Writing Tips

Guest Blogger: Oliver Gray


What do you write, and what, specifically, are you working on now?

I write predominantly nonfiction. Lots of memoir-ish essays, food and drink culture pieces, and beer reviews. My blog is one, big, never-ending project, so I’m always got something planned for that. Right now, I’m working on a series of posts called, “So You Want to be a Beer Writer?” that are how-to guides for writing, describing, and presenting beer-related content. This year I plan to write more travel and science related content, too. I’m working on a book length project, but it’s too nascent to really talk about in detail.

I occasionally write fiction, but usually only after a beer or two 🙂

What do your first drafts typically look like?

I tend to “write” a lot of my content in my head before ever sitting down at the computer. As a result, my first drafts tend to be pretty clean. If I try to sit down and write before the ideas are fully cooked in my brain-oven, it comes out very illogical, and I more often than not abandon the draft. If the bones aren’t strong and they break during early drafts, I tend to never put them back together. I’m a terrible editor in that regard.

What is your revision process?

My general routine is: write it, edit once, read it aloud, then decide its future. I’ve had a lot of success with pieces that barely changed after that first edit, and looked suspiciously like they did as a first draft. It’s probably just blind luck, but I also like to think my internal pre-writing negates some of the need for hours of revisions.

Of course, that’s if I pitch or post without outside input. I’ll often ask my writer friends for feedback, which can (but doesn’t always) substantially impact how much revision I do. How much I revise really depends on the piece itself, and how long it’s been bouncing around in my skull.

Where do you like to write? What tools do you use?

I need a clean desk and a good, full-sized keyboard. I’m all for new technology, but I’ve tried, and cannot write anything of substance on my phone or a tablet. I use them for jotting down notes, but that’s about it.

The tactile click-clack of those keys helps settle my mind, I think, like some sort of monastic chant. The clean desk thing is more about avoiding distractions, because that’s probably my number one writing-killer. Thanks a lot, Twitter.

In terms of actual writing tools, I’m pretty traditional. I use MS Word, GoogleDocs, and sometimes just the WordPress rich text editor. I like writing on something that already has words on it – even if it’s just section headers or a table of contents – because then it doesn’t feel like I’m starting from scratch. Sometimes I’ll go as far as to include a picture of something in my draft, just to spark my imagination.

Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book, and why?

That’s like asking me to name my favorite beer. I jump all over the place between novels and nonfiction, depending on time of year, mood, research goals, etc. If I had to name a book and author who had inspired me the most, I’d probably go with Michael Pollan and his gastronomical opus, Omnivore’s Dilemma.

What was the first piece you ever wrote, and what made you decide to start it?

Believe it or not, I started writing by crafting love letters to my “girlfriends” in middle school. I thought they’d think it was cute, and then it turned out I was actually half-decent at it. My friends would jokingly ask me to write their school papers for them. That evolved into writing really bad hormone fueled poetry, then sarcastic rants about stuff I didn’t like in high school, and ultimately, writing about the beer I was drinking in college. I didn’t start writing essays with any real gravitas until about 2008, when I graduated from undergrad and fell into the ennui of a corporate job. I need an artistic outlet beyond what I was doing at an IT guy, and writing was there to cuddle me to sleep at night.

Where can we read more of your work?

Of course! I’m very proud of the essay I just had featured in Tin House, but it’s pretty painfully sad. For more lighthearted stuff, check out my blog Literature and Libation. I post at least twice a week about beer, writing, and the bubbly literature therein.


Oliver Gray was raised in the suburbs of Maryland, and earned his M.A. from The Johns Hopkins University. His essays and stories have been published by Tin House, the Good Men Project, The TJ Eckleberg Review, 20 Something Magazine, and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine. His beer and writing blog, Literature and Libation, won the North American Guild of Beer Writers’ “Blog of the Year” award in 2013. He currently lives just outside of Washington DC and is working on a beer and brewing themed book.

One reply on “Guest Blogger: Oliver Gray”

I’m a believer that the more good content you read the more your writing will improve. My own writing has improved immensely ever since meeting Oliver and reading many of his different pieces of work.

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