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!