Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Amateurs and professionals

Over here in rasfc, Eric has been saying interesting things about the difference between amateurs and professionals.

There is one thing that's similar in both theatre and music.The amateur
merely has to entertain to succeed. The play just needs to be well
performed and the song well sung. The professional has to do more than
that to justify taking the audience's money ahead of their competitors.
They have to bring something unique and new to the piece. It has to be
clearly their personal interpretation and something nobody else could have

He was talking there about actors and musicians, but what he said gave me a light bulb moment with regard to writing. A lot of the good stuff you see in places like Critters is well done, but it's writing at the good amateur level. It's grammatical; it's decently written; it entertains, but that's all. And that is exactly the sort of writing I've been producing for some years now. Good, but not quite good enough.

It actually takes quite a bit of skill to consistently produce writing at good amateur level. There are lots of levels below that. For many years I could, occasionally, produce good stuff, but it was very hit and miss. I'd write a load of tripe and then suddenly, out of the blue, a story would just seem to work. Or a story would begin really well and then fizzle out. Or it would start slowly, have a couple of lovely scenes in the middle and then fade away again. And I didn't seem to be able to control how the writing came out.

This is exactly what I'm seeing with the beginner writers I tutor on the OU course. Only this morning I marked a student's assignment and felt quite despondent that she seemed to have missed the point of all the exercises we'd been doing. In the first two short stories she was just telling us all about the characters instead of dramatising the information and using dialogue and character interactions to show the reader what was happening. And then I read her third story and it was a little gem. Third person present tense, the description tightly filtered through the viewpoint character. Absolutely wonderful, a real joy to read and my heart leaped in delight. But who knows what her story for the second assignment will be like? I actually have a spreadsheet with all my students' results to date plotting the grade for the first assignment against the grade for the second and there is virtually no correlation between the two marks.

Gradually, with practice the writing becomes less hit and miss and the beginner graduates to good amateur level, perhaps even managing to produce the odd thing that's just that bit better and thus saleable. And some, somehow, make it to the next stage, producing writing that's just a bit different, the professional level.

But now, thanks to Eric's post, I think I'm now aware of what the difference between good amateur writing and professional writing is. And having identified it, I might just stand a better chance of making sure that my writing falls into the latter category.

Of course it now means that I can see only too clearly that the whole Baradel cycle of novels falls entirely into the good amateur category. It's OK as stories go; there are some likeable characters and neat plot twists that I was proud of because they develop over 5 interlinked volumes. But it's just too derivative and just a little too self indulgent to ever sell. Sigh...

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