All artists—no matter in what form you create—know that to produce something of value, you have to learn your craft and then break it down into pieces.
I mean, you don’t start out to write The Great American Novel. Or to paint a masterpiece. Or to pen a blog that gets ranked in the top 100. Or produce award-winning wines. Or whatever it is you dream of.
Because that’s the dream, no? And wouldn’t it be great if we could just envision summiting Mt. Everest and find ourselves smiling at the top?
But if we truly dream, if we’re taken by an idea that won’t let us go, we start figuring out how to get there. And clichéd as it is, if we just flew straight to the top of whatever mountain, we’d miss the entire journey.
Which is in itself filled with riches and gold.
I’m still tweaking on my time with vintner Gary McKibben at The Red Caboose winery and vineyard. About how he noticed something in his fields (native grapes thriving), and an idea took hold: “We could put in a vineyard.”
That sounds very much like something I see and then think, now that would make a great novel. Or a snippet of a dream takes me to a land I’ve never seen. Or when I hear the voice of a new character, whispering in my mind . . .
We’re taken by lots of ideas, no? But it’s the one that keeps coming up that pushes us onward, which we begin to purse in earnest.
I keep thinking how Gary then researched grapes, finding seventeen varietals that grow native in Texas. How he found the two that grew in his county, and focused on them. And then branched out from there.
Isn’t that just like learning about characters in your story? Where they came from, who they are, how they came to be?
As with any art, or task we seek to master, we then read and research and listen to the experts. And along the way, learn to sift and sort the wheat from the chaff.
And isn’t that one of the tasks “Vasalisa the Wise” has to master in her quest to find her inner guidance? Yes to this, no to that. I Just Came here to Dance took that as its main theme, and raced with it from there.
I keep thinking now how the further our winemaker went, the less he paid attention to the experts. The more he went his own way.
And what a success he’s made of that.
Listening to experts is not a bad thing in and of itself—I myself am one, in the book business! The books I’ve edited having gone on to great success.
But as I tell my writers, “Rules are meant to be broken. The thing is, you have to understand the rule, know how to use it, before you can effectively break it.”
I know this in my own writing as well.
And isn’t that just like any rule, whether for life or art or producing fabulous wines?
Isn’t that what we learn as we travel our own paths? The sagacity gained along the journey itself? That at the end of the day, with all of our learned knowledge, the right choice comes from a wisdom deep within.
I’m laughing too at one vignette Gary told. As every wineaux knows, you don’t make wine out of your first year’s grapes. Nor your second. But in year 2 of the vineyard, Gary and his son had produced 25 gallons each of Lenoir and Tempranillo wine. You have to have 50 gallons to put in an oak barrel.
They decided: “Let’s make wine!”
So they mixed the two together to make a barrel full.
And funny thing—the Lenoir was high in acid, the Tempranillo was not, so the blend actually worked beautifully.
And isn’t that like when you put your hero and your villain together in a story? If the mix of positive to negative traits is right, ah, does the interplay work! Or, when you’re writing a blog, and find just the right friction between your blog’s question and answer that makes the whole thing race off?
Back to our wine making, what that initial experiment taught Gary and his son was the basics of blending wine (which is pretty paramount to actually making wines :). And they kinda did it on a lark.
Have you ever noticed how the most beautiful creations are made while basking in the dance of inspiration and joy? Doing something just for the kick of it?
Of course, then the hard work comes in. Lol. As any writer knows, between the Inspiration and The End is, well, just a ton of work. But the more we stay in that joy, adhering to the love of what we do, the more inspired our process and our product.
Kinda like those incredible wines.
So I’m believing wine making and writing aren’t so different after all. We all want to make the angels sing, whether on our tongues or in our hearts.
Much hard work is required to do so. Many times slogging through the muck and mire, whether in the vineyard or in the recesses of our minds. But as long as that goal stays in place, the vision of the peak for which we are striving, we are provided with enough passion to propel us on.
Okay, that and beautiful wine. Pardon me while I go uncork that bottle of 2012 Malbec from The Red Caboose . . .
And dream of where my new novel is taking me.
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.