On Being a Hack Writer

“Hack” is a derogatory term for a writer that cranks out a lot of content in a short period of time. The assumption is that the quality suffers in the pursuit of quantity. In fiction, hack writers are associated with pulp magazines and novels. Because those markets paid by the word, and in many cases still do, the more work they could churn out, the more money they could make.

I have been called a hack. It doesn’t offend me, and I embrace it. The people who throw that term around as if it’s the real author’s equivalent of “the N word” are the same people complaining that they can’t make a living with their writing. They’ve spent years carefully crafting their novel, or developing their game, or nurturing their screenplay. Every word choice is the result of their blood, toil, tears, and sweat. I string some words together, throw them out the door, and pay the rent.

A lot of the people who call me a hack also rail against having gatekeepers. They think that quality control should apply to my work, but not theirs. What they’re really after is personal validation. They want a way to keep their club exclusive, as long as they’re already in the club. I don’t want to break it to them that early in their careers Beckett, Chekov, and Faulkner were all low-paid high-volume hacks. Don’t even get my started on that populist scribbler, William Shakespeare.

On Being a Hack Writer

What I’d like to argue is to judge work on its own merits, not how it was produced. If you read a novel and enjoy it, what does it matter if it was written over six weeks or six years? When you kill a couple of hours with laughs, thrills, and jumps scares at a movie, why do you care if it took three days or three months to film it? Having fun playing a game doesn’t relay on the number of people-hours put into creating it.

Would I love it if I could spend as much time as I wanted on any given project? Making it the best that it could possibly be? Of course I would. Can I afford to do that now? No, I have bills to pay. The market being what it is, that means I need to churn. Not everyone can do what I do. I’ll take a roof over my head and food in my belly over awards and critical praise any day of the week.

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