The framework of my average week has become thematic in its shape over the years, formed more by the voodoo of human events than any real planning on my part. Once prepped and planned by me in advance, the structure of my work is now defined almost entirely by uncontrollable events that fall into place. Over time, I've learned to go with that energy rather than attempt to swim against it. This particular week has been downright wacky in terms of its relentless motif. I have been approached by no less than seventeen different parties, from all sorts of industries, all interested in talking to me about writing and my strategies for doing it successfully. Some have been professional journalists interested in my genre, others were looking to make a change within the booze industry, and a few have been amateur authors in search of inspiration. I've done two interviews this week for major magazines about writing, had three conversations with marketers about writing strategy, and had five different people forward me articles I was completely unaware of, all citing my work as an example of effective storytelling in sales. One person asked me to start a writing side project. Another asked me to speak at a writing seminar. A third has asked me to help him draft a key note speech for his company's retreat.
I guess if I considered myself a writer I would be proud of that recognition. However, I am not a writer. Therefore, I'm both confused and nervous about being asked to help.
While I've met and talked with plenty of people out there who think doing is being, I personally don't think the definition is quite that simple. If you shoot at your local Y after work with friends and play pick-up games on the weekend, that doesn't make you a basketball player. If you watch Law & Order obsessively and spend your time reading legal journals, that doesn't make you a lawyer. Maybe you're seven feet tall with a great hook and have an innate ability to read quickly through legalese documents, but until you're selected by either an NBA franchise or a university with a JD program, you're never going to be either of those things. I know a good number of people who can sing, but they are not singers. They sing for fun in their church choirs, or at karaoke bars with friends. They do not however get paid to sing, much like I do not get paid to write. Together we are people with abilities, but we are not professionals. When you get paid to do something, that's when you get to give yourself a professional title. When you're a hobbyist, you are simply someone who enjoys an activity.
The flipside of this mindset is obviously the level of one's ability. For example, there are certainly professional chefs who are not great cooks. They follow a recipe book and do what's asked of them. They have no real vision or love for their work. The job is simply a paycheck to them. They work on a line, perform their duties, and then clock out for the day. Meanwhile, there's an accountant out there who loves food, spends all of her free time cooking at home, and can create culinary classics from scratch at the drop of a hat. She might wipe the floor with our line cook in a head-to-head duel, moving fluidly through all sorts of cultures and styles, but at the end of the day she is not a cook. She is an accountant with an incredible talent. There's a reason that distinction is important to me. To have an ability is to be capable. To actually do, however, and get paid to do is something entirely different. Thus, when it comes to giving advice about writing, I'm not the person to ask. To ask me for advice about being a successful writer is to confuse ability with professionalism. I've met hundreds of people over the years who know a lot about whiskey, but few of them had any real understanding of retail. Let me tell you, while there are overlaps between connoisseurship and marketing, there's a gulf of difference between enjoying whiskey and selling it.
I don't know the first thing about being a professional writer. I've never been paid to write. I don't list writer on my resume. I've never taken a writing class, or been coached by anyone other than my high school English teacher. Most importantly, I wouldn't know what to tell someone who wants to be a writer. How do you get a job as a writer? No idea. What's the best way to reach new readers? No clue. If you want to talk about marketing, however, that's a completely different conversation. Trends and statistics in the alcohol industry? I'm your guy. If you want to talk about clearly expressing a point of view, a general message to the public, or a sales strategy that encompasses a particular mood or theme, I can talk your ear off. I use writing to effectively do those things. Writing is a tool that helps me express myself and therefore my message. What I write on this blog is effectively what would come straight out of my mouth were you to meet me in person. I say it in my head and then my fingers transcribe that monologue. I have a purpose when it comes to my writing and, from what I have been told by other writers, having something to say is what's most important.
Having something to say goes hand in hand with effective marketing. It turns out that selling whiskey and writing have that much in common: they both require a viewpoint, an opinion, or at the very minimum a reason why anyone should stop what they're doing and listen to you. When I started out at K&L, I felt that making a mark in the modern economic age would require businesses to move away from neutrality (a topic getting more interesting by the minute with Trump and the NRA). Previously, most wine and spirits retailers were merely hubs between producers and customers with professional critics helping to guide taste and influence. I decided to insert myself more into the middle, rather than wait for these gatekeepers to eventually send business our way. Some people had a problem with that; not that you can blame them. I was encroaching on their territory. "Retailers should shut up and stay out of these conversations," some people said. That's when I knew we were on to something. The more I talked about my opinions as a retailer, the more upset it made the people who felt it was their place to be doing the opining. If you know anything about human psychology, then you know that people only react that way when they feel threatened. Getting that market segment riled up was like shooting fish in a barrel and the more they wrote about K&L, the more it sent people our way. But, again, that didn't happen because I know how to write. That was just marketing strategy tied in with simple behavioral analysis. The fact that everything I wrote came from a real place, from my actual beliefs, and from real emotion happened to make that strategy effective. The best type of marketing is authenticity. There are bestselling books about this phenomenon.
When you're truly excited about your subject and every word you type sends a feeling of electricity through your fingers, that passion is palpable. Communicating that energy is a very effective form of marketing because in that sense, as human beings, many of us are inherently very capable marketers. When you tell your friend about the amazing new Indian restaurant that just opened down the street, about how incredible the vindaloo tastes, and your voice goes up and down with emotion during that tidal wave of positive feedback, that's marketing. When you talk to your co-workers after a vacation in Croatia and you gush about the beauty of the Dalmatian Coast, how nice the locals are, and how you can't wait to go back, that's marketing. Human narratives are marketing. Stories are marketing. Real life experiences are marketing. Whether you talk about it, video chat it, blog about it, record it into an audio book, or write about it in an article for a magazine, it's still marketing and that is what I get paid to do. I get paid to create enthusiasm, not write. It just so happens that I use writing as a medium, but in all honesty I'm probably more effective in person. I've been creating enthusiasm since I was a kid trying to convince my friends to come over and watch pay-per-view wrestling, explaining to them how we could all chip in to split the cost. In the end, the words are the same whether they're written on the page or coming out of my mouth. I know what the goal is and I know how to get there.
What ultimately separates ability from desire is purpose. Efficacy comes from successfully realizing an intention. My writing is therefore effective because I know exactly how it works: I get excited by something, I summarize that excitement into words, and I broadcast that excitement via various mediums. It's a very simple formula. The fact that I let people into my life while doing so, revealing my intentions and innermost emotions, builds a personal relationship between me and my customers and therein makes those words meaningful. These people get to know me. They get to know my opinions. They then use what they know about me to form their purchasing decisions. This is no different than how friendship works. Your best friends are the ones you share your feelings with and those you ultimately trust become your closest friends. That's how relationships are built. You find things in common, correspond, share experiences, and then you become amigos. Today I continue to correspond casually with hundreds of K&L customers who might check in to tell me what they drank last night, or share a thought they had while eating lunch at work. It's these very correspondences that now shape the framework of my week. Some people might call that networking. I call it being a people person who is polite, compassionate, and willing to help. I just happened to turn those innate qualities into a profession. It's easy for me because I like doing it. That's business 101, right? Find something you like doing and you'll never have to work a day in your life. Something like that.
Professional writers sells words. I sell bottles. I do indeed use words to sell bottles, but my purpose is different and that's the only advice I could ever give to anyone looking for my thoughts on the subject: figure out what use your writing serves, then decide if you can effectively create a narrative that helps people understand the importance of that mission. You may start your journey with the intention of becoming a writer, but find an entirely new career in business, marketing strategy, and public relations. I definitely had dreams at one point of becoming a journalist, but in the end I discovered a different way to express my ideas. I still like writing. That's the only reason I do it as often as I do. However, without a professional purpose for those words I would be lost and that's ultimately what separates what I do from writing.