing
- Entertain first and foremost
The world of wine takes itself far too seriously. Even the most technical article should be entertaining to read. That doesn't mean cracking jokes every second sentence (see rule three), it means writing in a way which is enjoyable to read using wit, creativity, storytelling and levity.
- Write about something else
This was always one of my favourite rules, originally inspired by reading Giles Coren's restaurant reviews in The Times. He routinely writes at least half an article on a completely different topic before even mentioning the restaurant he's reviewing. This has an important function, and it's not simply eating up word count: it gives an insight into the personality of the writer, providing useful context to the subsequent review. Even a few opening sentences on an apparently random topic can do the trick.
- Don't try to be funny
Trying to be funny is one of the most painful faults in writing of any kind. Granted, everyone has a different sense of humour, but forcing it never comes across well. Effective humour tends to be thrown away and understated rather than shoehorned and overworked. Funny, or funny not. There is no try.
- Don't repeat yourself
A nice simple one: avoid repetition. I try not to use unusual words more than once in the same article - or possibly ever. There's always another way of saying something. Forcing yourself to begin paragraphs with interesting words is a good exercise in creativity.
- Kill your babies
Literally. No, not literally. But ruthless cutting is essential to develop better writing. This can be particularly gutting when you've laboured over a passage and it still isn't working - but it's these moments which usually sound exactly that: laboured. If I'm doubtful about something I've written, I grit my teeth and delete it. I heard somewhere that the writing team on Blackadder would only include a joke if it made everyone laugh. One stony face, and it was cut.
- Get the basics right
Practice makes perfect. Or is it practise? Getting the basics of grammar and spelling right should be non-negotiable, but there's still lots of shoddy writing out there. Having an editor makes an enormous difference, but for self-editing try reading your writing out loud. This is a great way of checking typos, clarity and comprehensibility. And if you grimace while reading any of it, refer to rule five.
- Avoid school reports
It was a [insert weather] morning when we arrived in [wine region] for a [duration] trip to discover its wonderful wines - and have a lot of fun along the way!
NO NO NO NO NO.
- Don't be wrong
This is less about style and more about basic professionalism. Spell names correctly, never miss a deadline, get your facts right, fulfil the remit, hit the word count, trust your editor.
- Don't swear
Not through any oversensitive sense of decorum, but because profanity is cheap. It's nearly always more effective to achieve emphasis through more creative wordplay rather than resorting to default swear words.
- The callback and the rug-pull
These can sometimes be clichéd, but are two of my favourite techniques when used effectively. The callback simply picks up on an earlier funny comment and it's a useful way of rounding off an AWARD-WINNING article. The rug-pull is when you set something up but then go somewhere totally unexpected, like that time I was writing the ten golden rules of wine writing while completely naked.