In a recent post Seth Godin describes what he sees as the difference between an amateur, a professional and a hack. To sum up, he thinks that a hack is a professional that doesn’t care. As a self-described hack, I obviously have my own opinion about this.
“The hack has been beaten up enough times that he has emotionally disconnected. The hack has a short-term view, able to do what the client asks, without regard for how it will impact the culture or his long-term prospects.
Serviceable is for hacks. Memorable and remarkable belong to professionals and hard-working amateurs.”
I take no issue with that description. Writing is my job, and to make a living doing this requires a writer to grind. As much word count as possibly, multiple projects in motion simultaneously, several different revenue streams trickling meager money into the coffers.
The grind is what beats you up. That’s what leaves you emotionally disconnected. Serviceable is what lets you move on to the next project, to take on more work, to pull together the small sums per word, per page, per sale that gets the rent paid and keeps food on the table.
Here’s the Problem
I’m not a hack because I don’t care. Part of what eats me up about the grind is that I want to spend more time on every project. Another draft. One more round of copy editing. Maybe move this-or-that around, polish that section, whatever. But there’s no time.
Do I wish that I could create something remarkable? Sure. Would it be delightful to spend as much time as I wanted polishing a given piece into a perfect thing? Of course it would. But winning and changing the world isn’t the problem I’m solving for. The problem I’m solving for is getting paid.
What I bristle at is the implication that there’s something wrong with this. For the past few years I have done something amazing. I have lived in a country where I do not have proficiency with the language. I do not have a degree from a local university, or some specialized skill that can’t be done by someone from the local workforce. So I have had to invent a job. I have had to find a way to make a living, to keep us afloat, to provide my wife and I with a life.
I Dare You to Do What I Do
On a daily basis I see other writers complaining that they can’t make a living doing this. In my publishing niche in particular, people are constantly on about low pay, few opportunities, and all of the legitimate struggles to break out. Yet here I stand, in my fifth year of paying all of the bills doing this. I think that’s pretty memorable and remarkable.
What do I get for that? For doing what others bemoan that they can’t? I get called a hack in the most derogatory fashion.
It takes guts to be a hack. You need discipline, and perseverance to work 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, to stay above the poverty line. Go ahead, tell me I’m a professional who doesn’t care. It requires confidence to know that even though a piece could be better, it’s still good enough to put out into the world.
So yes, Seth, you’re goddamned right I’m a hack.