About Mark Spivak
Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and was honored by the Academy of Wine Communications for excellence in wine coverage “in a graceful and approachable style.” Since 2001 has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group; his running commentary on the world of food, wine and spirits is available at the Global Gourmet blog on www.palmbeachillustrated.com. He is the holder of the Certificate and Advanced diplomas from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Mark’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Men’s Journal, Art & Antiques, the Continental and Ritz-Carlton magazines, Arizona Highways and Newsmax. He is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Lyons Press, 2014). His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is published by Black Opal Books.
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What would I tell a new author
I’m actively involved in mentoring beginning writers. For the past year I’ve been hosting a Meetup group in my home base of South Florida. Participants send me samples of their work via email, and they receive an intensive, one-on-one critique at the session.
I usually start out by trying to get a sense of the person’s background, their life experience and literary training (if any). I try to discover how much time they have to devote to writing, and whether their literary aspirations are hampered by real-life considerations such as jobs, families and economic pressures. I want to find out if they are someone with a particular story they feel compelled to tell, or whether they want to make writing a career. Either way, my role is the same: to help them master the craft and find their own voice.
At some point, I usually ask them if they are writing to express themselves, or if they want other people to read their work. Either situation is fine, but they require different decision-making processes.
I normally suggest that they pick one piece of work and stick with it until it is as polished as it can possibly be. This is particularly difficult for many people to accomplish. Part of the problem is the current popularity of self-publishing, where you can print anything whether it’s ready or not.
Speaking as someone who has a degree in literature, I think life experience is more important than formal education. If someone is lacking skills in grammar, sentence structure or composition, they can easily take a course at a community college or online.
When I started the group, I was dreading the process of delivering criticism to people. Part of the hesitancy stems from how difficult it was for me to accept criticism at many points in my career, but the truth is that becoming a writer is a long journey filled with criticism and rejection. What I discovered was that in cases where a piece of work was seriously flawed, the writer knew it. They had really come to the group to get a realistic idea of what they needed to do to go forward.
Many beginning writers are yearning to be told that they have talent. I have no problem telling them that, since most of them are indeed talented. Talent, though, is only part of the equation. Most of the process consists of hard work, which is something people tend to resist hearing.
The most important thing I tell beginning writers? Don’t give up. I never did, and I finally succeeded despite a long and difficult journey. With enough determination, it can be done.
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