Writing with integrity: Do I know where I stand?

I have been scanning back over a few recent articles from the last month’s press and this has thrown up some threads around issues of integrity, honesty, decency and humanity. This all sounds very moralistic, maybe, but let’s go with it for a while.

A number of articles were bemoaning the fact that a piece of writing that was not highly ‘literary’ could be so popular, so attractive to so many readers, that it outsold everything in sight. In the same tone were articles on how some writers seemed able to knock content together quickly and put it up for sale at next to nothing and sell large volumes – and that this was not ‘proper’ writing. In the opposite corner were a number of review articles on the release, or forthcoming release, of established writers’ new novels – and the detailed work that had been done as background by the writers, the length of time the writing had been left to develop in its own way, the high level of reader-focus the text needed and so on. The overall impression was that some kinds of writing had more integrity than others (and, by implication, that some kinds of writers had more integrity than others).

A different set of articles focused on the dishonesty of people who have scraped content from other people’s websites and repackaged it under their own brand; or the questionable practice of writing glowing reviews of ones own books or paying to have positive reviews written by people who may not even have read the book.

New phrases were added to my vocabulary (‘sockpuppetry’). Practices that I would never imagine myself doing were described as widespread. The temptations of the uses and misuses of social media were laid out before me. It began to feel a bit depressing until I remembered that most of the people I knew were decent, reliable people who simply wanted their writing to honestly stand up for itself.

At the heart of much of what I read was the issue of ‘gaming the system’ and the extent to which certain things might, or might not, be regarded as ethical. Once a system is set up with all good intentions there will be people wanting to stretch that system, to test its limits, to see what legitimate advantages it might offer, to optimise it for their individual benefit. There is then a fuzzy line between that and deliberate misrepresentation, knowing falsification, making the system operate in ways that go against its original benign intent. There is a further stage where such practices get heavily promoted and where their widespread use begins to undermine the very benefits the system was established to deliver.

Of course there were various interpretations of what was going on, various cases for and against, various views expressed. Ethics, honesty, decency are somewhat slippery notions and I suppose it is up to each writer to establish their own approach to all of this. One of my own touchstones would be: Does acting in that way contribute more to an overall sense of humanity or does it bring immediate gain for me but at some overall reduction for the wider world?

At the end of the day my views were confirmed when I happened to check on Amazon and found a review of my book ‘It’s Murder on the Eleven’. This was an unsolicited review, by someone unknown to me, who had read (and enjoyed) the tale, and was itself very carefully and considerately written. That gave me a tremendously uplifted feeling that I doubt I would have got from seeing any number of artificially generated reviews up there.

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