Artistic Integrity: The Times I Chucked Mine in the Garbage Disposal

Wanting to be a writer is a little like wanting to make a flower grow with your mind. Sitting cross-legged on the ground and staring at the dirt is hard work. The sun is on your back. The bugs are biting. And the tension headache is brewing, but you don’t get as much as a sprout. You want to get up. You want to go inside, drink tea, and forget all about it, but even if you manage a break, that empty spot of earth calls you back and before you know it, you are ruining your cute spring leggings in the mud.

Ask any writer what it’s like to be a writer and they may give you a spiel about it being rewarding or fulfilling, but the first and best answer is: It’s hard.

Even if you do manage to tap into your inner Jedi to conquer the actual pen-to-paper part, producing a little green bud, it’ll shrivel up in a heartbeat if you can’t manage to conjure up some water. Then, you’re left with the words, but no one to read them and absolutely no one to pay for them. So, what then? You have your manuscript, but how do you get it published? Or, as is sometimes the case, what would you do to get it published?

I’m ashamed to say that at the beginning of my pursuit of a writing career the answer to that last question was pretty much anything. I did what I think a lot of us do. I wrote whatever I had to in order to meet a publisher’s brief and sent it in. And I thank God every day that those early manuscripts were never published. Not because I thought my writing was weak or because I was snobby about the genres. I love genre fiction and am honored to write it. Genre fiction readers know what they want and that’s awesome!

No, I breathe a heart heavy sigh of relief when I think about what could have been because those manuscripts weren’t me. And worst of all, those stories didn’t align with my faith and beliefs. Maybe my artistic integrity was never really in jeopardy with those books, but my personal integrity was in the toilet.

Now, I am not at all trying to imply that there should be censorship in fiction containing a faith narrative because I don’t believe that. Faith is also about truth after all. Take a walk through the pages of the bible and you’ll quickly see that no one was permitted to censor the word of God. In the Old Testament and New, you’ll see instances of dishonesty, greed, murder, adultery, and polygamy. And those were the acts of believers! Why would God include all of that in a book teaching the virtues of kindness, gentleness, patience, and unconditional love?

Because God tells the truth. If he filled his book with people who always did the right thing, would we really believe it? I wouldn’t. Because I’ve met people. I AM people. The bible is uncensored and real. Our characters should be too.

The difference between God’s truth and the truth I weaved into those early manuscripts was that I made things I don’t believe are right okay. Even desirable. And that wasn’t really truth. It was an attractive lie that in real life would lead to unhappiness and pain. Today, I am and strive to be proud of what I write.

But be careful that being proud of your work doesn’t turn into pride in your work. If you’re a reader, I guarantee you’ve read the end of a popular series or a new book by a famous longtime writer and hated it. I know I have. What happened? I don’t think these authors suddenly became bad writers. No, what I think happened is that editors started going easy on them. Maybe the author’s success made the critiques of the readers trivial and worthless. Maybe they decided that they simply didn’t need edited anymore. In my opinion, you’re in trouble as a writer the day you go through an entire manuscript with an editor and don’t get at least a little mad at them. Self-indulgence and pretension are the Achilles’ Heel of good writing.

The bible says refuse good advice and watch your plans fail. Never think you are better than your critics. If you think an editor is going easy on you, tell them to be tougher. Does that mean cutting things you think are good? Yep. Does that mean letting your editor influence the direction of the story you worked so hard on and hold so dear? Absolutely.

But isn’t that sacrificing artistic integrity? I don’t know. Maybe to some, but not to me. For me it’s having enough integrity to see that art is fluid, reaches us all in different ways, and I’m not always right. The bible also says that God smashes the pretensions of the arrogant so…

Your artistic integrity is yours and yours alone. Do with it what you will. My only advice is don’t sacrifice it at the expense of your soul and don’t stamp it across the jutted lower lip of a pout just because you don’t want to take criticism or think you know better.

What do you think? How much input do you think an editor should have on a story? How do you preserve your artistic integrity?

Comment below to join the discussion. And while you’re here, be sure to stop on my CONTACT page and sign up to receive April’s newsletter. In it, I’ll talk about my TBR pile and my newest furry houseguests!