The Questions

Amateur Writers – How to identify who’s professional

Amateur WriterSigns of an Amateur Writer

Amateur writers start their careers off mostly doing the same thing others do. The problem is, if they don’t get good advice their writing does not improve.

Before I list out everything that indicates how to spot an amateur writer, here are things used by professional writers that are often confused as amateurish in nature. The use of adverbs – known as telling words, are not a sign of an amateur writer. In fact, Terry Pratchett, used an extraordinary amount of pronouns in his work and that conveyed the humour in his writing.

Spotting an Amateur

So, here is a list of things to look for in your own writing to make yourself appear a little more professional:

  1. Spelling – It will show you care about your work and not only care about your writing, but are professional with it as well.
  2. Repetition – Overuse of key words happens a lot with beginning writers.
  3. Repetitiveness – Not to be confused with repetition, this is starting sentences or paragraphs with the same words as prior. An example:
    • I went to the store. I bought gum. I walked home.
  4. Verb Modifiers – When the work is in the past tense, verb modifiers are used. Example:
    • I was swimming across the lake.
      • The above should be, “I swam across the lake.”
    • People had been marching against the death sentence.
      • The sentence should be, “People marched against the death sentence.”
    • He was hearing noises.
      • It should read, “He heard noises.

Other Signs

  1. Point of View Slips – This is the structure of how the story is told or the voice of the narration. Here are the listing of the POVs:
    • 1st person – The narrator is telling their story
    • 3rd person – Someone removed from the story is telling it
      • 3rd person removed – You do not hear the main character’s thoughts
      • 3rd person omniscient – You hear every character’s thoughts
      • 3rd person close – You hear the main character’s thoughts
    • 2nd person – A character in the story is telling another character’s story. This is very close to 3rd and 1st person but has a definite feel to it for the main character is not followed and there are gaps in the story not known. This is a rebel story telling technique I’ve seen used correctly only once in all the books I’ve read.
  2. Grammatical Errors – These are usually caught in editing or proof reading the work before putting it out there. Professionals proof read their work at least once.
  3. Tense Slips – Changing the story from Past Tense to Present Tense in the middle of narration is a true issue. Past tense is the preferred method of fiction writers and commonly 1st person fiction is present tense. One tells of events that have already happened and one tells of events are they are happening.
  4. Contractions – Professional writers use contractions in their work, be it in the narrative or the character’s dialogue. The words he is becomes he’s and so forth.

Red Flags

  1. Redundant Information – Often referred to as Chekhov’s gun. Some writers tend to describe everything in a room. Though it is important to paint a picture, the rule is if the writer tells the reader there’s a rifle hanging over the fireplace mantel, then someone needs to shoot someone with it.
  2. Research – Professionals do this, others don’t. If a firing squad is about the execute someone, the commands are “Ready. Aim. Fire!” One writer I knew had the character say, “Ready. Aim. Present arms!” The command Present Arms is used to show soldiers weapons to inspecting superiors. Another author had their military characters refer to rifles as guns, and this showed a lack of research as well.
  3. Bashing readers – A professional takes criticism and improves their writing based on it. If someone responds to a negative review with unkind words they are not being professional.

In Conclusion

For the most part, it is easy to tell an amateur from a professional. Look at how many books they publish in a given year. Writing is difficult, and creating something others will find worth reading takes edits and rewrites. If someone puts out novels every month they are not rewriting or editing the work well, so why would you want to struggle when reading a novel?

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