Honesty on a napkin

This blog is to deliver kudos to two of my mentors.

I started work at Pacific Press in 1998 about the same time that Tim Lale did. He was in charge of the copy preparation area–copy editors and proofreaders–and I was the new book editor and director of developmental research. We both followed our careers in different paths from that point–I into magazine editing at PPPA and then into university professorship; he into magazine editing at Review and Herald, back to Pacific Press as book acquisitions editor, then into university professorship at Southern University in Tennessee.

A couple of years ago, he made a statement that caught my imagination and challenged me to question my own writing. He talked about the need for “honest” writing. Honest? What does that really mean? I asked myself. Is it telling the truth, no matter what? Is it making the characters in your story as close to living, breathing people as possible? Is it delving into the dark places of the soul to dredge up the mysteries that normal people would keep hidden? Or was it being unwilling to put up with the politics, politeness and other (excuse my language) crap that we normally overlook in order to come to the truth? What is honest writing, really?

OK, that’s link one. Link two is courtesy of an accomplished writer named Julianna Baggott who I had the pleasure of learning from in June while I was at the Writers@Work workshop in Park City, Utah. She can be caustic at times; she uses language that I wouldn’t use (which in itself is probably fodder for another blog). But she keeps it real. Case in point: read her rant that she sent the fiction editor of Esquire magazine, written on a napkin, per his request: http://www.esquire.com/fiction/ESQ0207Baggott . She is talking about an issue that is very real to anyone who tried to make a living writing. How do you make a living? Well, most writers don’t.

I continue to examine the concept of honesty in writing. To tell you the truth, I’m still not sure I have a handle on what it all means. But it is stirring up some interesting discussions.

I’d like to hear what you have to say.

One thought on “Honesty on a napkin

  1. I think Honesty is a general policy.

    Be honest with your story. How would things play out, really. Don’t force a plot for an artificial effect.
    Be honest with your characters. If you make a character with a certain personality, follow through. It’s much the same as an honest plot.

    Be honest with your audience. If you built an honest story with honest characters, then don’t hide it from your audience. This might be where profanity comes in. If your characters are honest and their personalities demand that they are profane, then let them be profane. If you don’t want to expose your audience to that, then don’t write that character.

    And of course, be honest with yourself. When writing articles like news articles, or writing articles as you are asked to doesn’t count for this, because they are guided, but be honest with your interests. The fact is, I don’t want to write about “literary topics,” I want to write fantasy, sci-fi and other genre type works. Everything I write I write because it honestly matters to me.

    And of course these general principles expand to being honest with editors, etc. Be honest about who you are and what you write to whom.

    Riding the popularity train to make money is usually the anti-thesis of honesty.

    That’s my two cents.

    Oh, and her Napkin Opinion was interesting, even if I didn’t get all of the references.

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