How To Be Creative: Vino y Co

Creativity isn’t the exclusive privilege of so-called creative professions. You can be a creative retailer, waiter, mechanic, teacher, or botanist.

To see this in action, step inside the sliding glass doors of Vino y Co in Sant Jordi, Ibiza. Behind the counter are the shop’s yin and yang: Jeroen Hamersma and daughter Rosa. He sports Cuban shirts and black-rimmed specs that snap together at the front; thick dark hair styled in a wind-tunnel. She is cool and elegant, with freckles and a showstopping smile.

Rosa & Jeroen

Rosa & Jeroen

Jeroen got into wine thanks to his brother Harold, one of the Netherland’s top wine critics. Indulging his interest wasn’t easy after he and his family moved to Ibiza, so he started shipping over the odd pallet for personal consumption. Friends asked for bottles, then cases. In 2009 Jeroen went pro and opened Vino y Co. Later persuading Rosa, a successful print designer in London, to return home and become a partner.

Rosa and her dad prove creativity is about how you do what you do. Invest your work with Curiosity, Relationships, Ethos, Aesthetic, Time, Integrity, Value, and Expertise and it will be creative.

Curiosity: Amidst the shop’s wall of white wine is a book nook. Among them, cloth-bound wine almanacs Jeroen bought in the ’80s in Amsterdam. He read, bought and drank teaching himself vintage, varietals and terroir. These days a laptop sits on the shop counter, poised to answer arcane questions about anything from geology to recipes.

Jeroen and friends

Jeroen & friends

Relationships: “Wine sellers are story-tellers,” is one of Rosa and Jeroen’s favourite sayings. Like all good story-tellers, they are adept at making relationships between people, places, and things. Jeroen can take someone looking for “Rioja, I guess” and deftly connect them something they would have never thought to try. Rosa can glance at a bottle and tell you what restaurant will sell it, who will order it and what they’ll eat.

Ethos: A wine shop is a wine shop, unless it’s
Vino y Co. Then it’s a crusade. Jeroen and Rosa’s passion is fruit-driven, expressive wine made by inventive, idiosyncratic, often downright eccentric oenologists. It’s what they drink, buy, sell, and tirelessly promote. They scorn drinking (much less buying) wine based on fashion or reputation.

Aesthetic: Vino y Co is part of an anonymous retail strip on a busy road. But inside is a chapel. Its rosé collection is shelved along the all-glass shopfront, turning it into a glorious stained-glass wall of wine. The zinc-topped counter is faced with wood Jeroen salvaged from packing crates. Tables run lengthwise between shelves of wine, artfully arrayed with books and bottles.

vino1

Time: It took 25 years for Jeroen’s oenophilia to blossom into a business,and Vino y Co is the better for slow ripening. You feel it when you step inside: they are efficient but not hasty, prompt without rushing. Jeroen can talk for hours to curious customers; Rosa doesn’t begrudge gift-wrapping or pouring lemonade for kids while their parents browse.

Integrity: Vino y Co operates at a level of transparency rare on an island whose operational principle is that corners were made to be cut. It is over-the-counter, on-the-books legit. “That’s how I do business,” Jeroen says. Integrity is essential to creativity. Without it, creation lapse into imitation.

vino 8
Value: After tasting a superb Casa Cesilia Sauvignon Blanc-Macabeo I checked the price – seven Euros and change. The memorable Gran Cerdo Rioja is about six-fifty. Fabulous Suriol Cava is under a tenner. They could charge more but their priority is to make good wine accessible, and win repeat business. Properly valued work is an excellent way to earn both respect and a living.

Expertise: It is hard to leave Vino y Co as ignorant as you arrived. In the course of a few casual visits I sample Spain’s rising-star grape (Mencía), learn about native fermentation, and discover what ‘sans dosage’ means on a Champagne label. Rosa and Jeroen are equally adroit with restaurant recommendations, saké lore, island gossip, politics, geography, travel, books, design, and fashion. This is the stamp of a creative: never bored and never boring.

Vino y Co
Address: Carretera Ibiza-Sant Josep, 60 (km 1.6, Can Bellotera)
Web: vinoyco.com
Phone: +34 971 305 324
Opening hours: M-F: 10:00-14:00, 17:00-20:00, Sat 10:00-14:00, Sun closed

Cheers!

Cheers!

How to Write Non-Fiction, Step Five: Edit

Editing requires stubborn patience and discipline. The good news is, all you have to do is read. The bad news is, you have to do it over and over and over. You have to read your manuscript until you can recite it like the catechism.

You must read with purpose, though. Otherwise you bore and blind yourself to what needs fixing.

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On your first read your concerns are:
A) Structure and B) Continuity


Structure is how the whole thing fits together:

1. Does it have a beginning, middle and end?
2. Does the pace fit the topic and tone?
3. Does it feel like a book rather than an assortment of pages?

Continuity is how smooth, complete and ordered the writing is:

1. Do the main sections have a logical order?
2. Does each section/chapter fit in the overall theme?
3. Do individual chapters read coherently from beginning to end?

Since Vine Lives: Oregon Wine Pioneers consists of separate profiles with a common theme my main concern was the internal structure of the chapters. If you are writing a non-fiction book where each chapter builds on the previous one you have to be careful to present facts and information in clear, linear fashion.

Your second read takes a closer look at A) style and B) voice.

This was critical in Vine Lives because style and voice are what give the profiles continuity. By the time I wrote the last profile my writing had matured. There were obvious stylistic differences between early and later chapters so, I rewrote. Usually your writing will get leaner and cleaner as you work, so often early chapters just need a good pruning. Rather than treat this as a dull duty take satisfaction in the fact your writing has improved. Showcase this better self.

Your third read should be a GAS: A) Grammar, B) Adjectives/Adverbs, and C) Spelling
Sure, you could hand your manuscript over to a professional editor or proofreader at this point, but if you do you lose a tremendous opportunity to enhance your craft. Writing is like playing an instrument. As a beginner, you go to a teacher or technician to tune your instrument. To become a master musician, though, have to develop your own ear. You have to know if you are transmitting at the right frequency. The key to mastery: practice, practice, practice. Eventually, like the Stones say, tuning your work will be a “Gas Gas Gas”.

Grammar: You don’t have to be formally trained in grammar to check your work. Lord knows, I’m not. Like magisterial prose stylist Joan Didion, I claim “grammar is a piano I play by ear”. Any avid, careful reader (much less writer) instinctively knows when a sentence sounds wrong. If you hit on an awkward phrase and aren’t sure how to put it right, get thee to Google. Most grammatical conundrums can be solved by internet these days.

Adjectives and Adverbs: Patrol your writing for inappropriate use of the two “A”s. Adjectives should not be a substitute for clear description; adverbs should not be a substitute for a decent vocabulary.

Example: In the Montinore chapter I wanted to write: “It was a glorious spring day”, because it was. “Glorious” is vague and subjective, though; “glorious” doesn’t tell the reader anything useful. This is what I wrote instead:

“Rhododendrons, lilacs, roses, cypress, oak, and weeping willow channel the earth’s exuberance into great bursts of foliage and color…. Chipmunks skitter on tree trunks, scolding the birds that loft saucily towards clouds hanging like puffs of whipped cream in the spring sky.”

As for adverbs, watch those “ly” endings. If things are “especially good” better they are “splendid” or “thrilling”, if “awfully bad” try “catastrophic” or “disastrous”, etc. Adverbs are for the most part lazy replacements for strong adjectives, which are themselves often substitutes for specific detail. Be aware of how you use language.

Spelling: Yes, spelling matters. No, you cannot rely on Microsoft-fucking-Word. A writer’s vocabulary should outstrip the paltry mechanisms of Microsoft, especially if you are writing about a technical or specialist subject, such as wine. By all means, run a spell check to correct any obvious typos, but rely on close reading and regular dictionary checks to ensure your words are saying what you think they are. Pin down inaudible differences (“compliment”, “complement”) in print, watch out for malapropisms (“prodigy” for “protégé”) and double check commonly misused words (“disinterested” for “uninterested”).


Now your work is ready for other readers.
By all means, pass it around. Fresh eyes will spot incongruities to which you are blind, and generally have an overview you lack. Ask for specific feedback, e.g. “Does chapter three follow logically from chapter two?” or “Is the description of underwater basket weaving clear?” Accept comments dispassionately and with good grace. Remember, criticism of your writing is not criticism of YOU.

Once you’ve incorporated any suggestions and corrections, proofread.
I’m a professional proofreader and sub-editor so I proofed Vine Lives myself. If you’re not a trained editor, farm it out to the best proofreader money can buy. You want a hawk-eyed pedant who will read every line of your book as if it were his/her billionaire uncle’s last will and testament. Let him/her correct your manuscript then read it one more time.

Is it perfect? Congratulations. You’ve edited a book. Pour yourself a glass of wine!

Share your editing tips in the comments.

How to Write Non-Fiction, Step Four: Write

Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher, said: “If you wish to have a faculty for… writing, write; if you wish to acquire a habit for anything, do the thing.” Two thousand years later that’s still the best writing advice going.

typewriter

If you’re jigging around, unsure of where to start, here are five steps to help acquire the habit:

1. Think small
Leave the “dream big/reach for the stars/give 110%” bullshit for high school football coaches. Your only ambition, as Steinbeck said, is to finish a page. Especially if this is your first book.

Vine Lives is about 30,000 words, but that is a terrifying amount when starting at zero. Once you have rough idea of your total word count, forget it. Focus on units of a manageable size. I’m a feature writer so 1500-2000 words is a comfortable range. I framed my task as 15 chapters of 1500-2000 words each. Voila: a reasonable assignment. I’ve written god knows how many features. All I had to do was crank out another 15.

If you’re embarking on a book you will, ideally, have an idea of your writing capacity. How do you work best — 500 word blog posts? 3000-word white papers? Adapt your project to your writing style, not vice versa.

2. Give yourself a deadline
It isn’t enough to want the book done, you have to give yourself a deadline. When you’re indie publishing you have to be your own taskmaster. My Vine Lives research sat untouched for several months before guilt sparked a sense of urgency. I sent my brother/publisher the first profile in October. Once he gave it the thumbs up I set a deadline: 11 February (the day I had to move out of my house). Despite some slack weeks, I delivered as promised.

3. Create a routine
As a writer, routine is your best friend; routine will save you. A day in my Vine Lives life went like this: Wake up, feed cat, drink coffee, read a chapter of Epictetus, go for a run, flirt with the gardener, shower, cook breakfast, eat, clean teeth, then write.

You might think: “Surely it would be quicker to just roll out of bed and start writing.” Perhaps. But I’ve learned, through trial, error and abortive attempts to be more “productive” that abridging this routine makes me sketchy and distracted. Maybe it’s indulgent to spend four-plus hours warming up for work but I’m Thoroughbred, not a carthorse. If sitting at a desk and grinding it out for eight hours works for you, by all means do. If you need to prance around the paddock first, though, don’t be down on yourself. Results are what matters.

4. Be calm but disciplined
Don’t worry if you begin the day blank and afraid (I do). If you don’t know where to start, read and highlight your notes. Find an arresting phrase or image. Then “only begin”. Start writing. Even if it feels awkward and wrong, push on. I’d invariably sit down and think, “There is no fucking way I can write 1500 words today.” I’d cajole myself into doing 500 words. Usually that was enough to get into a flow. The rest was more or less easy.

Some days writing seems impossible. Take 50% of these days off to recharge your batteries. The other 50%, write anyway. Teach yourself that you don’t always have to feel good about writing, you just have to write.

5. Take up long-distance running*
Writing calls for stamina, courage, resilience, pain resistance and self-belief. The cheapest, easiest way to cultivate these qualities is to run. Especially if you don’t like running. Every time you lace up your shoes and step out the door you show yourself what you can accomplish. Every time you huff and puff up a hill you prove you can overcome obstacles. Every time you start off wishing you were doing anything else and come home buzzing you remind yourself of the rewards of discipline. Running also calms your nerves, clears your head, steadies your pulse, and keeps your arse from overflowing your chair.

*Yoga, swimming, hiking, cycling, rock climbing, free-diving, boxing or martial arts work too

Ready, set, run

Ready, set, run

What’s your best piece of writing advice? Share in the comments!