Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Being Honest Sucks

by Mindy McGinnis

Here's the thing about honesty—it makes you take a good hard look at things you'd rather not think about.

I recently started keeping track of my calorie intake, thanks to the smartphone and a handy-dandy app that makes it easy for me. Easy in the sense that it's easy to use, and incredibly difficult in that it tells me exactly what I'm putting in my body. I figured out that I can eat whatever I want ... if I stop eating around 11:00 AM and stick it out 'til the next day.

Which isn't happening.

So, I've been forced to acknowledge that craving processed sugars is not a natural instinct and as a result I've lost six pounds. I run on the treadmill three to four times a week, but that wasn't having much effect until I started being ever-so-slightly more careful about what I was eating.

But I still have those days. Days when co-workers bring in boxes of doughnuts in the morning, days when my mom has just made chocolate chip cookies, days when it's been a long damn week and I just want that apple turnover to wash down the roast beef sandwich.

And you know what? I can lie all I want. Nobody makes me be honest with the calorie counter. Nobody insists that I can't pad my numbers when I input the speed I was going on the treadmill. I'm the only person keeping myself honest, so when I went a full 1,000 calories over my daily limit on Easter Sunday, I punched those numbers in. 

Because I did it, and I needed to own that.

The same is true about writing. Nobody is making you do a second-pass edit, or a third. Or hell, even a fourth and fifth. Nobody forces you to slice through the dialogue tags and learn how to properly us a semi-colon. You are your own boss when it comes to writing and you have to be honest with yourself or you will never, ever improve as a writer. Looking at your first draft and claiming it's a work of art is the same thing as eating a whole pumpkin pie and telling the app that you had one slice.

You're only hurting yourself. So take that hard look and slice the fat off that ms.

Mindy McGinnis is a school librarian and author whose debut Not a Drop to Drink is coming Fall 2013 from Katherine Tegen Books. She also wields a mean editing hatchet. When she's not avoiding writing her own bio, you can find her at her blog and on Twitter.


Jean Oram said...

That's so true, Mindy. If we want to improve as writers, we have to take a good, long look at our work. And damn those semi-colons!!

Amanda Corlies said...

I had a huge laugh at the pumpkin pie analogy. So true! Congrats on the diet and thanks for the honesty. Now, the hard part. Being honest with ourselves! It's always a work in progress.

Debra McKellan said...

...Oh my God, now I want pumpkin pie. :D

But it feels so good to know editing and editing...and editing is the right thing to do. :)

E.B. Black said...

This post had an interesting effect on me because I'm pretty honest with myself with my weaknesses in my writing, but not so honest with myself about my eating habits.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post! I think I've got some work to do in both these areas... But I do believe I'm also getting better. I actually love the slash & burn stage of editing now! :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Jean - Damn them, indeed! I've come to realize I will never be a perfect technical writer - and my CP's fill one hell of a niche :)

Amanda - Pumpkin pie. Yep. I could eat it everyday. I often mistype it "pumpking" and really, that's true too. Being honest... yeah. Not easy.

Debra - It is, it really is. And that's exactly the point where your work starts to grow and you as a writer begin to improve, as long as you're honest enough to admit it wasn't perfect the first time. And after each edit - eat pumpkin pie!

EB - Oh man. Seriously once you know how many calories are in some things... I use a little app called My Fitness Pal (it's free). But if you don't have a smartphone you can still use their site - Totally free, totally helpful. And yes, they just got a free plug from me.

Jemi - Slash and Burn!! If only we could do that with our body fat so easily!!

LD Masterson said...

Nicely said.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks LD!

Lynn Proctor said...

i am not a professional writer but have had articles published---and i know i am in the minority but i think lots of times people edit the guts out of things

Mindy McGinnis said...

Lynn- its definitely possible to sit the life right out of a piece of fiction, that's why we all need excellent crit partners to warn us when we're crossing that line.,