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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Professional vs. Amateurish

   
Author Topic: Professional vs. Amateurish
jerich100
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I know, I know, you've told me before, "write true," "be yourself", "don't let others tell you how to write."

But, there's this prickly thing called. "professionalism." What is the magic key to that? I'm 99.999% ready to send a novel to a publisher, but I'm haunted by this question.

I would think the publisher will publish my (and your) work if:
1) It reads really well
2) It's gripping
3) It's unique
4) It's professional

There may be some other meaningless and junky criteria like, the publisher’s mood, taste, prejudices, and intelligence, but we'll skip those for the moment.

I want to know what “professional” is. To clarify, below are two examples of writing. The first is the first paragraph of 1984 by George Orwell. 1984 is one of my favorite books in terms of writing style. The second example is my pretending to write 1984 myself instead of George Orwell. Had I written 1984 instead of George, it would probably have begun like the second example below:

George’s 1984:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”

My 1984:
“At one o’clock in the afternoon, Winston Smith pressed through the glass doors of his apartment building to get out of the cold and gritty wind. He could never walk quickly enough, however, and his neck was often sore from crimping his chin against his chest in an attempt try to stay warm.”

Who here votes for George Orwell? What is the intangible, invisible, and consciously undetectable energy life that elevates great writing to the top?

No, I’m NOT asking, “How can I write like Orwell.” I’m asking, how can someone write as professionally as he wrote? (Besides having 30 years of experience). I’m looking for magic here, not a life devoted to hard work.

Thanks!

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extrinsic
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The Orwell sample exhibits a host of artful writing methods, irony, symbolism, implicature, to name a few. The imitation is more or less entirely straightforward and remote, open narrative distance.

One method example from the Orwell sample, the first sentence: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." A clock striking thirteen is a proverb, an idiom, symbolism, irony. The proverb-idiom is a signal or saying that calls into question all that came before. In law, philosophy, saying a clock struck thirteen is an analogy that means to discredit the entirety of an argumentation claim. One error discredits, poisons the whole.

Irony in that the clock striking thirteen signals the whole should be questioned--consciously, critically, responsibly questioned, as a work of invention, though with underlying truth: the extended irony of the whole. The clock struck thirteen, a situational irony that tolls the whole.

Fiction of Orwell's era had largely eliminated a writer's need for fufilling readers' desire to have a truth of the matter asserted, a convention of Romanticism that carried over into Realism but more or less died out with Modernism. Orwell inverts that convention, stands it upside down by writing clocks struck a thirteenth stroke. Immediately as much as asserting what follows is not true. Irony. However, the blatant incredulity of the observation immediately shifts viewpoint from objective narrator to subjective viewpoint character, closing narrative distance oh so artfully and as well firmly establishing the narrative point of view. Reflector Smith with an ironic attitude.

For general readers, that a clock struck thirteen is a bit off kilter, a narrator estranging metaphor, that evokes curiosity--who is this or where or when is this that this man perceives clocks struck thirteen--why, an inside joke of Smith's, and no less aroused tension for not knowing the allegory. For savvy readers, the allegorical implications are exquisite.

Orwell instead of asserting the truth of the matter, in this sequence and the whole, develops a reality imitation that does the function of creating a reality open to question, no less a reality, but one in which character viewpoint is foremost and subjective. Winston Smith is under deluded moral perceptions; even though he is a trustworthy reflector, he is artfully unreliable about the way he at first perceives his society. More irony.

Most of the rest of the sample develops the reality imitation's true-to-life setting, in easy strokes develops a small measure of reader rapport, and symbolizes the settings of the sequence and the whole as bleak: cold and gritty. Smith is at first a noir archetype, hardboiled cynic living in a bleak dystopian society.

I would not categorize Orwell as a professional writer, per se, more so an artful writer using all the tools available to express the message he intends. It's worth noting his prior works subtly disparaged communism, especially Animal Farm, an allegory. He had been a proponent of Marxism, but was demoralized by the Soviet corruption of the ideology. Once he'd lost faith, he steadily though subtly attacked communism. Nineteen Eighty-Four is his masterpiece in that vein.

I'd usually find much fault with "It" opening a narrative: a syntax expletive, if not for its pointing to the main, second clause's emphasized irony.

Overall, I'm talking subtext here, appealing, accessible figurative meaning that engages readers imaginatively and emotionally. Orwell's sample manages that magic. The imitation leaves little to the imagination.

[ April 25, 2014, 05:36 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by jerich100:
I know, I know, you've told me before, "write true," "be yourself", "don't let others tell you how to write."

But, there's this prickly thing called. "professionalism." What is the magic key to that? I'm 99.999% ready to send a novel to a publisher, but I'm haunted by this question.

I would think the publisher will publish my (and your) work if:
1) It reads really well
2) It's gripping
3) It's unique
4) It's professional

There may be some other meaningless and junky criteria like, the publisher’s mood, taste, prejudices, and intelligence, but we'll skip those for the moment.

I want to know what “professional” is.........
Thanks!

I think extrinsic answered the part about Orwell better than I could so I will concentrate on this part.

First of all: I think we all are trying to answer this the best we can.

Second I will try to answer this with a more technical response. Part of it, I think, is how you use words. In this case as in showing us what is inside your character. Not just what he is thinking on the surface. What he-she-it is going through inside. I have been told this, but I didn't really get it until I looked closer at the writing of three or four writers I greatly respect. They all seem to have some of the same characteristics. One is getting into the head and heart of a character especially in an action scene. It's more than He thought this or This thought crossed her mind or it felt fear and jubilation at the same time.

Second is staying away from cliches as much as possible. Some seems to be okay, but it's easy to over use them.

Another is brevity or saying something in the shorter amount of words as possible.
Going along with that is something I have noticed that I'm not sure I have ever red or heard anyone say. But I have noticed that pros hardly ever use "then" and "and". No "he ran, then he jumped over the metal carcass of the steam driven mer-corn." Nor "He leapt, and he spread his fabric wings and he smacked into the wind."

This isn't a full answer and I'm not sure if it's what you wanted, but it's what came to my mind.

[ April 27, 2014, 12:55 AM: Message edited by: LDWriter2 ]

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MAP
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I don't want to lower the bar for anyone else because am sure there are people here who are far more talented than me, but George Orwell was a freaking genius.

Orwell is at a level that I personally don't think I could ever attain. I love reading the classics, and I am amazed at those authors' skill in both prose and story telling (well, most of them anyway), but they are the cream of the cream of the cream of the publishing world. They are the Michael Jordans who honestly most athletes could never reach that level no matter how dedicated they were, even if they practiced from dawn to dusk every day.

I'm not saying that you can't reach that level or that you shouldn't try, but only that you should give yourself a break. That is a lofty goal which may take a lifetime or longer to achieve. You do not need to be at his level to be at a professional level. My bar is set several orders of magnitude lower, and there are plenty of traditionally published, successful, professional writers at that level.

What I think separates professional prose from an amateur's is confident, seamless writing that evokes an emotional response (I also think that professional writers tend to use a deeper POV than amateurs).

I know that this is probably vague and unhelpful, but I think the magic you seek doesn't exit. Personally, I just work on getting the words on the page to match the story in my head, and not just the images and events but the emotions and the struggles. That for me is hard enough.

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rstegman
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Keep in mind, that at the time Orwell wrote, they had not used a 24 hour clock.
There's the joke that says:
What time is it when your clock strikes thirteen?
Time to get a new clock.

A clock striking 13 at the time that was written was jarring, The reader would say "What the?" and set up the story to be something totally different. We don't have that jarring today.

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Denevius
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quote:
But I have noticed that pros hardly ever use "then" and "and".
I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I would like to point out that a "pro" writer has a "pro" editor.

I've often been curious of what some of the classics looked like before an editor got hold of them. I've never met a published author who didn't say that they had a lot of work to do *after* the editor of whatever publisher they're working with got through their novel.

I simply don't think that publishers are looking for good writing. There's too much mediocrity collecting dust on bookshelves in bookstores around the world. I think what publishers are looking for is potential. When they read the first chapters, do they see enough potential in the writer to take a chance.

Who knows if Orwell originally wrote '... and the clocks were striking thirteen'. Maybe he did. Or maybe his editor, after reading the novel, said, "You know what would be interesting..." And then Orwell eventually came to that first line: 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.'

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Robert Nowall
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A clock striking thirteen suggests a world where a twenty-four hour clock has been imposed---which says something immediately about the world. I'd say the choice was deliberate.

And I don't know how much writer-editor interacting there was because Orwell was dying when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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Denevius
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quote:
And I don't know how much writer-editor interacting there was because Orwell was dying when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Perhaps, but from Wikipedia:

quote:
The Last Man in Europe was one of the original titles for the novel, but in a letter dated 22 October 1948 to his publisher Fredric Warburg, eight months before publication, Orwell wrote about hesitating between The Last Man in Europe and Nineteen Eighty-Four.[13] Warburg suggested changing the main title to a more commercial one
My point being that the editor/publisher go a long way in the crafting of classic texts that we may now call "professional". 'The Last Man in Europe' is a cumbersome title that doesn't have the succinct ring to it of '1984'. Yes, maybe Orwell would have made the best decision on his own, though it seems like he wasn't sure and did require assistance.
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Robert Nowall
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If I recall right---it's been a long time since I've read it, not since high school and it being unrelentingly grim---1984 as a date comes up in the storyline, with Winston Smith writing in a secret diary that he thinks it's 1984. So it seems the obvious choice if an editor is presented with a title...
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extrinsic
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Contemporary perceptions and culture, folk culture may be unaware of assorted historical traditions, like a twenty-four hour clock. Twenty-four hour timekeeping was used by scientists, astronomers, astrologers, and so on for centuries. Institutional fomalization of the clock began in the late nineteenth century.

A clock striking the thirteenth hour, though a metaphor, is also a traditional idiom, saying, and a proverb. A saying, for example, about a clock striking thirteen has been used in literature before Orwell. Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, (1874): "This supreme instance of Troy's goodness fell upon Gabriel's ears like the thirteenth stroke of a crazy clock (Chapter XXIX, Particulars of a twilight walk)" (Wikipedia, "Thirteenth Stroke of the Clock").

Idioms, sayings, proverbs, etc., arise anew and fade when fads, cultures, eras, generations, etc., march on through the ages. I'm reasonably convinced Orwell had in his repertoire many sayings and such that he received from his eon as well as from his reading and cultural savvy. This thirteen o'clock was one. English language is a living language, not only words, but ever changing sayings, idioms, and so on keep the language alive. In literature, this is especially influential and often the mark of an artful writer: bright, lively language.

A lively turn of phrase, figure of speech, rhetorical figure, etc., spices a narrative's meaning. Orwell's three idioms from Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel's title itself, "Groupthink," coined by William Whyte 1952, and "Big Brother" are exceptional examples, both now much part of contemporary expression and culture. While "Thirteen of the clock" has faded from conventional, contemporary use.

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extrinsic
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quote:
By LDWriter2:
Going along with that is something I have noticed that I'm not sure I have ever red or heard anyone say. But I have noticed that pros hardly ever use "then" and "and". No "he ran, then he jumped over the metal carcass of the steam driven mer-corn." Nor "He leapt, and he spread his fabric wings and he smacked into the wind."

That's an astute insight. Yes, artful writers use conjunctions judiciously and timely. Additional to "then" and "and" are conjunctions or, as, that, while, nor, when, yet, for, so, and a comprehensive count of on the order of fifty conjunctive adverb, coordination, correlation, contrastive, or subordination conjunctions.

Note that many conjunctions, like prepositions, which are also connective syntax, are among the hundred most common words. Particle words like articles are also among the hundred. Judiucious use of the hundred most common words avoids outworn language, including articles the, an, and a.

I believe connective syntax (conjunctions joining multiple ideas in simple sentences, joining compound clauses, joining complex sentences, antecedent and subsequent word, phrase, clause, sentence, or paragraph subject, predicate, object referral) has a strong place in formal or informal expository composition, as a primary feature that enagages readers and propels them forward, and aids understanding when relationships between compared and contrasted ideas are on point.

As reader and writer I feel less comfortable with and believe connective syntax for prose is problematic. I believe prose should not or limitedly use connective syntax. A narrative's antagonism, causation, and tension should as a best practice arose reader appeal by step, step, step, instead of connective syntax. This way, the syntax doesn't, one, call undue attention to the writing genre as formal research and report, problem inquiry, or argumentation, which heavily use connective syntax to strengthen appeal instead of prose's antagonsism, causation, and tension. And two, connective syntax disturbs reading flow. Unless flow disturbance intends to emphasize crucial dramatic circumstances, though judicious and timely. Otherwise, varying simple sentences, simple compound clauses, and simple complex sentences, all with focused, singular main ideas are a prose composition best practice.

Not excepting stream of consciousness, which does use conjunction terms in one extreme--connective syntax. Syndeton is one feature used in stream of consciousness: either or both asyndeton or polysyndeton: no conjunctions and multiple conjunctions, respectively. Punctuation is often substituted for asyndeton conjunctions, elided conjunctions: commas, dashes, colons, and semicolons.

Stream of consciousness's thought and speech grammars use informal writing dialect to reflect real-world thought and speech, though more artfully and dynamically than everyday conversational dialects, diction, and syntax. Left-out sentence subjects or objects, typically not left-out predicates, invented but understandable words and phrases, syndeton, punctuation substitution, faulty grammar generally--these and other otherwise grammatical faults, rhetorical virtues, though, are features of stream of consciousness.

And coordination conjunction "and," like dialogue attribution verb said, is the most invisible conjunction, far more invisible than contrastive conjunction but and correlative conjunction as, in stream of consciousness expression.

[ April 27, 2014, 05:40 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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Wikipedia mentions "Big Brother," "doublethink," "thoughtcrime," "Newspeak," "Room 101," "Telescreen," "2 + 2 = 5," and "memory hole," as terms and concepts from Nineteen Eighty-Four that have entered daily usage, as well as "Orwellian" as an adjective. (I doubt "Telescreen" is original with Orwell, but that's as maybe.)

It should also be said that George Orwell (incidentally, a pseudonym) was a well-known professional writer and essayist, and something of a public figure, when he wrote and submitted Nineteen Eighty-Four---I don't remember offhand whether it was submitted to someone who previously published him, though.

Wikipedia also has a picute of the first page of the novel, notable in that nearly everything is crossed out and rewritten.

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jerich100
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This is clearly the place to get rich and priceless writing instruction and tutelage. Here is a summary of the responses:

1. Leave out some details both external and internal to the POV character to allow the reader to fill in using his/her imagination. Perhaps go so far as to describe things falsely (imitation of the truth) to ratchet up tension.

2. Use less “he thought”, “she thought” (too straightforward and unimaginative) and instead use something deeper.

3. Use a deeper POV.

4. Don’t overuse connective words like “then”, “and”, “as”, “that”, “while”, “nor”, ”yet”, and avoid contractions. “And” is more invisible to the reader than “but” and “as”. Instead of connections, glue the thread together with tension and antagonism.

Regarding the first draft page of “1984”. Wow. The image in Wikipedia is hard to read. I found another website with both the original and final published versions typed out for easy reading:

http://www.thefictiondesk.com/blog/george-orwell-manuscript-for-1984/

The draft version creeps me out because I think I can write that well. I hope Orwell did the editing, otherwise I question Orwell’s legacy of writing brilliance. (lightning bolt strikes here)

I’m going to start a new thread asking how to write with a deeper POV (suggested by MAP), and “showing us what is inside” the character (LDWriter2), because one of you wrote—and I can’t find it now so I’ll paraphrase:

“Just how all outward details shouldn’t be given to the reader, all details within the character’s mind shouldn’t be given to the reader, either. Leaving out inner details increases mystery, tension, and intrigue, just as does leaving out outward details.”

Thus the conflict: How to write with a deeper POV but without providing too much description. Too much inner detail and the reader will understand the character too well and won’t feel sufficient tension, mystery, and intrigue. There are many websites on how to write with a deeper POV, so I’ll check those out. Maybe I won’t have to create another thread. Or maybe I’ll create a thread summarizing how to write with a deeper POV.

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extrinsic
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I believe artful delay revealing crucial details when they arise and matter in an unfolding moment is more appropriate than leaving them out.

I understand what's meant by "deeper POV" though I wonder if that's a useful premise or approach. I do believe close narrative distance is useful for developing a strong reality imitation; however, close psychic distance, close aesthetic distance, and close emotional distance are useful as well. The four distances don't always jibe and anyway may be near impossible to synthesize in every moment and case, and probably best not. A villain or nemsis agonist should be alienating if not hateable, for example. An antihero agonist should be somewhat likeable and trustable, notwithstanding somewhat wicked. Hero agonists should be at least human-like in their frailties and failings and shortcomings. moral or otherwise.

Note that a writer orchestrates tension using antagonism and causation; readers respond emotionally. Tension comes from readers' reactions, unlike antagonism and causation, which come from writers' creativity. This is a writer conducting readers' emotional symphony.

Anyway, more response to come when you post a thread on the topic.

[ April 29, 2014, 03:37 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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