Image by Michael RWhat separates a professional writer from an amateur?

Okay, yes. Technically making a living writing is the barrier. A larger vocabulary, impressive clips, and industry experience should be mentioned. Alright, lots of other stuff too.

There is one difference in particular that sometimes isn’t obvious. An amateur writes words, but a professional writes ideas.

An amateur often uses too many adjectives and writes on endlessly about a topic. The professional outlines the ideas and information they want to convey, and writes it in as few words as possible. Does this mean that the professional just doesn’t have the necessary descriptive powers or stamina? No.

It’s just that almost nothing you can write benefits from being wordy. There’s a certain point where further description or specification doesn’t add value for the reader. The professional writer knows that point and won’t cross it. The amateur may never realize such a point exists. Readers aren’t very patient these days. If you start wasting their time with a lot of unnecessary words they’re not going to keep reading long enough for you to get to the point. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, you need to focus on getting your ideas across instead of focusing on long or flowery writing.

Why is the amateur’s writing so much more fatty than the professionals? Personally, I blame the schools.

Instructors even up through college often assign papers of a certain minimum page length. Depending upon the class and instructor you usually need to have all the major parts. An introduction, thesis statement, supporting points, and so on. What they don’t demand outside high level writing classes though is lean writing. Rarely have I seen an instructor dock any major points for wordiness. The result is that the student pads their paper with descriptions and digressions and needless specifications that add nothing but length to the paper, and they think they’re supposed to. They’re encouraged to write papers that are one part content to two parts fluff.

The result is papers that technically meet all of the criteria for a high grade, without offering very much at all in terms of reader value. This is something the writer needs to unlearn when struggling up into the world of professional writing. It doesn’t matter if your client is an advertising agency, a small business, or a newspaper; they’re not looking for a lot of fluff. They’re looking for lean writing that gets the job done without wasting the reader’s time.

So how do you write like a professional? Cut your writing down to only the words that will add value for the reader.

Has this been an issue for you? Do you have a specific aspect of professional writing that seems more critical? Let me know in the comments!

  • Wendy Reis

    This is timely. No matter how often an editor says these things, a novice writer will cling to her flowery descriptions. Don’t bog down your action or you will read the perfect read-in-bed novel. The one that puts people to sleep quickly.

    • Jacob Duchaine

      Agreed. It’s one of the more important lessons writers today need to learn.

  • Shawnlamb

    If judging by this post, many
    classic authors wouldn’t cut it today like Dumas, Dickens and Doyle.
    They all wrote for newspapers and magazines and were paid by the word,
    so they “padded” their stories, similar to the example given of college
    papers. It’s all a
    matter of taste, style and voice so their shouldn’t
    be an industry wide standard in style – grammar yes, style no. In this
    there should be room for all styles, for all readers aren’t a one style
    fits all.

    • Jacob Duchaine

      For the mediums, style, and time period they used appropriate language. I don’t feel like that changes anything for those breaking into professional writing today though. While the level of flowery language writing can benefit from changes from medium to medium, using less is still almost always more.

  • Morgoth0084

    @379ed5f71523625273a26d533d48439c:disqus They were writing serial fiction, though, not expository writing.  There’s, uh… really not a lot of serial fiction being published by magazines and newspapers these days.*
    *:unless you count ‘media narrative’ as a form of serial fiction.

  • valerie

    You are violating being too wordy. Otherwise, nice tips!