This week, I’ve examined the role of the whisky writer/blogger in the online universe. The first piece talked about storytelling and preserving history. The second piece was about passion and connections. I’m ending the series by looking at what drives a person to put himself out there in the first place, sending his words dashing about the world as he eagerly waits at home wondering who sees what he wrote. What compels him? What are his goals? I could think of no better way to pursue this discussion than by talking to a “her” instead of to a “him.”
If Monday’s interviewee, Mark Gillespie, is the whisky writing equivalent of a Highland Park 25, and Wednesday’s interviewee, Gal Granov is the equivalent of a Lagavulin 16, then “Whisky Lassie” Johanne McInnis is a Mackmyra 1st Edition. Like that wonderful Swedish whisky, Johanne is new to the game, comes from an unexpected source, and has a subtlety and depth usually reserved for those that are long-matured in the ways of the whisky world.
Her blog, The Perfect Whisky Match, is a playful but earnest site that she launched in March with her partner in whisky and life, Graham MacKenney. The two put to page whatever crosses their mind regarding whisky, from recommendations to tangential thoughts about life that are sparked by whisky. Though the site is done as a couple, Johanne’s point of view is decidedly hers, examining the whisky world from a woman’s point of view. And like any good whisky, that point of view has matured in the three months she’s been writing thanks to outside influences.
“My opinion, going in, was almost a defensive one…I felt I needed to prove I belonged in the whisky world,” she says. “I came to realize there are men in the whisky industry, there are women in the industry, but as for a difference, there’s a gender difference and that’s about it.
“[Women] are just as eager and just as smart and just as much whisky geeks as the rest.”
I asked Johanne what specifically drove her to start writing about whisky. After all, she has a nice whisky club in her home town of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada; she and Graham talk about whisky for hours on walks with their dogs; what about her interest in whisky made her want to put her name and her thoughts “out there?”
Johanne talks about the “whisky fabric” – a layer in the whisky world where writers, reviewers, distillers and everyone else associated with the industry meet and interact. She felt there was a niche in that fabric for her voice, as a woman, as a Canadian and as someone who was passionate about whisky. Still, there is a tremendous difference between identifying an opening and then stepping through it to see what happens. Johanne took that leap, unsure of what to expect. And what she found was her place in that whisky fabric.
“When we first started, we would get excited about one reader,” she says. “Now that connections have been made, I don’t care as much about the quantity [of readers]. It’s about quality.”
Like Gal Granov in Israel, Johanne has expanded her whisky knowledge through the connections she’s made with like-minded people around the world; people with their own perspectives on whisky who are excited to hear her thoughts and eager to share their own. In this sense, her writing has taken her on a journey she never anticipated.
And that brings me back to my original thought for this piece: what compels a person to write or blog about whisky, or anything for that matter, and what is the goal? Is it money? Is it readership? Is it adoration? Free whisky? Johnnie Walker lapel pins?
As each of my pieces have shown this week, the place writing, or blogging, must start to have any value is within oneself. Mark Gillespie is a whisky industry icon because he wanted to share stories about the whisky world that excites him so. Gal Granov has moved from the fringes of the whisky world to the center because he wanted his passion for whisky to be heard. Johanne McInnis is sailing strongly into the whisky sea because she saw a room for her voice.
Each of them has garnered unexpected rewards from following their hearts and sharing the thoughts and stories that first appeal to their own interests. They don’t just state facts. They tap into shared human experiences and feelings with their stories and blogs.
I learned, years ago, that to be a successful writer you have to let your words and thoughts go freely into the world, as if they were children who had now moved out of the house. They take on a life of their own, they interact with others in a way you have no control over, they may inspire others, they may annoy others, but you cannot cling to those words once you press “send.” You just have to hope they do well, and that whatever happens with them reflects well upon the way you created them.
Does this approach mean there’s fortune as a writer? Better to play the lottery if that’s your goal. Does it guarantee fame? Quick: name the top ten bestselling writers of 1971. Fame is fleeting. Does it even assure a writer of a large readership? I don’t know. I do know that by writing first for yourself, you’ll at least never doubt your honesty and intentions. And if that approach resonates deeply within even one person, you are much better off than spewing meaningless words for the masses to glance at and forget. I’d rather encounter a single unicorn in a forest than 10,000 cows in a muddy field.
Next week, I will step away from the writing focus of my recent posts and will have some fun sharing stories about whisky.