6 things I learned about myself through cocktail writing

When you label yourself as a “writer”, it can feel super broad and vague.

My entire writing life, I have struggled between getting laser-focused, or allowing myself space to write about whatever felt right in the moment. That has been evident in the blogs and creative projects I have worked on over the years. When I get laser focused, like with Ritual and Craft, there is more ‘success’ that comes with it. (i.e. more Instagram followers, more working with brands, more opportunities for free lance work). When you broaden your topics, you risk losing the focus of an audience.

And now, after 10 years in the food and cocktail space, which got more and more focused each and every year until all I was writing about were cocktails — here I am again.

Ready to rip it wide open and break out of the confines of sicking to one topic.

Not that I won’t ever write about cocktails again — in fact, I still plan to. But here is what I have learned about myself as a writer, while I have worked SO hard to narrow my topic down to one thing over the past 2 years.

Gear up, this is a long one, folks.

1. The cocktail is a token of an experience — and the experiences that happen in between sips are my joy.

What has brought me the most happiness through my craft cocktail and spirits writing has been the people along the way.

My local community of bartenders and artisans, especially––however, the online drinkstagram community is also a big player. I have made some of my best friends in this world and learned so much from people who have taken time to share their craft with me. If I hadn’t focused on cocktails, I would never have met Andrea, or example. A friend who has become my ride or die over the past two years. I wouldn’t have had cocktail club and forged relationships and networks with those amazing women. I wouldn’t know Katie, or Darby, or Amy, or Jessica, or or or or. It is an endless list. I am so grateful for these people––my heart beats faster just writing about them.

Sitting at a bar, and having a conversation with a bartender is one of my favorite things to do, and it will continue to be. I have learned so much about this industry and I love nerding out about it, and I will forever be grateful for any bartender who will allow me to do so.

And, then there are the experiences that happen in my day-to-day life.

Creating a cocktail for my husband after a long day. Making champagne cocktails for my sisters on Sunday afternoons. Creating fun mocktails for my kiddo so she can feel fancy while mom sets up a photo shoot. Teaching classes for friends or co-workers.

Having a quite moment at home and stirring up the perfect negroni.

All of these things are just a part of who I am. They are not a brand. They are not Ritual and Craft. They are just….Chelsea.

They will happen, always.

2. I often feel like a tourist in a bartender’s world.

There is a big distinction between doing what I do (an avid homebartender) and being an actual, career bartender.

They amaze me. An educated, experienced bartender is a magician, and I am in awe so much of the time. However, I have never been able to shake the feeling of being a tourist in a bartender’s world. That I don’t really belong there. I am always on the periphery, behind a camera, behind a notepad––just kind of hoping that what I do is accepted by them. Maybe even appreciated? Always a little worried I am going to mess something up; a technique mishap, a typo in a local publication, a mispronunciation of a product. I am always on edge, somehow. I never have felt quite ‘at home’.

Over the past six months, I have withdrawn from the local scene and focused more on homebartending, recipe creation, and photography. Notice, writing is not in that list. And while I have been home so much more and felt a little less anxiety––creating a new recipe doesn’t give me half of the high that writing a new poem does.

I don’t want to be a tourist anymore. I just want to write what makes me feel at home.

3. The rabbit hole of comparing myself to others is real and I find myself in that darkness far too often.

I mean, I get that this is a thing that most self-aware people understand. Social media is a big game of well-designed content. One beautiful feed on Instagram isn’t something to fear––but thousands of them…of people doing the same thing you are…can feel like the weight of a million perfectly curated barcarts on your chest.

And, sometimes it ends up being an endless string of questions to yourself like:

“why are they getting that opportunity, and I’m not?”
“what am I doing wrong and they are doing right?”
“how can I be more like so and so in order to get whateverthefuckitistheyhave?
“why are all those cocktail bloggers at that event, in my hometown, when I didn’t even know about it and have given SO MUCH time to cultivating my local community?”

That last one basically kills me dead.

Sometimes, I just end up feeling like what I am doing is less than.

Of course there are times when I look at what I’ve created — the photos, the audience, the recipes, the connections––and I feel proud.

But it is so much easier to feel like what I’m doing doesn’t matter.

When you start personally detaching yourself from your content, or you aren’t getting joy out of it, everything starts wandering towards that deep dark hole of comparison.

I am on the verge of falling in, and I don’t want to. And, to be really honesty, I’ve been hanging by a pinky finger, while the other cocktail feeds peck and pull at that one little appendage still hanging on for a while now. It sucks. My pinky is like, so tired.

Also this shit: tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby and the pressure I feel to post a goddamn Mint Julep is overwhelming.

Fuck that.

4. I constantly move between a world of inspiration and depletion. When depletion begins to win, it is time to re-set.

Hello, here we are. 

I am in introvert. Not an “extroverted introvert” — but an actual, real life introvert. It is hard for me to get out there. To meet new people. To have conversations with people that I don’t know. But here is the thing––I would say that 80% of the time when I make myself do this, I am better for it and glad I did. It is the memory of “I am so glad I went” that I have to muster EVERY time I have to go to an event.

But then, I go. And I am INSPIRED. I meet amazing people and eat delicious food and drink perfect cocktails. And I feel so happy I put myself out in the world––and then I write about it and it all comes full circle.

But, inevitably, I desperately need solitude. I have to replenish what I’ve given and many times, I don’t get it. Especially as someone who writes full-time for work and has a small daughter, husband, and other people who want time and attention. Moments alone are hard to come by, let alone the hours (or even days) that I feel like I need.

My depletion to inspiration ratio is way out of wack, you guys. And I need to find inspiration that doesn’t take so much out of me, or take me so far outside my normal life and routine; that doesn’t require intense solitude to recover from.

IN-TRO-VERT.

The good news is this: when I take even 20 minutes to write about something that is meaningful to me, it can be the equivalent of hours of solitude and recharging. So, I am going to do more of THAT.

5. How to decode my feelings when it comes to relief, anxiety, pressure, and jealousy.

When I was first doing food writing, I was HUSTLING. I said ‘yes’ to everything — every event, every opportunity, every luncheon. And, it truly paid off (“paid” being a loose term here). I met amazing people and made great media contacts, was on LIVE TV, and had my reviews of local restaurants posted everywhere. As craft cocktails started exploding in Salt Lake, I found myself naturally gravitating towards that content, and in the end — it all just went that direction. I created cocktail club, started working with large national brands, and doing a lot of freelance spirits writing.

But, I wasn’t really making any money from it, or getting much back from the hours and stress I was putting in. I was trying SO HARD to make it happen, and in a way it really did for a while. But at an expense that I wasn’t prepared for. You can only try to get your name out there for so long, and have people take advantage of the work you do (free cocktails/food/trade anyone? Never actual money for ACTUAL WORK) before you’re just wrecked. I didn’t want to be a full-time freelance writer. I had a full-time job. I just wanted to do it because I loved it….and when the love started feeling like it was being sucked out of me, I started saying NO to things I never would have before.

No, I don’t have time to write that article.
No, I don’t want to go to that event and be expected to write about it, photograph it, and post about it for a free meal.
No, I don’t want to promote your event for free.
No, I don’t want to spend my vacation going to cocktail events.
No, I don’t want to spend hours editing and writing and trying to create good work for 300 likes on Instagram.

I am so so so done with ALL of that. And for the past five years, that has essentially been what I have been doing.

Drowning.

When I started paying attention to how I authentically felt by saying “no”––I learned a lot. I was relieved. Less stressed. Less anxious. This told me that some of these things, I didn’t actually want to do––even if I would eventually have that feeling of “I am so glad I went” at the end. My instinct was to feel relief.

The more I have said no, the more I have felt in control and the more I have been able to relax. And ultimately, that is what I has led me here––to the realization that I am not writing what I want.

6. I do not do my best writing or creating when I am doing it for others first.

I have always had this dream that I would write something great. Something profound and illuminating, like all of the authors I have admired for so long. The real truth is––I think I am capable of that. Even if I never write a NY Times best selling novel (or book of short stories, or poems, or a memoir)….I think it would be profound for me and perhaps to the people that love me most.

That is what I want to write. That is what will fill me with joy. While so much about food and cocktail writing has been fulfilling, I just write better content when I am writing for myself first. When what pours out of me is just the raw, real, authentic emotion/thoughts/vibezzzz.

I want to walk away from my computer and/or notepad with a sense of completeness. Wholeness. Like, I put something out into the universe that mattered to me.

I just want it to mean something more.

And, tonight, I can say I did that.

 

Thanks for reading this super long list. I hope that maybe someone else who is feeling like that are trying to be creative for others, at the expensive of their own joy, can resonate. It is amazing the confines you can get stuck in when you feel like people expect something specific from you. It can be a wonderful and exhilarating feeling to give them what they want — but it can also feel fake.

I am taking my creativity back and am committing to writing in a way that makes me feel intoxicated, even when no cocktail is involved.

(Yes, we all know that’s rare for me).