How to Be a Hack
In creative circles, the worst thing you can be is a hack. A hack is someone who makes something uninspired for money. A hack is someone who isn’t popular among his peers, despite his general success. A “sell-out.”
In the original meaning, a hack was someone from Hackney. Hackney was known for having mid-range cattle for very reasonable prices. In this sense, being a hack was in line with being a crowd-pleaser. It got the job done. Nothing fancy, nothing terrible.
For writers, the fear of being a hack can prevent us from doing the work. Doing the work is the only thing that will ever lead to any sort of genius. To do the work properly, we have to be willing to be a hack most of the time.
All greats were once hacks
Take any great artist and look at their work from their early years. Look at the early work of Seinfeld. You might even call it hack work.
You aren’t in charge of your legacy. You can’t make everyone on the internet think of you in a certain way. However, you can keep doing the work. You can keep putting things out there and trusting that whatever reputation you might gain from it today can change drastically in the future.
Even your own perceptions of artists change over your time knowing them. Think of all the artists that you have known whose work you didn’t like at first. Do you even remember what you didn’t like about them in the beginning? Do you still hold that against them, or are you just glad that they produce wonderful work now?
Realize that the same grace will be offered to you. Sure, your work will be hack at the beginning, but that’s OK. You might produce something truly wonderful from the pile if you continue to do the work.
There is no writer’s block
There is no such thing as writer’s block, there is only the fear of writing badly. Do the work. Stop judging yourself either way. Don’t think of yourself as a good writer or a bad writer. Just write. Do the work. Be a hack. Copy styles that you enjoy. Enjoy the process.
Sometimes you will produce something that excites you. You will want to follow it. That’s what true art feels like. It is an obsession that grips you out of the blue. It does not feel like the anxiety of wanting to be a good artist and the fear of not wanting to be a hack.
You don’t just want to think of yourself as a hack, either. True hacks are just sell-outs. They are in it for the wrong reasons. They forgot the joy of creating and are just chasing the next buck. Don’t be a full-on hack. Be an artist who isn’t afraid to seem like a hack from time to time.
Because the most important thing to do in all of this is to just keep writing. Keep producing words that try to reach the heart of what you want to say.
When you watch a person walk, the most defining attribute of walking is the absence of falling. But is that how the person learned to walk? Of course not. That person learned to walk as a toddler (literally) falling over and over until the process of walking became more and more fluid.
If we can’t allow ourselves to fall over, we will never learn to walk with ease. Writing will become as effortless as walking, but only if we allow ourselves to be a hack or a failure.
We can’t allow ourselves to become too precious about our own writing. We have to allow ourselves to fail. We have to allow other people to call us names.
Labels never stick for long, as long as we never stop doing the work.