Amateur vs. Professional Writing: A tongue-in-cheek comparison

writersThose of us who are writers understand “the job.”  Like any other profession, being a writer involves the shattering of certain images and stereotypes, and certainly requires a serious sense of humor.  Here are some “amateur vs. professional” anecdotes which illustrate a writer’s life in a lighthearted, albeit accurate, way.

AMATEUR WRITER:  I’m going create this amazing universe full of colorful characters!  It’s going to be fresh, new and fun!  People are going to flock to this story like mice to cheese.

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  The next person to send me a nastygram about edits I made three days ago gets throat punched.

AMATEUR WRITER:   I can write a novel that’s even better than “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight,” “Divergent” and “The Expanse.”

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  *looking at clock* Grrrr *looking at clock* AGH! *looking at clock* F*** it, I quit!

AMATEUR WRITER:  I just need to clean up this story a little.  Spell check will do the trick.

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  WTF???  Did someone slice their wrist on my manuscript?  And what the hell is this note about “smirking?”

AMATEUR WRITER:  I love writing.  It’s my favorite thing to do.  I’ve been writing since I was a child.  I write poetry, short stories, and all sorts of stuff.

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  I’m going to find a quite corner of the universe and just alternate between crying, screaming and sleep for…oh, a bazillion years.

AMATEUR WRITER:  Documentary writing is easy.  It’s basically just a glorified term paper and those you just need time and patience.  There’s nothing to it.


AMATEUR WRITER:  I’ve got this great idea for a script.  It’s a wonderful tale of love during the holidays and my girlfriends think it is so sweet and they’d love to see it come to life on television.

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  If I have to watch one more hour of Hallmark Movie Channel, I swear I’m going to need a continuous drip of Xanax.

AMATEUR WRITER:  Here’s a great idea for a novel:  dystopian erotica.  It’s “Enders Game” meets “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  I’ve got a great idea for a *watching TV*…..shit, Simpsons did it!

AMATEUR WRITER:  My writing is completely, one hundred percent original.  Nobody has ever seen anything like it before.

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  *reviewing emails and comments* I wonder who and what my editors and critics are saying I’m ripping off today.

AMATEUR WRITER:  I’m a Creative Writing Major.  I’ve had poems published in my school’s literary magazine and wrote for my student newspaper.  I know what it takes to be successful and it just takes a little persistence.

PROFESSIONAL WRITER:  Well, only one more box of rejection letters left to toss in the fireplace.


A little “betcha didn’t know” about me

As most of you know, I consider myself a professional writer.  Yes, I am compensated for my work and I do offer this blog as a freebie for people to get an idea of my style and thoughts.  Today I’m going to have a little bit of fun and share with you some little-known things about me from a writing standpoint.  You may be rather surprised, or not at all.

I actually hated writing as a boy.

This can be directly attributed to the fact I preferred drawing, as well my teachers using writing as a punishment rather than a tool for creativity.  The “gulag” mentality within the Hazleton Area School District was rather strong in the 1980s.  Thank goodness the current generation of teachers eschew the “old ways” of writing 100 sentences as punishment.   True story:  I once was so quietly defiant about not finishing my homework, I had to write “I will not forget to do my homework” almost 700 times!  Yes, I still “forgot” afterwards.  I got into creative writing in high school because of a junior-year creative writing assignment in my English class which whet my appetite.  Of course, that would be the week we studied Thoreau, who seemed obsessed with death.  Go figure.

Pinky and The Brain were like a Masters’ program in subtle, comedic storytelling.

Cartoons and comics were more than just entertainment for me.

Like any child, I watched my share of cartoons and read my share of comics.  I loved a good episode Superman or Bugs Bunny, and fell in love with Transformers and other science fiction cartoons and comics.  I was always the first one geabbing the New York Daily News, which had one of Americas biggest Sunday funnies sections, and made sure to buy The Atlanta Constitution on Sunday while in college, without fail.  However, I rarely laughed at the comics and cartoons I took in, and the question on my mind was “why.”  That’s when it hit me; I wasn’t reading and watching for entertainment value, I was studying the work.  The storylines, the artwork, the flow, the voice acting, the errors and glitches were things I picked up on.  They became a quasi-fellowship in art as entertainment for me.  Where other kids laughed at the Flintstones and went “wow” at Voltron slicing an enemy in half, I marveled at the imagination, took in the stories of the origins of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, and sat in amazement at the animation quality of GI Joe and Ducktales.  I was astonished at the fluidity of the Jetsons and raw, unpolished appeal of Yogi Bear.  What was entertainment for others was a classroom for me.

My first novel, A 38 Day Education, almost DIDN’T happen.

After writing a “memoir” of my days running my college newspaper, I shared it with some friends.  One strongly advised me to rework it to avoid any appearance of attacking anyone I knew.  My father, however, was the most instrumental person in getting this project off the ground, but rather indirectly.  It was my first foray into storytelling on a professional level which launched me down this path.  I had been mulling an “unauthorized story” of my career in circulation at the Tampa Bay Times following my departure from there when he had recommended I write an allegory instead of an actual account.  So I reworked it and loved it.  I loved creating the world of the Sun-Courier, molding the character of James Allister, making publisher Alan Phelps into the nasty uber-CEO type so reviled today.  After Paper Losses was finished and I received some genuine feedback from two close friends, that emboldened me to create universe of The Scope.

I write in a rather unusual fashion.

Every writer has their “quirk,” whether it is writing while doing the wash, dictating notes and listening to them over and over, or writing something out of left field to get the juices flowing, we each have our “thing.”  For me, I “talk” out the scenes and lay out each novel like a season of a television series.  I also write scenes as they come to me, rather than go strictly from an outline, and “stitch” the scenes together with transitional passages like a patchwork quilt.  It makes the process more fun and relaxing, and the end result are stories which tend to be very dialogue driven, fast paced, and meticulous in their details.

There are THREE more manuscripts ready after these two.

I have three more unpublished Scope manuscripts in the pipeline, but purchases of Change Rising dictate their future for now.

Change Rising, the second book of the Scope series, is contracted to Sarah Book Publishing.  They also hold the option for the next three novels afterwards.  This means that the survival of the Scope series in the near term is mostly dependent on sales of Change Rising.  Of course right now the book world is hypercompetitive and there are scores of “celebrity” novels which get far better marketing backing than “indie” authors such as myself.  This requires small authors to be more innovative and nimble.  The upshot, however, is immense creative control.  Long story short, I call the shots on my stories, and that’s how I like it.

While I fully support anyone’s dream to write, I also recognize many aspiring writers just don’t have the novel chops.

I will never tell someone to give up on a dream, but I encourage them to be realistic.  Novel writing is a passion, but many novelists are unsuccessful at translating that to a full-time career.  There are a ton of popular writers whose work is mediocre at best in terms of language and plot quality, but are still entertaining stories nonetheless and, thus, sell quite well.  There are many more authors whose books are phenomenal stories but, for whatever reason, languish in obscurity.  Hard work is only a small part of it, though an important part.  The single biggest factor in terms of being a successful novelist is one many aspiring writers just can’t face:  blind luck.  I encourage a budding young writer to chase their dream, but I also implore them to find an interest which can serve as a “backup plan” in case that dream can only be lived as a hobby.

Which leads me to my last little known fact about me.

I was once called a “lazy writer” by a college professor.

In fairness, that professor was, at that time, quite right.  I gave up on a story too easily.  Rather than follow through, I found the easiest, laziest plot device to get myself out of a jam.  When he wrote that comment on an assignment I thought was actually really good, I was quite irritated and decided that I would, one day, show him I was not lazy.  While I consider myself far from lazy today, there are moments I want to break out some tried-and-true lazy plot devices, such as depressed girls huddled up eating ice cream from a carton, or an angry young boy smashing mailboxes.  This is mainly when I can’t solve a plot problem and I avoid it like the plague.

So there you are, with a little more knowledge about me as a writer.  Please take the time to check out the rest of this site and try not to throw any foam bricks at me when you see me.  Real bricks are far more effective messengers.

Rowling row reinforces the need for editors and publishers to clean up their own houses

Recently, the (London) Daily Mail was ordered by a British judge to issue a formal apology to J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. According to the (London) Guardian, this all stems from a suit filed by Rowling in 2013 in which she alleged the Daily Mail knowingly published a article in which Rowling’s tale as a single mother was characterized as a “sob story” and in which members of her own church were reported to have been left upset and confused, an allegation which was later acknowledged by the publisher as “completely false and indefensible.”

And the media wonders why there is such little regard for reporters.

The very first rule of journalism, at least the way I learned it, was two words:  fact check.  Unfortunately, today’s media seems to be more concerned with sensationalism and creating a buzz to sell copies, create clicks, or attract viewers than it is actually reporting an accurate story.  Reporters, looking to make a name for themselves, seem hellbent on landing that juicy story and, when they can’t do it, many appear to figure that inference in journalism is acceptable.  While the ability to “read between the lines” is an essential tool for any budding reporter, something just as essential is missing:  sound judgment.

Part of this, in reality, stems from an elitist attitude which has infected and metastasized within the journalism industry.  Rather than focus on finding individuals who are willing to dig, ask questions, and focus on the real story, editors and publishers have blurred the lines between reporting and opining.  While good writing begets a good story, firm journalistic principles and ethics beget good reporting, which can beget a good story.  Opining within a piece of reporting, however, begets lazy or, worse, bad journalism, every time.  Any journalist worth their degree can write a story, it takes work to hunt down and, moreover, verify the facts which transform a story into reporting.

What is incomprehensible is the “why” of this matter.  Why on earth would the Daily Mail go after Rowling, a woman whose character has been above reproach from her early days writing Harry Potter?  Could it be someone smelled a potential honey of a story after her ill-advised attempt to write a crime drama under a pseudonym, or perhaps the controversy caused by her first release following Deathly Hallows was the erotic novel Casual Vacancy?  The fact is, it doesn’t matter what the motive was; what matters is the Daily Mail got caught with its editorial hiney in a libelous sling, and is now being forced to not only reap the bitter fruit they sowed, but eat it, along with a heaping pile of crow.

Several years ago, News Corp was rocked by an investigation into one of its own newspapers, News of the World, over allegations of voice mail hacking, a snafu which eventually led to the closure of the tabloid.  While the Rowling fiasco doesn’t rise anywhere near to the level of News Corp’s blunder, it does raise serious questions for emerging authors as to whether the fortune and fame which so many seek is really worth the cost.  If this judgment does anything, it should compel writers and emerging authors to remain both ambitious and circumspect as to the true costs of success, as well as the need to ensure they market in a way which focuses on the work, and not on the life of the individual.

The world of journalism would be wise to heed this word of caution as well.

Lamenting the decline in student writing


NOTE:  It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted to this blog, and with good reason.  I am in the process of finishing my education at Georgia Southwestern State University, a degree long overdue for completion.  What does this have to do with writing, emerging authors and publishing business?  Quite bit, actually.  For a sense of perspective, I wish to post this essay written for my English class, which I retook to raise my grade-point average.

The world of collegiate writing is facing a crisis. As recent scandals involving standardized testing have proven, the current crop of incoming freshmen have proven, on many occasions, ill-equipped to handle the demands of college-level English classes. Yes, reading levels have seen a marked improvement over the past decade, but the ability to writing coherent, concise, and intelligent sentences continues to lag.

Think, for a moment, about your collegiate English classes. Were they boring? Were they engaging? Did the professor have a particular bias towards a demographic subset? Or were you fortunate enough to have the diehard entertaining academic, your own inspiring John Keating? Today, it is difficult to tell what really engages college students, and even more difficult to read some of their work. Text speak, misspellings, run-on sentences and the like are the stuff of literary nightmares, and what professors and graduate assistants must face on a daily basis.

One of the single greatest misconceptions of college students is the notion of the “all nighter” for compositions. This time-honored tradition of gathering books, taking notes, and building the all-important rough and final drafts has, in most cases, gone the way of the dinosaur. Though the internet and myriad electronic resources have created a cornucopia of knowledge bases, the skill required to separate fact from fiction has never been greater. Being able to use multiple search engines on a topic is useless if the majority of the sites contain quasi-information based on junk science, wild speculation, or conspiracy theories based in little more than superstitions, personal bias and urban legends. Today’s students are facing the greatest collection of resources ever assembled at one’s fingertips; they also must wade through the greatest ocean of misinformation ever created by the human mind.

For any literary education to be useful, the ability to not only write, but to discern sources, must be taught in an integrated fashion. For this reason, courses such as Literature, Social Sciences, History, Economics, Philosophy, and other Liberal Arts subjects are more vital than ever because they do more than just teach basics and absolutes. They teach the ability of one to thinking critically, discern fact from fiction, and build a cohesive argument using sound research skills. For those with a more creative bent, the study of such courses provides the sort of knowledge needed to learn how to write believable, yet entertaining stories and poetry which do not just uplift, but entertain, education, scare and humor readers.

Thanks to the demands of politicians and parents who are focused more on numbers than knowledge, our students are missing many of these important elements from their education. Thankfully, recent decisions to end the near obsessive level of testing in many states offers a ray of hope that sanity and common sense can once again prevail. Students deserve the opportunity to learn not just the lauded “Three Rs,” but the equally important liberal arts and sciences as a means to flex their thinking muscles, and not just their computational minds.

It’s one thing to be able to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in two days; it is quite another to be able to write a 5,000 world essay, in proper MLA or APA format, on the general literary themes addressed by J.K. Rowling in said work. This is a situation which college educators tend to concern themselves with, and which students must address with all deliberate force if they are to have a prayer of managing their collegiate careers effectively.