A-Z Writer's Toolbox: Integrity

A to Z Disclaimer:

Like all craftspeople, writers need to keep a bag of tricks handy. A set of tools for the job (writing), if you will. Some of these traits or tools are obvious--like the need to have a hide as thick as a brick, for instance. Some are not. This month, I've been challenged to do a post every day of the week (excluding Sunday) that begins with a letter of the alphabet. I'm going to use this challenge to examine some of those necessary writing tools, both conventional and not. Hold on to your #2 pencil, here we go!

NOTE: I've added a page dedicated to my A to Z Writer's Toolbox posts. I figured I'd soon have a bunch of these things and it'll make it easier for you to browse any of the letters you might have missed. You can find a link to the page under the, "MORE STUFF" heading at the top of the right-hand column of this page.

I is for integrity

The word integrity gets its roots from the Latin word for 'whole' or 'complete'.  The English definition of the word essentially means to adhere to a set of rules or principals.  Combine the two, and you come up with something along the lines of: to be completely devoted to a core group of ideals.  It's the direct application of ethics.  

There are different types of integrity, from artistic to professional. Authors, interestingly enough, are subject to most all of them.  Professional integrity as a writer means you're not going claim the work of someone else as your own. (Plagiarism is bad, m'kay?)  That means you're going to site references and credit others for their ideas, even when you embellish them.  It also means that if you write about 'real' life and 'real' people, you're going to tell the truth.  You can't alter the words or doings of someone else to fit your story or concept.  Pretty straightforward, I think.

Artistic integrity is a slightly more nebulous concept.  In basic theory, it means that you won't compromise or alter your vision, or the product thereof (writing), for the sake of profit or fame.  I'd also include that it means you won't pull punches on the reader by committing any manner of writing skullduggery that includes: 1) Treating the reader like an idiot, or 2) The blatant use of gimmicks--shock and awe tactics--to draw attention to your story.  

For a wonderful list of 7 Deadly Writing Sins (and a great blog) that if I found, you can go here

The second aspect of artistic integrity I mentioned is probably the easiest to understand and follow.  The first, however, can get a little tricky.  Authors need to eat and buy iPads too, right?  Furthermore, didn't I just post something about being an entertainer first?  So how do we find a balance between being commercially viable and keeping it real?

I think it all starts with the original concept or idea.  Are you writing a story because it's a story you want (or need) to tell, and one that you'd write if no one paid you a dime?  If so, that's probably a good start.  Then, once you've drafted that story, to what extent are you willing to alter the original concept in order to put a price tag on it?  

My point is that I believe very few stories are truly ready for public consumption on the first few go-rounds.  To be clear, I'm not talking strictly about grammar and poor writing mechanics.  From a conceptual standpoint, stories need to be made reader friendly, so to speak.  Plots shouldn't meander, loads of author embellishment probably needs to be cropped, the cast of characters might need to be shortened, etc.  There is most definitely a level of consumer expectation inherent in all things that cost money, and even the best authors have hit on a few of them to be successful in the public arena.

Would you change anything and everything to see your story in print?  If so, that might be a warning sign that you're on the wrong track.  That being said, in my mind there's nothing wrong with wanting to be published, nor is there a problem with making a little coin in the process.  I don't believe there's some magical sales threshold that turns you into a sellout.  

Ultimately I'm not sure there is one concrete answer to how we can maintain artistic integrity, but I do think it's an important consideration.  One that should be made early on in the writing process.  In the end, perhaps it's a distinction between writing FOR an audience as opposed to writing BECAUSE of an audience?

I leave you with questions:

What do you think?  Are all of the post-Twilight vampire books cashing in?  Are you aware of a writer's intentions and audience when reading?  Have you ever caught an author pandering to an audience?  Do you even consider it a 'no no', or do you think the readers/consumers speak the truest voice?




  1. I agree with what you're saying, but I'm not sure people care anymore. It's a bit like sprinters taking steroids because they won't be able to compete otherwise, a sort of do what you go to do mentality. Maybe I'm wrong but the whole idea of selling out seems to be very downplayed nowadays.

    I'm a big fan of integrity but I sometimes wonder whose respect I would be trying to earn. If it's my own, I'm not sure it's worth turning down $2 million to write Vampire Boys Academy.

    I find the whole thing very confusing.

  2. I'm not sure what book publishers are looking for but some very famous authors have new characters introduced on almost every page-at least a few new ones in every chapter with meandering plots that somehow turn out interesting and also turn out big bucks for their publishing house.You could pitch your story to one agent who will tell you it sounds fascinating, while another one will tell you not to waste your time. Every book is different-every agent, every editor seems to be looking for something different and sometimes you just have to keep your eyes on the prize even if it means adjusting your...integrity.

  3. Great entry and I agree wholeheartedly. It's one reason why I'm not going near any of Pittacus Lore's books. He (James Fray) in my opinion, has no integrity. Sure he may know how to write...but so do a lot of other folks. My penny is going to go to support their hard work and not his.

  4. @ TDR & Mood: I hear you. It is very confusing, and at what point do you cease to care? I think it's somewhat easier for unknown authors to have this discussion. Which begs the question: Is this an argument only for those who aren't commercially successful?

    @ Michael: I've read a couple of your posts on the matter and really enjoyed them. James Patterson is doing something similar and frankly it has put me off of his stuff for good.

    Thanks for stopping by, all!


  5. I love this post. I wrote my first project from the heart and could only compromise so much of it - I get that you have to consider your audience - but I also don't believe you should write completely to that. You have to be true to yourself, your story, and your characters too.

  6. You know, first I'm an entertainer. I'll take my chances. I'm glad to throw some of my stuff out there for free b/c honestly...well...I'm entertaining people. If I make someone laugh or smile that's worth more to me than a million dollars. Case in point, Contessa and Arthur. Need I say more.

  7. I don't try to write to trends. I follow the advice I've heard about writing a good book with a strong character. While I'm sure agents and editors are thinking "Can I sell this?" when they read submissions I think they also want to find books they love with characters they love. My hope is that all the post Twilight vampire novels will keep enough money coming in that publishers can take risks on other things.

  8. Integrity should never be compromised. If it's lost, I think readers will see right through you. I try to keep this in mind every time I write anything, whether it's a blog post, a newspaper article or a scene in my novel. It's my name I'm signing at the bottom.

  9. I think all sequel movies are for the cash, but as for books like twilight, I think maybe the story just wasn't done being told.

  10. "To your own self be true" pops up in all parts of your life.

    Still, I'd look for "integrity" when someone can influence what goes [or comes out] of your "wallet".

  11. Losing integrity is a big turn off for me. I understand having to change/edit things to make it more reader friendly. I mean that is the whole purpose right? For our books to be read.

    But there is a fine line between having integrity and being true to yourself and your work and then losing that.

    I guess we have to know where that line is for ourselves and if it is too far over for our readers will let you know the hard way.

  12. great post! i'm glad i found your blog through the a-z. i think the best books--the ones that stand the test of time--are books whose authors have kept their integrity as writers.

  13. I like the 'writing FOR an audience rather than BECAUSE of an audience' quote. I blogged recently about how I write for people and how I think that's an integral part of the life of a book - but I still write what I want. I'm not Pittacus Lore :D

  14. You make some excellent points here. Integrity comes down to reliability and trust. If an author or any other producer of goods and services wants repeat business, their customers must have expectations fulfilled. Give 'em what they want in the way they want it.

    I'm not a big fan of fads and bandwagons. Originality is most important in developing a brand that can be identified with a producer, but if one can successfully jump on a bandwagon and put their own mark on it then perhaps that's not so bad.

    Good post on this topic.

    Tossing It Out

  15. Great post on Integrity! The irrevocable lines between "professional" and "artistic" shall never be crossed. A foolhardy writer deserves no praise. The information you provide in your post is essential to any writer. Great stuff!

    And very nice blog!

  16. You are falling behind in the challenge mah friend!


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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