Artistically Sincere

Do you get Brain Pickings? I had to pause after typing that question, since it conjures up differing images, some grosser than others. By Brain Pickings, I mean this newsletter produced by Maria Popova.


An article on André Gide, a French author, inspired this post. I can’t say I’m familiar with Gide’s work, though he won the Nobel Prize in 1947. I learned through the article that was an avid journaler. What struck a chord with me was Gide’s study of “the paradox of sincerity, the difference between being and appearing, and the monumental question of what it really means to be oneself.”

André Gide

I immediately thought of the word authenticity—keeping it real. Here’s the definition that pops up when you Google sincere.

free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings.
“they offer their sincere thanks to Paul” . . .
• (of a person) saying what they genuinely feel or believe; not dishonest or hypocritical.

I can’t help thinking of reality TV shows that purport to show life as it really happens for some. Sorry. I’m skeptical of the sincerity of many of those shows, since “real life” can be edited to fit a time frame. But how much of “myself” do I present to the public? At home, I might leave dirty socks on the floor. In public I often present the “self” that’s all part of putting my best foot forward. In other words, the “edited” me that tries to fit in to society. Sometimes that means I don’t say what I genuinely feel if hurting someone will result. (Like, “Wow, that tie your wife gave you is hideous.”)

184698To aid in the discussion of sincerity, Popova used quotes from Gide’s book, The Journals of André Gide. A quote that really stuck out to me was this:

When one has begun to write, the hardest thing is to be sincere. Essential to mull over that idea and to define artistic sincerity.

I mulled that over in regard to my current WIP—a middle grade contemporary fantasy novel. How much of my writing, I wondered, is really sincere or a sincere desire to cater to the ever-shifting market? Is it possible to be both?

I’m reminded of the Twilight craze some years ago and how in 2010 or so I thought to jump on the bandwagon by writing a vampire novel. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of that story or where it is. Maybe it’s just as well. I couldn’t get past four pages of that manuscript. The main character was a college student watching a vampire movie on television with her best friend whom she secretly liked, but who liked some other girl. Aside from that boring beginning, I had no clue what she wanted (besides that guy) or how I would bring something new to the table in regard to vampires. So I quickly abandoned that story.


Three years ago, one of my grad school advisors suggested that I write a middle grade story. Many authors were turning out middle grade manuscripts and agents were taking notice. I tried to take her advice, but couldn’t come up with a manuscript beyond one involving a character I barely knew and a vague idea I’ve since abandoned. The two pages I wrote felt too much like the Twilight-esque story—me trying to write a story without having a sincere passion for it. I couldn’t go on with it. Instead, I completed the two young adult novels and sent both out on querying rounds to agents. Couldn’t get a nibble on one. The jury’s still out on the second.

While working on a sequel to my second young adult novel, an idea for a middle grade novel came to me that felt sincere. How do I know it is? Because when the main character and her conflict came to mind, I sat down and quickly wrote the first scene without a struggle. I wanted to know more about her and how she would react to conflict. I also had a sense of her family dynamic, which enabled me to write the next scene and the next. Before I knew it, I had written two chapters and enjoyed the process.

I recently searched my computer and found three other attempts at a middle grade novel that went nowhere. I didn’t even remember one of them.

Artistic sincerity means feeling the story bone deep—having a sense of the characters and their quirks—something I lacked with my other attempts. What does sincerity mean for you and your writing? How do you know when you’re being artistically sincere?

Popova, Maria. “André Gide on Sincerity, Being vs. Appearing, and What It Really Means to Be Yourself.” Brain Pickings RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

André Gide photo from Brain Pickings logo from

50 thoughts on “Artistically Sincere

  1. “Before I knew it, I had written two chapters and enjoyed the process.”

    I know exactly how you feel. I may have a number of ideas for posts but I am always ‘drawn’ to one and can’t bring myself to write about a subject that does not immediately ‘grab’ me.

    • I feel the same way, Malcolm, about posts. I look at other well-received blogs (like yours for instance) and briefly think, I should try to emulate what he/she does. Well, that thought lasts about half a second. My insincerity button goes off and I take a step back to regroup.

  2. L. Marie, thank you for this post. I love, but I missed that post. I think the sincerity you talk about it is exactly why my current WIP seems to be “working” where others have not. I’m especially heartened to hear that you are enjoying your work on the new book.

    • It definitely works in yours, Laura. I love the fact that you were writing it on the side–something you were playing around with as you mentioned to us. And how stunning it is!!!

  3. So much I want to say here. 🙂 I’ve been told to follow so many writing trends to become successful. Write a Harry Potter like story. Write a Twilight story. Write Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, GYAH! It’s like authors are expected to follow the trend instead of writing what they want, which only saturates that market. Those that do get in and never loved the genre might find themselves trapped too. I’d go crazy if I became successful off an erotica series and that’s all I’d be asked to write. This is why I think sincerity and writing what you love is very important. The money would be nice, but look at the trade off.

    In terms of sincerity and being ourselves in public, it really isn’t promoted or even allowed some days. You can’t go to a ‘professional’ job in t-shirt and jeans or speak the way you normally speak. There’s a mask of ‘proper’ behavior that you have to put on or you’re going to be seen as odd, uncouth, or simply stupid. We’re really pushed to keep our real selves behind closed doors and this can go to so many extremes. I’ve had jobs where even a mild sense of humor was a problem because the bosses were no nonsense at all. Those types of jobs tend to be exhausting due to having to triple think your behavior and words before you act.

    Finally, I thought it was established long ago that all reality TV is staged and/or heavily edited.

    • See, that’s what’s great about you, Charles. You have respect for your genre and don’t want to get caught up in something you don’t believe in. This is why you can write a fifteen-book series. You love your world and took the time to build it. George R.R. Martin respected the genre and took the time to build his world. I also think of Robin Hobb and all of her series.

      Some authors can successfully navigate the trends and turn out sincere efforts. I wish I could, but I know I can’t. I’ve read many a vampire book, starting with Dracula when I was kid. But I can’t seem to write a vampire book to save my life. And for some reason, I have trouble writing science fiction too. I wrote 70 pages of a science fiction novel that went nowhere. I wrote a science fiction romance novel that I wouldn’t show anyone either. Turned that into a screenplay that will remain in a drawer.

      As you said, sincerity is important. I think you really need to know what you want to do. My hat is off to anyone who can write a story as engaging as Harry Potter or as funny as Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

      • Fantasy definitely requires a lot of dedication because of the world building. So it’s a tough arena to step into and you kind of need to stay in there for a while to get everything solid. I think it’s rare to find a fantasy author who can jump genres so easily.

        I’ve pondered the vampire one since they’re a force in my world. The decision I made was to make a story where the characters just happened to be vampires. The mythos developed as I planned stuff and designed the characters.

      • You already have vampires in your world, so a vampire series is a natural fit for you. I was just trying to cash in. But my phony attempt didn’t go anywhere. I can’t seem to make a ghost story work either. Shape-shifters, however, seem to be a better fit for me. I’m not sure why.

      • Zombies are another group I have trouble writing about. I can read a zombie book, but can’t figure out how to do one well. So I guess I won’t write a Walking Dead clone.

      • Tension and mood is key there. You have to focus a lot on the fear-based tics of the human body and mind. Focus on how the living reacts to the dead to draw the reader in. At least that’s how I see it.

  4. I don’t subscribe to Brain Pickings but I always enjoy the posts so maybe I should subscribe 🙂 I really like this line: “Artistic sincerity means feeling the story bone deep …” How true that is! I wonder, though, when you are writing a novel, do you feel the story, every word, “bone deep” or can you allow that some parts might be more difficult to feel than others? Novels intimidate me because of their size and structure. Even if I can create a first draft, going back and re-experiencing that initial thrill always seems to elude me.
    Regarding reality TV shows: I never watch those. They’re not real. How real can people be when there’s a camera in their face? Or at least when they know they’re being filmed even if they can’t see the camera? I’ve also heard they’re scripted. I’d rather watch a documentary 😉

    • Thanks, Marie. I’d say some scenes are easier to write than others. But none of it is easy. I know a story resonates with me when I’m eager to work on it and can see how to progress in it. Also, the backbone of a plot is there, waiting for me to flesh out. With the other stories, I only had an idea or a quirky character that I couldn’t really “see.” Those stories never went anywhere, because there was nowhere for them to go.

      It reminds me of when I was a kid. I would tell my best friend, “I want to write a story. Give me some inspiration.” (Seriously. We used to talk like that.) She might say, “Write a space story.” Then I would sit and write an implausible story about a kid building a rocket ship or being captured by aliens. That worked for me back then when I wrote a lot of two-three page stories. But with a novel, I know I need much more! 😀

      • I agree, I feel like I struggle between the parts I like and the parts I’m unsure of (or, frankly, don’t like). Another aspect of the problem is just my own self-doubt as well. As soon as I start taking my writing seriously, I wonder why anyone would want to read it. I become very critical of it. That’s my other hurdle: how to tone down the editor in me 🙂

      • I think we all struggle with the nagging critic within us, Marie. I do all of the time. Sometimes I win the battle, sometimes I lose. But it’s all part of the journey, isn’t it?

    • Thanks, Professor. I can fool myself for a bit. But after awhile, I know my heart’s not in something. That’s why I have a folder with about 14 novels I either didn’t finish or haven’t yet fleshed out.

    • So true, Jill. Who can be “real” with a camera in your face all day? Ugh! I couldn’t. I don’t even like to FaceTime anyone!

      Writing two chapters right away has been a long time coming. Hadn’t done that in many months! It felt good!

  5. Definitely think about this a lot of the time. The impulse to be authentic but also write something that people will want to publish, buy, read, etc. is such a hard tightrope to balance on. Glad that you are having luck and enjoying your latest though! Very exciting!

  6. Sincere words will always find a home. Maybe not the reader I imagined, or the number I crave, but a home nonetheless.

    I don’t subscribe to Brain Pickings, but I follow her on Twitter.

    • It’s nice to know that sincere words will find a place in a reader’s heart. I know this is true in your case, because your sincere words led me to your blog!

  7. Val shared this quote earlier this week. Thought it might resonate with you:

    Be honest with yourself. The world is not honest with you. The world loves hypocrisy. When you are honest with yourself you find the road to inner peace.

    ~ Paramahansa Yogananda ~

    People are unhappy because they aren’t being truthful with themselves. Being truthful with yourself plugs you into your inner power. ~ Suze Orman

    Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    Here’s to Honesty in our writing, our thoughts, and our conversations.

  8. I think the best stories are ones where I can be emotionally invested in the characters. So I just don’t see how anyone can write a good story if they don’t truly care about it. The emotional depth (or lack of it) always comes through.

    • And that’s what I’ve also learned about the stories I eventually complete–I’m emotionally invested in their lives. They invade my thoughts when I lie down to go to sleep. I wake up with them on my mind.

  9. Good luck with the new project, Linda! It’s such a great feeling to start something when you feel your heart is in it. I’m working on something right now that could go the way of a fairly standard historical romance, and there’s a lot of pressure to go in that direction because readers love historical romance with an exotic feel–the more exotic, sensationalistic, and stereotyped the more popular these books seem to be. But I’m sticking with the story I love that’s truer to the history and hoping my publisher and eventually the readers will appreciate it.

    • Great, Lyn! I love a historical romance! So I’m happy that you’re going in that direction. But I hope you don’t feel too pressured to do something if your heart isn’t in it.

  10. Thoughtful piece, Linda. I love brainpickings and don’t read it often enough. There’s no way around it… to be a great writer, for yourself and for others, sincerity is a must. I think you can be an okay writer and in some instances, even a good writer, but it’s the honesty that makes a writer great.

    • I need to read it more myself, Phillip.
      Thank you. It takes me longer sometimes to hone in on key truths. When I was a younger writer, I wasn’t very sincere in my work. That’s why artistic sincerity has been such an epiphany for me.

  11. Yup. I totally thought brain dissection when you said Brain Pickings. 😀
    Sincerity can be hard to nail down. Especially if part of your personality is to adapt to the personalities of the people around you. *cringes* I think it’s great you have figured out your niche, though. Writing was my way of NOT molding myself to others, so I didn’t struggle with sincerity in that area, but I can see where market trends and shiny things could be VERY distracting.

    • Ha! I thought someone would think of brain dissection or lobotomies. I certainly did. 😀
      I struggle with writing what really brings joy to my heart, rather than what might seem popular. If I try to go the trendy route, my stories always wind up as parodies. When I finally take something seriously, as my advisors urged me to, they’re much more serious and heartfelt.

  12. Thank you for this post, L. Marie. I needed to hear this reminder, for sure. “Artistic sincerity means feeling the story bone deep…” Yes. So very yes. Thank you.

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